Role of the Servicescape in Contemporary Service Organizations

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This essay critically discuss the role of the servicescape in contemporary service organizations. This essay starts with the definition of servicescape based mainly on Bitner’s servicescape model followed by the Baker’s and Turley’s model. This essay will be using the Mehrabian & Russell stimulus response model to analysis different reactions from the audiences such as pleasure, arousal and dominance. Last but not least, the role of servicescape in both customer and the company’s perspective will be discussed.

The term ‘servicescape’ was invented by Mary Jo Bitner in 1992, it refers to the physical surroundings where the seller and the customers interact (Bitner, 1992). According to Bitner’s conceptual framework, the physical environment is represented by three environmental dimensions including ambient conditions, space & function and signs, symbols & artifacts (Bitner, 1992). The environmental dimensions all together form a perceived servicescape, which will directly cause employees and customers to response in cognitive, emotional and physiological way, therefore either approach or avoid the company (Bitner, 1992).

Figure1. Framework for Undertanding Environment-User Relationship in Service Organizations (Bitner, 1992).

Physical environment is known to affect sales (Donovan, 1982). The ambient conditions of the firm or store includes details such as temperature, air quality, noise, music and odor (Bitner, 1992), these factors can all affect how the human response differently (Baker, 1987). People from all over the world have similar reaction, in this case, preference when it comes to a certain environment due to the fact that human’s reactions are biologically generated (Osgood, 1960). With positive ambient conditions in a store, such as temperature which are not too cold or too hot, suitable music for the store depending on what products they are selling, suitable volume of the music and no unpleasant odors can generate the idea of ‘approach’ for both customers and employees (Mehrabian, 1974). On the other hand, the idea of ‘avoidance’ is when the environment is over heated or too cold, music being too loud or an unpleasant odor is presented (Mehrabian, 1974).

The space & function environmental dimension are the specific environment to fulfil customer needs, it includes the layout and the functionality of the environment (Bitner, 1992). The physical environment such as how the equipment, machinery and furnishings are arranged also affects both customers and employees (Bitner, 1992). The spatial layout and the functionality is a critical factor when it comes to where consumer have to self-service (Harrel, 1976), for example, shopping for grocery in Tesco, retail stores like Tesco have arranged their products into categories, making customers more convenient to browse or to get to a specific area where they want to purchase that specific kind of products. The room of the environment also matters depending on the services (Zeithaml, 2004), such as having plenty of room for many customers in Tesco when employees can still circulate around the area being on duty.

Besides the space & function and the ambient conditions, signs, symbols and artifacts have a significant role in the servicescape (Bitner, 1992). Within a physical environment, many items represent implicit and explicit signs to communicate to the customer about the place (Becker, 1977). The purpose of explicit signs can be used as labels, directional purposes and to show rules to its users (Davis, 1984). Labels can be represented by company logos, slogan or even the name of the company; directional signs can be a simple exit sign, staff only sign or a restroom sign; and the rules signs can be a no smoking, no running or children must be accompanied by adults sign (Bitner, 1992).

Other than Bitner’s model, Julie Baker and Turley also introduced a similar framework. The components of the servicescape include the ambient factors, design factors and the social factors in the Baker’s model (Baker, 1986). Similar to the ambient conditions of the Bitner’s model, ambient factors in the Bakers model include the air quality, the temperature and the humidity of the environment, scent and the cleanliness (Baker, 1986). The design factors in the Baker’s model can be represented by the aesthetic dimension and the functional dimension, the aesthetic dimension is the style, the architecture and the pattern of the physical environment; the functional dimension includes the layout (Baker, 1986). Unlike Bitner’s framework, social factors are also included in the servicescape (Baker, 1986). Baker stated that social factors can be separated in to two dimensions which is the audience and the service personnel. The audience of the social factors refers to the users of the physical environment, meaning the consumers or the customers and the service personnel refers to the employee or manager in the service environment (Baker, 1986).

Turley and Milliman’s servicescape framework have five main dimensions: internal and external variables, design and layout variables, the point of purchase, decoration variables and human variables (Turley & Milliman, 2000). The internal variables is the ambient conditions such as temperature and lighting, and the external variables could be facilities outside the store such as parking availability and the location of the building (Turley & Milliman, 2000). The design and layout variables are similar with Baker’s design factors, however the Turley & Milliman framework also included the point of purchase and decoration variables which include the artworks, price displays, wall decorations and certifications (Turley & Milliman, 2000). Unlike Baker’s and Bitner’s frameworks, the human variables in the Turley & Milliman model put the customers and employees’ privacy in to account as well (Turley & Milliman, 2000).

Mehrabian and Russel have stated that many items are social and physical stimulants which can cause emotional responses in servicescapes (Mehrabian & Russel, 1974). The internal moderators within the servicescape are represented by three emotional states; pleasurable & displeasure, arousal & non arousal and dominance & subjugation (PAD dimensions) (Hoffman & Bateson, 2002). The emotional states pleasure and displeasure is reflected by whether the audience is satisfied or not with the service provided (Hoffman & Bateson, 2002). The arousal & non arousal emotional state is reflected by whether the audience feel stimulated or excited. And the last emotional state dominance & subjugation is reflected by whether the audience are able to freely act within the environment or the feeling of in control (Donovan & Rossiter, 1982).

