Service Quality in Tourism – The Road Less Travelled?

BY Carol Southall – Award Leader for Tourism Management 

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.

Happy customers are more likely to be loyal and generate repeat business

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.

service

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.

UPDATE – The SMARTOUR Tool is now online and covers this topic if you want to learn more 

If you are interested in service quality  issues as a manager or want some service quality training yourself then sign up to our FREE half day event on 17th May at Staffordshire University

Useful links

Project website – http://www.smartourproject.eu/

Twitter @tourismsu   #SMARTOUR

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/smartourproject/

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A new and rapid way of marketing – Digital Marketing

Aside

Whilst supporting businesses, I’m often asked “What is Digital Marketing”, and frequently people think it’s just social media marketing, for example marketing via Instagram or Twitter.  Digital Marketing encompasses much more than this, so in this article I’m going to give a brief overview of digital marketing and discuss some key points about how to make it effective for businesses.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing unlike the traditional means of marketing, encompasses marketing of products or services through the numerous available electronic media. It presents marketing of these products/services in such a way that the channels and methods utilized will enable the service provider or product manufacturer to analyse, survey and review marketing trends, and therefore know what is working effectively. This part is very important, marketers must prove, with data, that each part of their digital marketing is working and providing a Return on Investment etc.

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If done correctly, Digital Marketing can put customers in control, drive brand loyalty, reduce the selling cycle, build your brand, and it should be measurable and cost-effective.  The key areas Digital Marketing encompasses are:

  1. Social Media Marketing (SMM) These days, most people are on some form of Social Media e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Periscope etc. Social media marketing, involves using these platforms to gain website traffic or improve brand awareness and customer service. These platforms usually have analytics and a particular target customer base, e.g. LinkedIn for business people to network and also find employment. Therefore, each of these platforms can be used in a targeted way. As with any marketing tool there are good and bad ways of using them, for example, response rates can be shown to be higher with videos and pictures rather than just text. With good content curation, readers will share your social media with their networks and in effect become advocates. Readers are more likely to look at Social Media from friends than direct marketing from organisations, so it can be one of the most cost effective forms of marketing.  If this sharing becomes widespread it’s known as Viral Marketing. An example is the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, ALS did not invent the challenge but it became widespread and included Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates taking part.
  1. Website design Website designing is the process of gathering ideas and concepts, and the implementation of these concepts for the purpose of creating content on web pages or the internet, for the benefit of end-users to utilize and get the necessary information with any web browser. However, done properly it is much more than this. The website has to be easy to use and navigate, pleasing to the eye, and work in such a way that it gets results. The website design includes the website layout, colours, font, multimedia, interactive features and compatibility e.g. being mobile compatible. An organisation I have worked with, 6 Towns Radio, in some months can have over 60% of their website visits via tablets and mobile phones (see 6townsradio.com). Websites such as blogs can be developed in such a way that they can have a high SEO ranking and be monetised to earn income e.g. via affiliate marketing.
  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is using a range of tools and techniques, so that ideally your website appears at, or near the top, of the not-paid for (organic) area of the search engine page, when people do an online search for your product or service. This is so that you can drive online traffic to your website and create awareness about your products. It involves the web-site and web-page design, words you use on your page, keywords terms, number and quality of web-sites linked to your page, how often it is updated and developed, etc, and being structured in such a way that search engines understand and rank it ideally higher than competing websites. On top of this, it has to be done without diminishing the value of what you have to offer.
  1. Pay per Click (PPC) is a way of buying visits to your sites rather than attempting to earn them through SEO. This is because PPC is a medium where marketers adverts should appear near the top and/or side of the first page of a search result and they will pay for every click made on their advert. The advantage of PPC is that if done correctly it can create instant results, the dis-advantage is that once you stop paying you stop getting results, whereas good SEO will carry on working. Creating an effective PPC campaign involves research, content curation and continually testing the results.
  1. Display advertising (banner ads) As technology advanced, advertising began to take new forms with the advent of digital advertising techniques. Essentially, it entails the use of ads that can be in form of text, video or audio for advertisement purposes on a website. With increasing sophistication of mobile apps and technology, banner advertising can be geo-demographic and person specific so that these become very targeted.
  1. Email marketing The electronic mail set the initial trend for internet advertising and even though many predictions have talked about the decline in its usage, it can still be a very cost-effective form of marketing. Email marketing can be a vibrant means of communication and helping a business to grow, by employing a very direct and cheap marketing means of sending newsletters and other types of information to a target audience. Online systems such as Email Servers and CRM systems can automate the subscription, sending, un-subscribing etc. of emails, for example auto-responders can send out targeted emails on a timed basis or automatically respond to an enquiry. Increasing concerns about receiving unwanted emails (Spamming) will soon mean that that you need to be able to demonstrate that customers have subscribed to your emails and they are not on an exclusion database, similar to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), but for emails.
  1. Content Curation I’ve put Content Curation as a separate topic as it is a key factor in all of the above topics and in today’s digital world, content rules the space. Generally, content marketing cuts across infographics, webpages, podcasts, videos, books, eBooks, apps etc. It is a technique used for the creation and distribution of invaluable content in a consistent manner to a target audience. The aim of spreading the content and feeding it to the target audience is usually so that they can take some actions e.g. buy a product, apply or subscribe to a service etc. Content curation can take a company near bankruptcy and change it into one of the worlds most powerful brands as demonstrated by Lego who have developed an  interactive customer friendly website and even have Lego based films so customers are happy to watch, what is effectively, a very long advert.

