It is often purported that customer service is common sense. After all we know how to look after people; we know how to deliver good customer service. There are however two questions here, if we ‘know’ then how do organisations get it so wrong, and if it is common sense, why isn’t everybody delivering? In 2009 only 19% of visitors to Britain felt extremely welcome and whilst perceptions have improved significantly since 2009, Britain still ranks only 12th out of 50 Nations for welcome (Anholt Nations Brand Index in Visit Britain, 2017). Making visitors feel welcome however, is fundamental to customer service and enhances perceptions of service quality.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the pursuit of quality is an organisational imperative, regardless of industry sector, and yet the attainment of quality is increasingly difficult, not least because of the difficulties in reconciling different perceptions of quality. Organisations offering similar products and services are increasingly forced to review their quality of service, as it is often the only differentiating factor between organisations. Thus, the challenge for organisations is to enhance the overall experience to such an extent that customers, both prospective and current, will become and remain loyal.
Within the service sector and more specifically the tourism industry there is the additional problem of the temporal, spatial and fragmented nature of the industry. It is also characterised by inseparability, in that customers are part of the product, and further complicated by the nature of the intercultural encounter in tourism. Tourism organisations that realise the benefits of enhancing the cultural awareness of both their staff and customers in order to facilitate the service exchange, are more likely to retain the loyal custom so essential for businesses to survive. Additionally organisations that take into account cultural differences when gleaning feedback from customers are most likely to have a strategic advantage over those organisations that do not.
Customers of tourism services now require a range of services at times and in places convenient to themselves. The challenge for tourism organisations today, of providing a flexible, convenient and appropriate service, has never been greater. In today’s highly competitive tourism market, those organisations that fail to continuously meet and exceed customer expectations will be unlikely to survive in an industry highly dependent on repeat business and loyal customers. It is impossible to meet customer expectations without firstly ascertaining those expectations (Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry, 1990) and customer feedback has become a vital tool in the identification of customer needs, satisfaction and expectations (Crotts and Erdmann, 2000; Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry, 1990). Knowing what customers want makes it far easier to meet and even exceed their expectations.
The tourism industry, by its very nature, involves a very high degree of employee-customer interaction and consequently facilitating that interaction in order to enable as smooth a process as possible must be the prerogative of every tourism organisation. The opportunities for service failures to occur within such an interactive context are high and dissatisfied customers frequently switch between service providers in order to gain satisfaction. The highly competitive marketplace within which tourism organisations operate makes it very easy for customers to change allegiance very quickly if they feel dissatisfied. The tourism industry may be considered as the sum of its interactive and interdependent parts, and thus consistency in quality is even more difficult to attain.
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