This assessment is consists of three parts. The first part is the service concept which contains the explanations of the service classification matrix model. The second part is the explanations of any five service characteristics. The third part will be comprised an explanations on eight determinants of service quality towards the service provider, an service experience of the service provider then results an evaluation and finally impart recommendations towards the service provider.
(A) Four service concepts
Regarding to the service classification matrix proposed by Schmenner(1995) in appendix (Table 1), he stated that the Y-axis is the degree of labour intensity which is the ratio of labour costs that how quick a service encounter can be provided and the X-axis is the degree of customer interaction and customization which is the degree of variation of customers interaction who with the customized service. Schmenner had been classified the matrix into four quadrants:
1.1 Service factory. It is the firm with a low degree of labour intensity and a low degree of customer interaction and customization in the service process. The firm is mostly use of tangible and physical service to fulfil the customer needs.
Take an example of the airline industry - Cathay Pacific Airways as an example. Since the advanced technology had developed towards the service to maintain its competition such as the online check-in service, customers need not require queuing at check-in counter anymore and arriving at airport in advance, it results a low labour intensity to serve customers by using technology instead of staffs. Also, the company can avoid the queuing demand during the peak hours by utilize the online check-in service to reach the on-time schedule flight delivery.
1.2 Service shop. It is the firm with a low degree of labour intensity but contains a high degree of customer interaction and customization. It is important to linking customer loyalty and employee retention.
Take (Maxim,2009) Maxim's Chinese restaurant as an example. It requires a low labour intensity because most of the foods are prepared by the equipments in the kitchen. The restaurants also offered three different meal periods with different prices to manage the demands and promote the off-peak period. It requires a high interaction with customer such as a customer request a customized menu for banquet that the company need to pay special care for him and maintain the same food quality that may create customer loyalty.
1.3 Mass service. It is the firm with a high labour intensity which is important on training and hiring of staff, managing workforce, employee welfare etc. and with a low degree of customer interaction and customization which contains customer intervention, managing on quality etc.
Use the (Giordano,2009) Giordano International Limited in retailing industry as an example. The employees are not requiring using on the equipments or technology advances to interact with customers and the company is focusing on managing and controlling on the workforce. The shop layout is also important to attract customers coming in. Employees are carrying a low interaction which the customers are purchased the standard products with standard sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL), standard patterns and colors. Therefore, it is important on scheduling employee workforce and focus on the employee welfare.
1.4 Professional service. It is the firm with a high labour intensity and a high degree of customer interaction and customization. The service is not standardized that customers need to be served individually and implied lots of interaction between customer and employees.
Take a travel consultant at Hong Tai Travel Service Limited as an example, a customer is interested in an individual visit package, he will be served by a travel consultant with highly trained on product knowledge. The consultant is required to dialogize with customer and customized an individual visit package for him within his requirements. This personal dialog process contains one-to one service, high interaction and service customization among the customer.
(B) Five service characteristics
In the below statement, five service characteristics are chosen by which contain explanations and examples. They are intangibility, heterogeneous, inseparability, perishability and variability.
(Lovelock et al,2002)Services are intangible products which you cannot touch it, hold it or taken away and you can only experience it. Intangible service can be based on the service performance to experience. The customers can perceive what the benefits obtained from the performance or how they will be perceived form the performance. Therefore, the customers' needs can be satisfied based on what the service nature have been provided.
For examples, one of the airlines company - Cathay Pacific Airways. When you are selling a flight ticket whatever it is economy class or business class, the seat is tangible since its location and physical amenities offered can be seen and felt by the passengers. But the service provided during the flight such as the ambiance inside the cabin, the cabin crew manner, the seat space, catering offer etc. the passenger's reflection of those are the intangible service and it is important on how the passengers can be perceived from the service during the flight.
(Lovelock et al,2004) It is very hard to make each service experience to become as same as every time due to the performance are often varies on the actual and uncontrollable factors. It can be said it is difficult for customers to evaluate on the service performance.
Take the same example on Cathay Pacific Airways. A cabin crew who serve with excellent service towards passengers in an appropriate manner is his/her fundamental job requirement but every time same cabin crew may behave differently while he/she is affected by a different mood during preparing the flight. So that there must have more or less different service delivered from the first flight to the last flight and that difference can be good or worse. Therefore, the selection of employees and the training program in customer service is very important that can insure the service can be standardized and delivered consistently all the time and to minimize the subtle differences from the customers.
(Schmenner,1995) Inseparability is the service production and consumption often physically together which means there is an interaction among employee-to-customer; customers-to-customers to influence the customers' service experience or the service delivered. The customer may be participated in co-production service which takes form of self-service that the customers may become as partial employees who can influence the quality of service and productivity outputs (Mills et al,1982). (Lovelock et al,2007) That is important to control on the service quality of self-service and satisfy the customers.
One of the industry examples is working out at the gymnasium (California Fitness). You can working out on the fitness equipments individually or receive an advice and feedback from a personal trainer who supervises your efforts which can make you efficiently use on the equipments (increase the use-friendly level) and the gymnasium can increase its productivity. Then, customer may be caused a different service experience in the duration of exercise. Therefore, the training and relationship between customers and employees are important to service quality.