Screenshot of Lego website

As mentioned a few times above, a key point is that if you are involved in marketing you need to be able to prove, with current data, what you are doing so that you can improve upon it.

When marketing via social media, websites, etc. you need to monitor and review:

  • which platforms your customers are using,
  • when they are using them, e.g. which days and what time,
  • how are they using them, e.g. a casual look or actually interacting with your marketing and using them as part of their decision-making to purchase,
  • And how this all links together to make a purchase, in what is known as the customer funnel.

If you do not use data you could be wasting your time and money marketing in areas that do not work, for example marketing on Twitter when your customers are using Instagram and Snapchat, or, marketing to potential customers on Snapchat during the working day when they typically use it early or late in the day and weekends.

An area that I get involved in with businesses and Social Enterprises is something called Conversion Rate Optimisation where we can improve the number of customers visiting and purchasing products/services. Typically this includes :-

  • checking and mapping how you are marketing and how your customers are using the internet;
  • measuring what customers are doing with your marketing, e.g. via Google Analytics or Facebook Insights;
  • testing via split-testing to improve results (also know as A/B testing),
  • continuing to test and improve customer conversions and the size of purchase.

As we can monitor and improve online and see instant results, it has led to a form of marketing called Growth Hacking. This is where we undertake and monitor rapid experimentation across online platforms to find the most effective and efficient ways to engage and grow a business customer base. It should develop long-term sustainable growth, not just short term profit.

The above and much more is covered in MSc Digital Marketing Management and BSc Digital Marketing Management at Staffordshire University.

 

Paul Dobson BSc(Hons), DIT, DMS, MSc, MA, MBA, PGCHPE, FHEA, FCMI, MAM

Senior Lecturer in Digital and Strategic Marketing – Staffordshire University Business School

Email: P.M.Dobson@staffs.ac.uk

 

A Business course but not as we know it…

For all those students currently poring over business textbooks and journals, spare a thought for the Staffordshire University final year undergraduates who were invited to a Conference at the beginning of February to listen to not one business leader but eight high flyers who came to share their knowledge and experience.

GBD Wendy Dean presentation (002)

The Global Business Directions Conference is in its third year and is a unique opportunity (we feel) for our students to benefit from contemporary business commentary. The companies represented included big corporations and conglomerates such as the BBC and British American Tobacco, alongside local Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Valentine Clays.  We even doffed our caps to welcome the Chief Constable of the Staffordshire Police!

Topics covered were broad in range and focus and included presentations on organisational culture impacting on productivity, how to enter new international markets and developing a growth strategy for an SME.

The speakers were all exceptionally well received (with some being ‘mobbed’ with questions after their sessions!) and our students now have the opportunity to research and reflect upon what they have learnt.

The Conference is part of a University wide strategy looking to build on our engagement with business and offer our students a unique experience within their Business Management degree.

Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Events Management

Email: Isabel.clarke@staffs.ac.uk