‘Servicescape’ refers to the environments in which services are delivered and where the firm and customer interact.
Service providers should build environments that achieve a balance between two primary objectives:
(1) Develop environments that appeal to consumer pleasure and arousal states while avoiding atmospheres that create submissiveness; and
(2) Construct environments that facilitate the operational ease and efficiency of the firm.
The three important aspects of the servicescape are:
(1) Spatial Layout and Functionality:
Because service environments generally exist to fulfill specific purposes or needs of customers, spatial layout and functionality of the physical surroundings are particularly important. Spatial layout refers to the ways in which machinery, equipment, and furnishings are arranged, the size and shape of those items, and the spatial relationships among them. Functionality refers to the ability of the same items to facilitate the accomplishment of customer and employee goals.
The spatial layout and functionality of the environment are particularly important for customers in self-service environments, where they must perform the service on their own and cannot rely on employees to assist them. Thus the functionality of an ATM machine and of self-service restaurants, gasoline pumps, and Internet shopping are critical to success and customer satisfaction.
The importance of facility layout is particularly apparent in retail settings, where research shows it can influence customer satisfaction, store performance, and consumer search behaviour. Research conducted in two department stores in Korea found that store facilities significantly affected consumers’ emotional responses. Layout accessibility, facility aesthetics, and seating comfort have all been shown to impact patrons’ perceptions of quality in spectator sports and casino settings as well.
(2) Signs, Symbols, and Artifacts:
Many items in the physical environment serve as explicit or implicit signals that communicate about the place to its users. Signs displayed on the exterior and interior of a structure are examples of explicit communicators. They can be used as labels (name of company, name of department, and so on) for directional purposes (entrances, exits), and to communicate rules of behaviour (no smoking, children must be accompanied by an adult). Adequate signs have been shown to reduce perceived crowding and stress.
Other environmental symbols and artifacts may communicate less directly than sign, giving implicit cues to users about the meaning of the place and norms and expectations for behaviour in the place. Quality materials used in construction, artwork, presence of certificates and photographs on walls, floor-coverings, and personal objects displayed in the environment can all communicate symbolic meaning and create an overall aesthetic impression.
The meanings attached to environmental symbols and artifacts are culturally embedded. Restaurant managers in United States, for example, know that white tablecloths and subdued lighting symbolically convey full service and relatively high prices, whereas counter service, plastic furnishings, and bright lighting symbolise the opposite. In U.S. office environments, certain cues such as desk size and placement symbolise status and may be used to reinforce professional image.
Signs, symbols, and artifacts are particularly important in forming first impressions and for communicating new service concepts. When customers are unfamiliar with a particular service establishment, they will look for environmental cues to help them categorise the place and begin to form their quality expectations. In a study of dentists’ offices, it was found that consumers use the environment, particularly its style of decoration and level of quality, as a cue to the competence and manner of the service provider.
(3) Ambient Conditions:
Ambient conditions include background characteristics of the environment such as temperature, lighting, noise, music, scent, and colour. All of these factors can profoundly affect how people feel think, and respond to a particular service establishment. For example – a number of studies have documented the effects of music ort consumers’ perceptions of products, their perceptions of how long they have waited for service, and the amount of money they spend.
When there is music, shoppers tend to perceive they spend less time shopping and in line than when there is no music. Slower music tempos at lower volumes tend to make shoppers more leisurely, and, in some cases, they spend more. In the Mayo Hospital lobby, piano music serves to reduce stress. Shoppers also spend more time when the music “fits” the product or matches their musical tastes.
Other studies have similarly shown the effects of scent on consumer responses. We know that scent in bakeries, coffee shops, and tobacco shops, for example, can be used to draw people in, and pleasant scents can increase lingering time. We also know that the presence of a scent reduce perceptions of time spent and improve store evaluations.
Scents that are congruent with the product type, cause customers to spend more time thinking about their product decisions. A nursing home chain discovered that in its facilities “the best odour was no odor.” Patients and their families believed that unpleasant odours signified an unclean facility, whereas the odor of cleaning solvents signified that unpleasant odours were being covered up.
As a general rule, ambient conditions affect the five senses. Sometimes such dimensions may be totally imperceptible (gases, chemicals, infrasound) yet have profound effects, particularly on employees who spend long hours in the environment.
The effects of ambient conditions are especially noticeable when they are extreme. For example, people attending a symphony in a hall, where the air conditioning has failed and the air is hot and stuffy, will be uncomfortable, and their discomfort will be reflected in how they feel about the concert. If the temperature and air quality were within a comfort tolerance zone, these ambient factors would probably go unnoticed.
Ambient conditions also have a greater effect when the customer or employee spends considerable time in the servicescape. The impact of temperature, music, odours, and colours builds over time. Another instance, in which ambient conditions will be particularly influential, is when they conflict with what the customer or employee expects.
Types of Servicescapes:
Is a framework for categorising service organisations on two dimensions that captures some of the key differences that will impact the management of the servicescape? Organisations that share a cell in the matrix will face similar issues and decisions regarding their physical spaces.