Service can last for a period of time but cannot store for later use, resold or returned. Schmenner (1995) also stated that service cannot be inventoried. The inventory problems will be incurred with goods because many items are perishable, but we cannot inventory service whereat the capacity problems will be occurred. Therefore, it is important towards the service company to generate revenue.
Let's make use of the airline industry - Cathay Pacific Airways as an example.
The seat capacity of each aircraft is already existed, if the available seats are not full of demand during a journey, the company cannot resell the seat to customers immediately because the aircraft is already flew away and this could yield a loss on revenue. The company need to do is to strive on to how the seat capacity can be made full of demand to generate the maximum revenue of each flight but not get loss of revenue. They may through some ways to match the available capacity of demand levels such as reservations, promotions, pricing strategies etc.
Service is based on performance and customer's own experience and the experience can be varying by different things. Due to a service can be involved cooperation by several individuals, therefore it is unlikely maintain the same in every time. It is important to make the variability turn into minimal.
Let's take the hotel industry - Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel as an example. Those front-line staffs are having different abilities and job requirements, such as the reception staffs and the catering staffs is carrying differ skills and behaviors when serving customers. Thus, the variability on these services will be resulted from customers. The hotel is needed to reduce the perceived variability towards customer by training each personnel and defining a standard procedure for the personnel to follow or provide guarantees and assurances that customers will not result with a bad experience. The buffet service in hotel restaurant contains no scope of variations in the service level which each customer are required to getting food by self.
(C) Service Provider
3.1 Introduction of service provider
In the following, I would like to choose MTR Corporation Limited (MTRC) to be the service provider. (MTRC,2009) MTRC is one of famous public transportations since 1979 and has been providing safe, reliable, and efficient train services getting people around in Hong Kong. Its train service has covered 82 stations among Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories and Lantau Island to carry average 3.7 million people reach their destination every weekday. Hence, I would like to being a mystery shopper to check on its customer service and train service to see whether it satisfy customer expectation or not and its service satisfactory level.
3.2 Eight determinants of service quality
Regarding to the (Johnson,1995) eighteen service determinants of service quality, I would like to choose among eight of them. They are access, attentiveness and helpfulness, cleanliness and tidiness, competence, communication, friendliness, reliability and responsiveness to focus on the service quality of the MTRC service.
Now I' m going to measure into two parts: customer service with six determinants: access, attentiveness and helpfulness, cleanliness and tidiness, competence, communication, friendliness and train service with two determinants: reliability and responsiveness.
3.2.1 Access: The MTR service is located in each district in Hong Kong among Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories and Lantau Island. It is very easy and convenient for customers using MTR service to get around in Hong Kong. MTRC also equipped multiple and clearly identified exits and conjunctions among the buildings. Such as Hong Kong Station and Kowloon Tong Station are having well conjunctions access to the shopping mall: IFC Mall and Festival Walk that makes customers easy to reach at.
3.2.2 Attentiveness and helpfulness: Once occurring problems, customer is requiring finding the employees located at the customer service centre. It is to measure of the attentiveness, willingness and helpfulness level of employees answering and solving customer problem with an appropriate manner when serving each customer.
3.2.3 Cleanliness and tidiness: A corporation should contain a neat performance with all tangible components. For example, each employee are wearing neat and tidy yellow with dark blue uniform since they are on duty. No casual wear employees can be seen inside each station. The station environment and facilities are required to do so.
3.2.4 Competence: It represents the skillfulness and professionalism of the employees. For instance, when the station incur emergency situation, the employees should follow the company procedures to find the best way to secure and protect the customers and their possessions. Therefore, the training and others service and product knowledge of employees are very important towards customer.
3.2.5 Communication: It embraces the employees delivered the accurate information to customers and make sure customers get a fully understanding. The employees should be completed the customers problem until the customers received sufficient information. Just like customer do not know how to using on the ticket vending machine, the MTR ambassadors should helping them by delivered the correct instructions of each step to them.
3.2.6 Friendliness: Once the customers having complex questions on the service, the employees can keep the warmth approach and a cheerful manner to encounter with the customers to make customer feel their friendliness. For instance, when a customer gets lots of question, the employees could still maintain answering with an appropriate attitude and manner when solving customer problems but not serve in a bad manner. That makes customer reflect of a friendly, helpful and welcome service.
3.2.7 Reliability: For the train service, the train is rarely affected by the traffic jams and bad weather that make customers reach their destination on time. Also, the train service is provided in seven days a week and 365 days of a year continuously from 5:30 am or 6:00 am until 1:00 am in the following day to maintain the consistency service for customers.
3.2.8 Responsiveness: is referring the speed and timeliness of service delivery. The train has high frequency schedules that ensure customers have not to wait for a train in more than a few minutes during the peak hours to get the quickest time to reach the destination. There will be an info panel shown in each station platform which obtain the forecasting train time.
