Given the proliferation of SSTs and the wide variety of types and purposes of these SSTs, it is critical to understand how customers feel about them, how they use them, and whether they are willing to use it in the future. This section shall focus on the dis/satisfaction underlying SST experiences. It is well established that customer satisfaction can affect customer retention and profitability (Anderson and Fornell 1994, 247). Thus, understanding the underlying factors that trigger dis/satisfaction in SSTs has important managerial implications on customer-firm relationships.
Research has shown that customer evaluations are influenced by attributions for success and failure in interpersonal service situations (Bitner 1990, 71). With SSTs, customers create the services for themselves therefore it is possible that they will have higher acceptance for the responsibility of the outcome (Mills, Chase, and Marguiles 1983, 305). If customers accept partial responsibility in dissatisfying situations, they may be more likely to use SST in the future. Again, this could have important managerial implications as companies develop new SSTs and struggle with service encounter failures.
While new technologies are revolutionizing the retail environment, some customers do not necessarily see the incorporation of technology as an improvement (Meuter et al. 2003, 902). In their research, Meuter and his team surveyed over 800 customers utilizing a web-based survey. Their central focus was to study what they termed 'Technology Anxiety' and its impacts on consumer usage of SSTs. The finding indicates that respondents with higher levels of technology anxiety use fewer self-service technologies. In addition, technology anxiety was also found to influence overall feelings of satisfaction, intentions to repurchase and the likelihood of participating in positive word of mouth (Curran et al, 2003).
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Pros and Cons of SSTs in retailing
As discussed above, the implementation of self-service technologies can improve the quality of services a firm gives to its customers Technology can make the task of shopping easier and more manageable. Technology can add convenience and enhance time management as well. However SSTs can, and sometimes, fail. The ATM that mistakenly eats a bankcard and the interactive voice response system that mishears an order are a few examples, or if based on the context of the airline industry, server errors which rendered several ticket orders to be missed, or server downtimes are some of the common problems that can be found in a flight service's SST.
About half of the time customers recall failures rather than successes when using SSTs, and contrary to Mills, Chase, and Marguiles' (1983, 305) belief that customers tend to have higher acceptance of their failures since they create the services for themselves, on some occasion, customers may blame companies and their technologies, not themselves, for these dissatisfactions (Nakata 2003, 69).
Customers are always in need of better purchasing opportunities. But very often firms fail to visualize the customers' 'vision'. What the customers expect and what they perceives to get in return has a great impact on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction and their propensity to return to the firm's service, or to seek alternatives from the competitors. Firms may aggressively pursue for implementing SSTs in their service, but in their rush, firms often disregard technology failures and the associated risks of losing customers because of technology related difficulties (Hsieh 2005, 79).
Factors Affecting SST Adoptions and Usage There are a plethora of factors that contribute or detract from consumer adoption rates and satisfaction. Some of it are: quality of the products, services offered by the organization or firms, cost of the products, presentation of the services, design of the SST, the SST's ability for service recovery (even if caused by the customer), the way the firm promote/advertises the SST, the way the firm manages and prevents SST failures, alternate choices for the same service (offered by the firm or competitors), and the firm's ability to keep the SST updated and to continuously improve the SST.
The implementation and adoption of new technology brings several questions into the minds of the consumers. In this regard it can be said that self-service technologies are an effective source to reduce costs and increase the number of customers for the firm. However, it can also go the opposite way, if customers either would not try the new SST, or try it once and then shift to the competitors. Hence, this raises the question regarding what the customers actually value, and how would the firm's new SST provides that value.
Communication has been found to influence the adoption of technology (Lee et al 2002, 562). Lee's study suggested that written and spoken communications from formal institutions had a positive impact on the customers' decision to adopt a new technological innovation. Moreover, it was found that conversational communication greatly influenced adoption decisions. The combination of information from firms, family and friends had the strongest impact. Lee and his team surmised that since conversation is interactive, learning effects are increased and this leads to a behavioral change toward adopting a new innovation. This implies that firms implementing a new SST need to communicate in both written and conversational modes. It is necessary for them to demonstrate their product to the best extent possible and allow for interactions between their personnel and the potential customer.
Implementation Strategies for Gaining Competitive Advantages Successful implementation of the SSTs project requires thorough studies of the needs of all involved parties and well-planned implementation strategies. Below are several strategies that may be used as a guideline for firms that are planning to adopt or improve their existing SSTs, this includes the airline industry as well:
- Research what the customer value and focus on customer needs. Make the application for the kiosk user-friendly even to the most technically challenged user; include an on-screen tutorial. Make sure that the SST is focused on the customer and not just a way to reduce staff costs, success with SST is dependent upon customer focused design (Bitner et al. 2002, 103). Listen to the customer and strive to achieve more than they expect.
- Provide protection and reassurances for privacy and security. Plan a countermeasure for hackers and cheaters. Make sure employees and customers are informed of the rules and measures for security and provide training if warranted. This will build trust with the customers. Security measures can be expensive, plan and budget for them throughout the life of the SST. 3. Minimize SST failure potential. The largest percentage of negative responses received in SST customer feedbacks were attributed to SST failure. A major complaint about SST was that there was often no recovery system when the SST failed (Bitner et al. 2002, 104). Firms need to develop a robust system and provide for on-the-spot recovery whenever possible.
- Take an aggressive approach in advertising and promoting the SST. Let the customers know the benefits of this new service delivery mode. Awareness is a big part of SST success. 5. Plan for updates, repairs, maintenance, and general continuous improvement. Contingency planning is very important. The product life cycle of an innovative product is generally short. A firm must be able to evolve and adapt (Bitner et al. 2002, 106).
Technology had become an integral part of the marketplace. Consumers are increasingly given the option or are being asked to provide the service for themselves through the use of SSTs. It is important for providers of SSTs to understand how customers evaluate SSTs so that firms can improve on them. This paper has identified several factors that appear to influence dis/satisfaction with technology-based encounters. These factors can therefore provide insight for firms that currently offer or are planning to offer SST as an alternative method of service delivery.
It is important to note that SST is not just for the firm's benefits, it is also intended to provide value for customers. The firm's ability in providing a quick and easy service for the customer will influence the choices they make. It is also important to keep the customers engaged by providing innovations. Effective management of SST delivery options can also become an excellent means of creating a competitive advantage.
- Abdelaziz, S. G., A. A. Hegazy, and A. Elabbassy. 2010. Study of Airport Self-Service Technology within Experimental Research of Check-in Techniques: Case Study and Concept. International Journal of Computer Science 7 (1): 17-26. IJCSI. http://ijcsi.org (accessed December 18, 2011)
- Anderson, E. W., and C. Fornell. 1994. A Customer Satisfaction Research Prospectus. Service Quality: New Directions in Theory and Practice 32 (6): 241-68
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