Customer’s Role in Service Delivery
Southwest Airlines is an innovator in enlisting customers to be part of their own service delivery processes. From the extensive reliance on self-service check-in on their website to being one of the first companies to rely on kiosks in airports to have customers check themselves in, to their open-style seating on all flights, Southwest has so many engrained processes that customers can assist in service delivery, they seem to attract business and pleasure travelers who enjoy this process. From this standpoint, Southwest Airlines’ approach of inviting customers to participate in many aspects of the service processes supports empirical research (Dabholkar, 1996) that validates consumers who see themselves as contributors to service (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, Zeithaml, 1997) actively seek out opportunities to do so.
Theoretical frameworks (Chowdhary & Prakash 2007) have been defined through the use of cluster analysis to illustrate how specific segments of consumers are attracted to be contributors to services delivered. This is allegorical to the students who like to help in a class, even as young as grade school or those shoppers in a mass merchandiser like Wal-Mart or Costco who look to help others find items. There is a specific type of consumer who seeks out opportunities to be a contributor to the service delivery experience, and Southwest has diligently worked to attract these types of consumers with success.
In terms of accentuating and strengthening the role of customers in service delivery, Southwest Airlines could also do the following. They could feature an advertising campaign of having the hardest working customers in business by featuring their frequent flyers (many of which are small business owners and would love the exposure) in television and print advertisements, talking about how the customer has made Southwest a part of their approach to doing business. Many small business owners are also the type of consumers who like to see themselves as part of the service delivery process due to their tendency to have high degrees of autonomy. Rewarding them with free PR would make the customer participation motivation even stronger on the part of Southwest’s unique customer base. By taking this approach, Southwest would truly partner with these “customer employees” as well, being reciprocal to the growth of their businesses.
Bitner, M.L., Faranda, W., Hubbert, a., & Zeithaml, V. (1997). Customer contributions and roles in service delivery. International Journal of Service Industry Management, 8(3), 193-205. Retrieved April 1, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 115926444).
Chowdhary, N., & Prakash, M (2007). Prioritizing service quality dimensions. Managing Service Quality, 17(5), 493-509. Retrieved March 31, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1332933181
Dabholkar, P.A. (1996), “Consumer evaluations of new technology-based self-service options: an investigation of alternative models of service quality,” International Journal of Research in Marketing, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 29-51.