3.3 The service experience of MTRC
On Saturday at 11 am, once access to one of the MTR station in Mong Kok, there are many people walking around or waiting and being crowded. MTR has provided a wide range of facilities such as customer service centres, ATM service contains 5 areas, location map etc in the non-paid area. Also, MTR provided a wide range of retail outlets around the station to increase the convenience for customers like convenience store, fashion retail shops etc.
When I queuing at the customer service centre, I mentioned I was the first time to travel on MTR and asked about the journey time from Mong Kok to Tung Chung and wondering if there was any tourist ticket, the employee replied me with more detail information such as the interchange station in between and the ticket fare for whole journey, also suggested me to purchase the tourist travel pass to gain benefits with unlimited travel in one day and gave me a leaflet which contains all type of tourist passes. In the beginning, I afraid the employee will get annoy with my problem but finally they didn't and gave me a system map.
After that, I was heading to the ticket vending machine to purchase a normal ticket. There was an MTR ambassador located next to the machine and he was attentively to instruct me using on it and I could know how to use the machine in the next time.
During waiting the train heading to Tung Chung station at the Tsuen Wan Line platform, there was a platform service booth, info panel to forecast the time of next train and little resting benches. After 3 minutes, the train was arrived and some info panels were equipped inside the train to provide customers instant news, forecast weather, stock market etc. I remembered that the employee asked me to interchange at Lai King station and it consumes me twenty seven minutes from Mong Kok station to Tung Chung station.
After arrived at Tung Chung station, I was wondered about the exit towards the shopping outlet and the promotions of Ngong Ping Cable Car then I asked the employee again at the customer service centre. The employee replied me with friendly instructions towards the correct exit and gave me a leaflet about the Ngong Ping Cable Car.
While travelling backwards to the Mong Kok station at 8 pm, the train has just left from platform 1 and takes me 4 minutes waiting for the next train and 25 minutes for the journey, I believe that it must be faster than travelled on others public transportation.
In this MTR service experience, I reflected that the train service is very reliable, efficient and consistent to get around in Hong Kong. The MTR employees also attentively provided the reliable and sufficient information for customers travelling on MTR. I got a satisfactory feeling on the overall service. Hence, I got a mystery customer checklist for observing on the service of MTRC in appendix 2.
3.4 Evaluation of MTRC
The first evaluation part is about the customer service. The second part is about the train service. Now, let's evaluate on the first part.
The accessibility of MTR service is exceed customer expectation and get a well conjunction of each station with high satisfactory, it is easy for customers to reach the destination through the well developed linkage and identified exit.
The cleanliness and tidiness of employees, station environment and facilities are meet customer expectation, at least I haven't seen any rubbish around the station concourse and platform and the employees were wearing neat and a standard yellow and dark blue uniform which can easy to recognize them.
The willingness of employees to serve customer is meet customer expectation. Since my experience day is on Saturday with many customers are queuing at the customer service centre, I observed that the employees want to serve each customer in a short time due to there was only 2 employees allocated at the centre. However, their helpfulness on solving problem is quite satisfied. They could tell me the estimated time travelled from Mong Kok to Tung Chung with the interchange station and the ticket fare for whole journey and suggest the other promotion tickets.
The employees also get a friendly approach towards customer which meet customer expectation and get average satisfaction. They got an appropriate attitude and manner during serving customers with eye contact, smiling and body language.
About the communication, those information provided by the employees or the written materials were meet customer expectation and rated as satisfied. The employees could communicate with customers by fluent Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The accuracy of information was also getting a satisfactory level.
The professionalism of employees also meets customer expectation and got an average satisfaction when they exhibit their service and product knowledge. They could instruct customers interchange by using system map and identified exit to reach their destination and provided further information such as the leaflet.
Here comes into the second evaluation part. The reliability of the train service is exceeding the customer expectation because the train is rarely affected by traffic jams and bad weather. Customers are satisfied with the train service and it provided consistently to reach the destination on time.
The frequency schedule at peak hour such as the working hours (8 am - 9.am & 6 pm - 8 pm), customer need not to wait more than a few minutes to get a train.
The overall service was exceed customer expectation and got a satisfactory level since the train could reach customer to destination in a reliable and efficient way and provided service everyday. Also, the customer services of employees also reflecting the professionalism of MTRC.
3.5 Recommendation for MTRC service
Referring to the checklist in appendix 1.4, the customer had recommended the employee ratio should be increased at customer service centre at weekends to encounter customers to minimize the customer queuing time and increase the responsiveness.
On the other hand, the ventilation system and the resting benches at the platform should be improved. While in crowded situation such as festival holiday, the air circulation is not enough for customers, sometimes it may occur dizzy. Some customers may get tired such as elderly or who carrying heavy stuffs while waiting next train therefore the company may consider on the ventilation system and the numbers of resting benches.
To conclude, MTRC did provided a reliable, safe and efficient train service for customers to reach destination and with an excellent customer service for customers.
Customer got a satisfactory level travelled on MTR reflected that the corporation should maintain its excellent customer and train services to create loyalty for customer.