The level at which customers appear to be engaged and actively participating in the service delivery process is known as customer participation.
This customer participation at a certain level is unpreventable in the service delivery process. The actions or performances of employees in a service organization are the real services that are produced and consumed at the same time.
Several times, in order to produce the service, employees, customers, and even the other participants in the service environment interact with each other.
As they contribute to the service process, they play a crucial role in their own satisfaction with the services.
Being interactive and dynamic in nature, the delivery of services requires active cooperation from the service organization, the service provider, and even from the customers.
The efficiency and productivity of the service organization improve due to active participation from the customers, and ultimately it leads to improved service performance.
In services, customers, along with other customers, are found present in a place called a service place or factory where they interact with the service providers or service employees.
For example, students (customers) sitting in a class (service place or factory) along with other students (other customers) interacting with the lecturer (service provider) are actually attending a class (consuming the education services).
The customers affect the delivery of services as well as their own satisfaction because they are directly involved in service production. In services, such customer roles are unique.
Types of Customers’ Roles
Productive resources, quality, and satisfaction contributors or competitors are the three major roles played by the customers in the service delivery process. These are described below:
1. Customer as Productive Resource: It is necessary for service businesses to have customers in the process of service delivery because it results in getting the desired services in return from the service employee and the overall satisfaction of the customers.
The quality of the services offered to customers totally depends on their level of cooperation. Thus, they are considered to be the productive resource of the service organization in order to deliver quality service.
They can affect the productivity of the service organization by their nature of cooperation.
Moreover, they can resist their support to the service delivery if they do not receive any kind of benefit from the service organization like quick access, reduced prices, etc.
For example, if the patients (customers) do not play their role of describing their illness or symptoms (coproduction) to the doctor (service provider), it is not possible to diagnose and prescribe the right medicine (appropriate service delivery) for the patient. If in service organizations, customers’ roles are not designed in the delivery process, the service delivery becomes inefficient.
2. Customer as Contributor to Quality and Satisfaction: Another role played by customers in the service delivery process is a contributor to quality and satisfaction.
They act as a contributor to the quality of service they are offered by appropriately describing their desired services to the service employees.
They do so by asking questions and complaining about poor services. Customers become a contributor to their satisfaction only when they effectively interact with the service employees and express their cooperation.
For example, a customer wants his/her, lawyer to win, and for this, he/she provides every kind of information and support to the lawyer. In this way, the customer plays the role of a contributor to his/her own satisfaction.
3. Customer as Competitor: Customers also play the role of a competitor for the service organizations. Sometimes, they produce the services on their own in order to avoid the fear of getting poor services from the service providers.
For example, housewives are strong competitors to the restaurants when they prepare their recipes on their own- In such situations, they really do not need the service providers for fulfilling their needs.
Some organizations also prefer to produce the desired services on their own, like accounting, internal audit, research, etc., and compete with the service providers.
Strategies for Enhancing Customer Participation
Service organizations must always strive to increase customer participation in upgrading and advancement. An organization can make use of various strategies to improve customer participation, a few of which are mentioned below:
1. Take Advantage of Innovation and Modern Technology: Several new service organizations have been successful in discovering expeditious and efficient methods to communicate with their customers.
These involve the application of various programs like live chats and other advanced programs on their websites customized to individual customer requirements.
For example, several cable organizations provide a live chat facility to help customers manage general problems.
Customers can seek help from customer service representatives or technicians who help them in troubleshooting and resolving the issues.
This live chat with a live representative can help the customers to rapidly confront their concerns instead of being put on hold on the telephone line for an unending time period.
2. Automated Sales Process: Several service businesses implement an automated sales process for their online buyers.
Once the buyer orders online, he/she will receive an automatic e-mail concerning their purchase. It contains the receipt and the details as to when will their products will be shipped and delivered.
The system also enables them to track their orders by a shipping confirmation number; they are also informed about any known delay to be caused in the delivery of their products.
This service provided by service providers has become just one of many preferences that all customers in today’s times have to come to expect from a service provider.
3. Hire Competent Staff: It is necessary for service organizations to hire only professional and skilled Customer Service Representative (CSR) with proven experience in the field.
Organizations always motivate such employees to acquire regular extensive training all through their tenure of service with an intention to reinforce their expertise and interpersonal skills.
New business organizations have to necessarily recruit proficient customer service personnel as they have obtained experienced training and are capable of continuously communicating with and get feedback from customers.
For example, banks can increase the participation of their customers in the service delivery process with the help of competent banking staff who are responsible for providing efficient banking services.
4. Company Employee Retention Strategy: Customer service jobs experience a very high turnover rate. At times it is very hard to encourage employees who particularly have the same typical roles and responsibilities on an everyday basis.
Several companies are taking the pioneering initiative to provide various distinct career incentives such as sponsoring higher educational degrees with a view to stimulating employee confidence and commitment.
Organizations also extend other benefits to their customer service representatives, such as competitive salaries, stock options, internships, etc.
All the customer service representatives, after availing of all these benefits, will become more resourceful, revel in their work, and achieve job satisfaction.
This retention scheme will definitely help the organization to reduce the employee turnover ratio. And most particularly, these retention strategies will motivate the service representative to provide good quality customer service support.
5. Choose the Right Customers: The pre-requisite for a service organization before starting the process of educating and socializing customers for their respective roles and duties is to attract the right customers to fill their roles.
Customers comfortable with their roles should only be given the necessary preference. An organization should explicitly convey the expected duties and responsibilities in advertising, personal selling, and other company messages to attract customers.
Customers can easily self-select into or out of the association with the organization by conducting a preliminary study of their roles and what exactly is expected of them in the service process.
The self-selection process must lead to improved perceptions of service quality from the customer’s perspective.
6. Customer is Always Right: A service organization will be able to extend excellent customer service only if it assumes that the customer is always right.
This is one of the crucial constituents of any business organization as it helps in avoiding verbal engagements/conflicts with the customers and satisfies customers immediately by adopting such professional responsibility.
The principal reason for loyal and true customers doing frequent business with an organization is customer appreciation. It is always a good practice to fulfill customers’ requirements irrespective of the situation encountered by the organization.
7. Get Referrals/Leads from Existing Customers: A positive word-of-mouth is obviously expected when customers are satisfied with an organization’s products or services and the quality of customer service they receive.
Satisfied customers share their experiences with others, and in this way, they refer to the service organization.
Such word-of-mouth or referrals from the customers compel their friends and relatives to do business with the service organization.
Such type of effective networking is a must for every new service organization. In order to enhance the repeat purchases and add more customers to the business, new service organizations treat their customers remarkably.
8. Reward Customers for their Contributions: Rewards and right compensation are one of the motivating factors (from the service organizations) for customers to mostly perform their roles efficiently or to participate intently in the service delivery process.
Rewards are expected to comprise of increased control over the delivery process, physical or psychological advantages, monetary savings, and time savings.
For example, a bank rewards its ATM customers performing banking services on their own in the form of increased access to the bank with reference to both location and times.
9. Community Involvement: The next strategy helping improve customer participation is through support forums and instant feedback on organizational websites.
Shopping websites like Home Shopping Network (HSN) provide their customers with the option of rating and reviewing their products.
These customer ratings and reviews can easily help the organizations, along with online tools, to discover the likes and dislikes of their buyers.
On the other hand, customers get the facility of openly conveying their views and recommendations about different products offered by the organization.