The physical setting may be more or less important in achieving the organisation’s marketing and other goals depending on certain factors:
(i) Servicescape Use:
First, organisations differ in terms of whom the servicescape will actually affect. That is, who actually comes into the service facility and thus is potentially influenced by its design—customers, employees, or both groups? There are three types of service organisations that differ on this dimension. At one extreme is the self-service environment, where the customer performs most of the activities and few if any employees are involved.
Examples of self-service environments include ATMs, movie theatres, express mail drop-off facilities, self-service entertainment such as golf and theme parks, and online Internet services. In these primarily self-service environments, the organisation can plan the servicescape focusing exclusively on marketing goals such as attracting the right market segment and making the facility pleasing and easy to use.
At the other extreme of the use dimension is the remote service, where there is little or no customer involvement with the servicescape. Telecommunications, utilities, financial consultants, editorial, and mail-order services are examples of services that can be provided without the customer ever seeing the service facility. In fact, the facility may be in a different state or a different country.
(ii) Complexity of the Servicescape:
Some service environments are very simple, with few elements, few spaces, and few pieces of equipment. Such environments are termed lean. Shopping mall information Kiosks and FedEx drop-off facilities would be considered lean environments because both provide service from one simple structure.
For lean servicescapes, design decisions are relatively straightforward, especially in self-service or remote service situations in which there is no interaction among employees and customers. Other servicescapes are very complicated, with many elements and many forms. They are termed elaborate environments.
Understanding of Different Behaviours in the Servicescape:
The physical environment is particularly salient for services, as most services are produced and consumed simultaneously, with the consumer “in the factory” experiencing the total service within the firm’s physical facility. Bitner suggested that the service setting can affect consumers’ emotional, cognitive, and physiological responses, which, in turn, influence their evaluations and behaviours.
Our focus is on affective responses or feelings that are created by contact with the physical environment. Environmental elements within the services setting influence emotions in two dimensions – pleasure and arousal. The ‘pleasure dimension’ refers to the degree to which a consumer feels good or happy with the environment, whereas ‘arousal’ refers to the degree by which the person feels excited, stimulated, or active in an environment.
Servicescape may influence the consumer’s affective state in either a positive or negative direction, which in turn may affect post-purchase evaluations. The framework for understanding servicescape effects on behaviour follows from basic stimulus — organism — response theory. In the framework the multi-dimensional environment is the stimulus, consumers and employees are the organisms that respond to the stimuli, and behaviours directed at the environment are the responses.
The assumptions are that dimensions of the servicescape will impact customers and employees and they will behave in certain ways depending on their internal reactions to the servicescape. That human behaviour is influenced by the physical setting in which it occurs, is essentially a truism.
Interestingly, however, until the 1960s, psychologists largely ignored the effects of physical setting in their attempts to predict and explain behaviour. Since that time, a large and steadily growing body of literature within the field of environmental psychology has addressed the relationships between human beings and their built environments.
Various theorists have tried to examine the content of affect, the dimensions that underlie it, and the distinction between types of affect.
Different approaches have been used – facial expression research, language-based research and logical theory derivation and testing based on a psycho-evolutionary perspective. Although most empirical studies on emotions in satisfaction research have used Izard’s Differential Emotions Scale, Russell’s model of affect was chosen for the present investigation for several reasons. First, the two models based on facial expression research and psycho-evolutionary perspectives only define discrete dimensions, which do not capture the possible similarities and differences among emotions.
Second, the Russell model separates cognition from affect. Russell defines affect as an internal state being comprised of pleasure and arousal. This two-dimensional matrix categorizes all affective responses as valenced combinations of pleasure and arousal. Other dimensions of affect (e.g., locus of causality, importance of the emotion, locus of control, and dominance) can thus be interpreted as cognitive appraisals.
In contrast, Izard’s and Plutchik’s frameworks implicitly include cognitive processes in their models. Third, our goal was to assess consumers’ responses to the pre-consumption retail environment as opposed to interpersonal aspects of consumption, thus further justifying the use of this emotions scale.
Mehrabian and Russell suggested that affect mediates the relationship between the physical environment and an individual’s response to that environment, thus resulting in two behaviours – approach or avoidance. Approach behaviours are represented by an individual’s desire to stay, explore, or work in an environment, whereas avoidance behaviours refer to the opposite.
In terms of consumer behaviour, approach behaviours include a desire to patronize an outlet and a willingness to return for future purchases. Because our goal was to examine the impact of the preprocess environment on post-purchase evaluations, the out-come variable in the Russell model was changed from avoidance/approach behaviour to satisfaction, and repurchase intention.
(i) Individual Behaviours:
Environmental psychologists suggest that individuals react to places with two general, and opposite, forms of behaviour – approach and avoidance. Approach behaviours include all positive behaviours that might be directed at a particular place, such as desire to stay, explore, work, and affiliate.
Avoidance behaviours reflects the opposite — a desire not to stay, to explore, to work, or to affiliate. In a study of consumers in retail environments, researchers found that approach behaviours (including shopping enjoyment, returning, attraction, and friendliness toward others, spending money, time spent browsing, and exploration of the store) were influenced by perceptions of the environment.
