Role of customers in service delivery

By Priya Chetty on October 30, 2010

Service delivery for customers can be seen in a factory. The place the service is produced and is consumed interacting with the employees and other customers.  E.g in a classroom or in a training situation, students (customers) are sitting in the factory interacting with the instructor and other students as they consume the educational services.

Since these customers are present during the service production, customers can contribute to or detract from the successful delivery of the service and to their own satisfaction.

Importance of customers in service delivery

Customer participation at some level is inevitable in service delivery. Services are actions or performances, typically produced and consumed simultaneously. In many situations employees, customers and even others in the service environment interact to produce the ultimate service outcome. As the customers receiving the service participates in the service delivery process. He or she can contribute to the gap through appropriate or inappropriate, effective or ineffective, productive or unproductive behaviors.

Customers who are unprepared in terms of what they want to order can soak up the customer service representative’s time as they seek advice. Similarly, shoppers who are not prepared with their credit cards can “put the representative on hold”. While they search for their credit cards or go to another room or even out of their cars to get them. Meanwhile, other customers and calls are left unattended, causing longer wait times and potential dissatisfaction.

Participation in service delivery

The level of participation – low, medium, high – varies across different services. In some cases, all that is required is the customers physical presence (low level of participation), with the employees of the firm doing all of the service production work, as in case of a Ghazal/ musical concert. The listeners must be present to receive the entertainment service. In other cases, consumer inputs are required to aid the service organization in creating the service delivery (moderate level of participation).

Inputs can include information, effort or physical possessions. All three of these are required in case of accounting services who prepares a client’s income tax return effectively. Information in the form of tax history, marital status, and number of dependents. Effort in putting the information together in a useful fashion. Physical Possessions such as receipts and past tax returns. In case of long term consulting engagements involvement of the customers high as they co create the service.

Customer’s roles

Customers as a productive process

Service customers are referred to as “partial employees” of the organization. They are human resources who contribute to the organization’s productive capacity. In other words, if customers contribute effort, time or other resources to the service production process, they should be considered as part of the organization.

Customer inputs can affect the organization’s productivity through both quality and quantity of output. E.g. research suggest that in an IT consulting context:

  • Clients who clearly articulate the solution they desire.
  • Provide needed information in a timely manner.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Gain the commitment of key internal stakeholders.
  • And raise the issues during the process before it is too late will get better service.

Customers as quality contributors to service delivery and satisfaction

Another role customers play in service delivery is that of the contributor to their own satisfaction and the ultimate quality of the services they receive. Customers may care little that they have increased the productivity of the organization through their participation. But they likely care a great deal about whether their needs are fulfilled. Effective customer participation can increase the likelihood of service delivery that their needs are met and that benefits the customer seeks are attained. Services such as health care, education, personal fitness, and weight loss, where the service outcome is highly dependent on the customers participation. In such services unless the customers perform their roles effectively, the desired service outcomes cannot be achieved.

Research has shown that in education, active participation by students – as opposed to passive listening – increases learning the desired service output significantly.

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Customers as competitors

A final role played by service customers is that of a potential competitor. If self-service customers can be viewed as resources of the firm, or as “partial employees,” self-service customers in some cases. They can partially perform the service or the entire service for themselves and may not need the provider at all.

Customers thus in that sense are competitors of the companies that supply the service. Whether to produce a service for themselves (internal exchange). E.g. child care, home maintenance i.e. have someone else provide home services for them (external exchange) is a common dilemma for consumers.

Similar internal versus external exchange decisions are made by organizations. Firms frequently choose to outsource service activities such as payroll, data processing, research, accounting, maintenance, and facilities management. They find  that it is advantageous to focus on their core businesses and leave these essential support services to others with greater expertise. Alternatively, a firm may decide to stop purchasing services externally and bring the service production process in-house.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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