In our service design class we’re reading about all facets of service and the elements surrounding services. This week I read through Mary Jo Bitner’s article on Servicescapes, titled “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees”. A servicescape is a concept developed by to emphasize the impact of the physical environment in which a service process takes place. In reading through her framework I developed a lot of my own questions surrounding the concept.
One of these was how individuals react to places. Generally, it’s stated through studies in environmental psychology, that there are two forms of behavior: approach and avoidance. Approach behaviors were defined as positive, i.e. wanting to stay longer, explore, work or affiliate in a particular place. Avoidance is the opposite of approach i.e. the desire to not want to stay, work, explore or affiliate with a place.
The image above shows the two possible reactions: approach or avoidance.
Being a consumer myself, I understood these two general statements but felt that it was a little too black and white when it comes down to the intent and need of a consumer. To say you can either fall into one or the other seems very limiting to real life situations and needs.
Bitner states “To enhance the individual approach you must encourage the appropriate social interactions, between employee and customer.” But isn’t it even more than that?
So I looked at this in a real scenario, to try to understand if it is actually just that simple. And if it is, is it enough to plan and build a foundation of a successful servicescape around? Even though those needs may be optimal for one, the other may not see it as so. I decided to conduct some research of my own.
I went to a very popular fast-fashion store (fashion that moves from catwalk to consumer quickly in order to capture current fashion trends-often very cheaply) over the weekend on a peek time for business. I normally don’t shop at a store like this especially when it’s so busy, but I was curious to observe and research with new insight from our servicescape reading.
What did I learn?
I had an avoidance experience.
I immediately tuned into the environmental factors upon entering, frankly it was hard not to. The music was loud and repetitive, there wasn’t much room for walking around each area of clothing or accessories, and there were so many products piled on top of each other upon entering it was overwhelming where to begin. I tuned into my emotions, how did I feel? I got anxious (one of the feelings of a negative or avoidance-type experience).
I kept observing the environment and organization-monotone beige walls and floors, unclear signage, and if I had a question I wasn’t sure who was an actual employee or just another customer. The check out line was so long it was winding throughout the entire front of the store. I watched people abandon their items midway through the line. Piles of random clothes and products were collecting on tables and surfaces near the registers- signs of defeat.
I was continually comparing this particular experience to all the good experiences I’d had in the past. I was actually defining problems that were extremely obvious to me over and over… and I was constantly thinking, “It could be better.”
After leaving the store, I took some time to reflect on my experience. Was it just me who saw so many things that went wrong? I again compared to other shopping experiences, that left entirely better impressions on me upon my first experience. I then realized was that avoidances are actually completely dependent on other experiences to measure the “percent of quality” in a service.
Bitner is missing a piece.
She is missing the personal experiences that each customer brings to the service before even entering. They have notes to compare to, and therefore rate services and compare them according to the good and bad services they experience in the past.
The image above shows the two possible reactions now with the customer’s past experience weighing into account the overall feelings of the servicescape leaves them with upon comparison.