Figure2. The Mehrabian & Russell Stimulus – Response Model (Harris & Ezeh, 2007).

The approaching responses refers to the desire of staying in the service environment by the audiences and the avoiding responses refers to the desire of leaving the service environment by the audiences (Cockrill, 2008). The approach behavior can be determined by audience wanting to enter and explore the service environment, interested in

Nowadays, contemporary service organizations vary from a telecommunications company to a car wash company, therefore the physical surroundings and the servicescape of a contemporary service organizations have a big variety. The servicescape is strategically important for a contemporary service organization, as a variety of roles can be performed by servicescape to cause different impacts on both employees and customers, therefore servicescape can be played in to many different roles in contemporary service organizations.

The role of packaging

Like every product, the role packaging of servicescape is essentially the ‘wrap’ of a service, giving consumer an image of what it’s inside (Bitner & Zeithaml, 2003). Since services are often not tangible, audience are not able to have the information about the service quality easily, therefore the packaging of servicescape should be used by company as an advertisement to let consumer what the services or products are like (Parkhouse, 1991). The role packaging can be used for company’s branding, benefits, features and identification (Lorette, 2018). Servicescape can be used to differentiate one company’s product & services from another, as branding is a symbol (InvestorWords, 2019). Organizations can benefit by sharing the right information about the service or product, such as the information about a nutrition product or a certificate of a hotel passing a level of cleanliness (Lorette, 2018). Symbols such as the brand logo also can also share information about the service or the product (Bitner & Zeithaml, 2003). Last but not least, servicescape allows consumers to identify the companies that they are loyal too, such as the logo of Apple or even the design of the Apple store (Lorette, 2018). The role of packaging is particularly important to organizations due to the fact that many audience cannot physically sense the quality of the service, so the audiences tend to use the service environment to measure or assume the quality of the service and products ‘inside’. Besides that, the role of packaging is also crucial to starting service organizations, as the servicescape can create expectations for new audiences and build a particular image (Wilson & Zeithaml, 2008).

The role of facilitator

The role of facilitator is very important to organizations as it affects both the audiences and the employees. Under an inefficient and poor servicescape, the                                     audiences and the employees of the organizations can easily be frustrated (Wilson, 2008). On the other hand, audiences are able to experience a pleasurable service whilst employees pleasurably performing with a functional and well-designed servicescape (Zukelfi, 2005), therefore servicescape that helps the performance of people in the environment can be served as a facilitator (Bitner & Zeithaml, 2003).

The role of socialiser

The human component of the physical environment is the socialisng factors of servicescape (Makha, 2012). The design of the servicescape should convey the behaviour, relationship and the expected roles between the audience and the employees (Hightower, 2006). The design of the physical environment should be able to give clear instructions or idea to audiences which part of the servicescape they are allowed to be and where they are not supposed to be (Bitner & Zeithml, 2003). Besides conveying expected roles, the physical environment should also create an appropriate reaction and feeling towards the audiences and the employees. Different organizations have different goals, therefore the atmosphere created by the physical environment might differ from a fun and exciting experience to a calm and quiet environment. However, Garland stated that a physical environment should be able to confidently symbolize its services or products, also relieve both the audiences’ and the employees’ stress as well as conveying a sense of caring (Garland, 2004). With a specific physical environment, a certain behavior are also expected from both the audiences and the employees (Bitner & Zeithml, 2003).

The role of differentiator

As mentioned above, can be used to differentiate one company’s product & services from another, as branding is a symbol (InvestorWords, 2019). Managers in different industries are encouraged to put audiences’ experience into account and implement changes as a potential tool for differentiation (Andreu, 2006). The role of differentiator relies mainly on the design of the physical facility, such as football stadiums, by simply upgrading facilities in the football stadium can bring the image up in the mind of audiences and help to differentiate from other competitors (Makha, 2012). Other than that, a certain servicescape brings a certain message or signal in the market segment (Bitner, 1992), and servicescapes which are well designed and unique are most likely to generate competitive advantage over companies in the same industry (Hoffman & Batson, 2006). The first approach of the facility is particularly important in the respective of audiences, especially for those who are inexperienced, don’t know what to expect, therefore the intangible services are manifested by the physical facilities (Harris & Ezeh, 2007). Harris & Ezeh also stated that audiences, experienced and inexperienced both, reply on the physical facilities while making judgements on one organization’s competence and its appropriateness due to the fact that evaluating or rating quality of the service after experiencing it might be difficult in certain cases (Harris & Ezeh, 2007). In addition, audiences might continue relying on the physical facilities to evaluate the service to avoid disagreements or conflicts with others (Makha, 2012). In the case of football stadium industry, audiences are most likely to use the external environment as an indication to assume and categorize about the service that they were provided (Reimer & Kuehn, 2005).

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