In addition to attracting or deterring entry, the servicescape can eventually influence the degree of success consumers and employees experiences in executing their plans once inside. Each individual comes to a particular service organisation with a goal or purpose that may be aided or hindered by the setting.
The ability of employees to do their jobs effectively is also influenced by the servicescape. Adequate space, proper equipment, and comfortable temperature and air quality—all contribute to an employee’s comfort and job satisfaction, causing him or her to be more productive, stay longer, and affiliate positively with coworkers.
(ii) Social Interactions:
In addition to its effects on their individual behaviours, the servicescape influences the nature and quality of customer and employee interactions, most directly in interpersonal services. It has been stated that “all social interaction is affected by the physical container in which it occurs.” The “physical container” can affect the nature of social interaction in terms of the duration of interaction and the actual progression of events.
In many service situations, a firm may want to ensure a particular progression of events (a “standard script”) and limit the duration of the service. Environmental variables such as physical proximity, seating arrangements, size, and flexibility can define the possibilities and limits of social episodes such as those occurring between customers and employees, or customers and other customers.
Roles of the Servicescape:
The servicescape can play many roles. An examination of the variety of roles and how they interact, makes clear how strategically important it is to provide appropriate physical evidence of the service.
The servicescape can also serve as a facilitator in aiding the performances of persons in the environment. How the setting is designed, can enhance or inhibit the efficient flow of activities in the service setting, making it easier or harder for customers and employees to accomplish their goals. A well-designed, functional facility can make the service a pleasure to experience from the customer’s point of view and a pleasure to perform from the employee’s. On the other hand, poor and inefficient design may frustrate both customers and employees.
The design of the servicescape aids in the socialisation of both employees and customers in the sense that it helps to convey expected roles, behaviours, and relationships. For example – a new employee in a professional services firm would come to understand her position in the hierarchy partially through noting her office assignment, the quality of her office furnishings, and her location relative to others in the organisation.
The design of the facility can also suggest to customers what their role is relative to employees, what parts of the servicescape they are welcome in, and which are for employees only, how they should behave while in the environment, and what types of interactions are encouraged. For example – consider a Club Med vacation environment that is set up to facilitate customer-customer interactions as well as to facilitate guest interactions with Club Med staff.
The organisation also recognises the need for privacy, providing areas that encourage solitary activities. To illustrate further, in some Starbucks location the company is experimenting with shifting to more of a traditional coffeehouse environment where customers spend social time rather than coming in for a quick cup of coffee on the run. To encourage this type of socialising, these Starbucks locations have comfortable lounge chairs and tables set up to encourage interaction and staying longer.
Similar to a tangible product’s package, the servicescape and other elements of physical evidence essentially “wrap” the service and convey an external image of what is “inside” to consumers. Product packages are designed to portray a particular image as well as to evoker particular sensory or emotional reaction. The physical setting of a service does the same thing through the interaction of many complex stimuli.
The servicescape is the outward appearance of the organisation and thus can be critical in forming initial impressions or setting up customer expectations—it is a visual metaphor for the intangible service. This packaging role is particularly important in creating expectations for new customers and for newly established service organisations that are trying to build a particular image. The physical surroundings offer an organisation the opportunity to convey an image in a way not unlike the way an individual chooses to “dress for success.”
The packaging role extends to the appearance of contact personnel through their uniforms or dress and other elements of their outward appearance. Interestingly, the same care and resource expenditures given to package design in product marketing are not generally provided for services, even though the service package serves a variety of important roles. There are many exceptions to this generality, however.
Smart companies like Starbucks, FedEx, and Marriott spend a lot of time and money relating their servicescape design to their brand, providing their customers with strong visual metaphors and “service packaging” that conveys the brand positioning.
The design of the physical facility can differentiate a firm from its competitors and signal the market segment. The service is intended for given its power as a differentiator, changes in the physical environment can be used to reposition a firm and/or to attract new market segments. In shopping malls the signage, colours used in decor and displays, and type of music wafting from a store signal the intended market segment.
Washington mutual bank clearly communicates through its servicescape its differentiation as a bank for consumers and families. As you enter one of its branches, the first thing you see is a mural of children. Then you are greeted by an informal, khaki-clad concierge. There is an area for children to play as well as a retail store offering financial books, software, and piggy banks, clearly differentiating this bank from those whose focus is commercial accounts or private, upscale banking.
The design of a physical setting can also differentiate one area of a service organisation from another. This is commonly the case in the hotel industry where one large hotel may have several levels of dining possibilities, each signalled by differences in design: Price differentiation is also often partially achieved through variations in physical setting. Bigger rooms with more physical amenities cost more, just as larger seats with more leg room (generally in first class) are more expensive on an aeroplane.
A development in movie theatres is the addition of luxury screening rooms with club chairs and waiters. Taking advantage of this alternative, customers, who are willing to pay a higher price to see the same film, can experience the service in an entirely different environment.