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Self-Service Technology in Retailing Essay

Today’s fast paced world is becoming increasingly characterized by technology-facilitated transactions. Growing number of customers interact with technology to create service outcomes rather than personally interacting with a service firm employee. Meuter et al. (2000, 50) defined self-service technologies (SSTs) as “technological interface that enable customers to produce a service independent of direct service employee involvement.”

Given that the emphasis in the academic research has focused mostly on the interpersonal dynamics of service encounters, there is much to be learned about customer interactions with technology-based self-service delivery options (Bitner, Brown, and Meuter 2000, 141). It is increasingly evident that technological innovations and advancement will continue to become a critical component of customer-firm interactions. These technology-based interactions are expected to become a key criterion for long-term business success. This continuing proliferation of SSTs conveys the need for research that goes beyond the interpersonal dynamics of service encounters into this technology oriented context (Pasuraman 1996, 58).

This paper shall focus on one of many industries where SSTs had been prominently implemented, which, in particular, is the airline industry. This research’s goal is to gain insight into the effectiveness of SSTs for the industry and the research will be based on both the customer and

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the organization’s perspective. This includes the possible costs and benefits that the customer and the organization might gain after the implementation of SSTs.

This paper will also emphasize on the point that despite the dramatic increase in the use of self-service technologies across industries, customers may need help during the transition period from full- to self-service (Strother, Fazal, and Rettich 2010, 191). For instance, in the airline industry, companies generally position the staffs beside the check-in kiosks to help their passengers. Despite the increasing trend toward self-service technologies, organization must communicate with and provide service to customers through multiple channels in order to meet customer needs. The role of professional communicators is essential to ensure a smooth transition from full- to self-service (Strother, Fazal, and Rettich 2010, 191).

Service Encounters and SSTs Dynamics

Academic researchers have recognized the critical importance of technology in the delivery of service. It was suggested that the traditional marketplace interaction is being replaced by a ‘marketspace’ transaction (Rayport and Sviokla 1994, 3). The ‘marketspace’ is defined as a “virtual realm where products and services exist as digital information and can be delivered through information based channels” (Rayport and Sviokla 1994, 3). The foundation of customer-firm interaction has significantly changed in this new marketspace environment. SSTs are a classic example of marketspace transactions in which no personal contacts is required between buyer and seller.

Several studies have investigated issues involving SSTs, mainly focusing on the development of user profiles. Langeard et al. (1981) among others were one of the firsts to identify and describe customers who might be willing to use self-service delivery alternative. They attempted to segment markets on the basis of willingness to participate actively in the delivery of services. It was eventually found out that participants tend to be younger, single, and better educated and have a lower income level. Bateson (1985, 67) explores the choice between a self-service option and an interpersonal service delivery system. Bateson examines the attractiveness of self-service options when the usual monetary and time-saving incentives are controlled and finds that a significant group of people choose to use self-service options even without the monetary or time-saving benefits.

One important issue to be noted from these early studies is that both Langeard et al. and Bateson is that they made no distinction between technology-based self-service scenarios and the more labor-based self-service situations. Only two of the six self-service scenarios across the studies were technology-based (i.e. using ATM machines or purchasing traveller’s tickets from an automated machine). It is likely that the technological aspect of recent self-service options has a more unique influence on consumer perceptions.

Dabholkar (1992, 564) conducted a more in-depth research by evaluating SST’s service quality using a comparison between an attribute model based on what customers expect from the computerized fast food ordering SST across various attributes (expected speed of delivery, ease of use, reliability, enjoyment, and control) and an overall affect model based on beliefs about the use of technology and the need for interaction with service employees. Dabholkar finds out that the attribute model to be superior in predicting evaluations. It was also revealed that enjoyment and control are the two most influential attributes.

Correlating these studies into the research, it could be said that the same theories also apply within the context of airline industries, in a sense that the primary reasons for consumers using SSTs are because of its efficiency and reduced cost and labor, as well as freedom of control and a feeling of superiority (Abdelaziz, Hegazy, and Elabbassy 2010, 17). Customers no longer need to go to a physical check-in kiosk and wait in a queue to purchase their tickets. They can now do it online through a website which would take them to a step-by-step process, in which they could complete all the procedure in one sitting.

SSTs via the internet in airline services could also grant the consumers more freedom in their service options, and another plus point is that they could do it in a more relaxed atmosphere (i.e. in their own home with their own PC) where they could take it easy in making their decisions. Additionally, giving the customers the opportunity to do the procedures themselves may give them a sense of superiority. All in all, it is not an overstatement to say that almost all flight passengers these days choose to utilize SSTs in making their purchase.

Role of SSTs within the Airline Industry In recent years, the airline industry started to introduce a variety of innovative check-in technologies. The dedicated self-service check-in kiosks are now an integral part of many airport facilities, and the new e-ticket service also allows the use of online check-in. These new features enabled the airline industry to reduce the time and staff required, thus saving a substantial amount of costs in the operation. Additionally, it also helped them to increase the number of passengers due to reduced number of queues (Abdelaziz, Hegazy, and Elabbassy 2010, 18).

Abdelaziz, Hegazy, and Elabbassy (2010, 18) classified the typical SSTs that an international airport has into four; information kiosk, ticketing kiosk, retail kiosk, and Common User Self Service (CUSS) kiosk. Information kiosk is a standalone desk or an interactive computer terminal that provides information. Ticketing kiosk can be used by customers to purchase tickets, check baggage, and monitor the status of arrival and departing flights of a specific airline. CUSS kiosk is relied by the airline industry in helping to ease congestion and prevent long lines in check-in counters. Retail kiosk act as a booth where people can purchase food, magazines, or souvenirs before or after a flight.

To compile these characteristics in a nutshell, computerized terminals allow customers to avoid long lines at ticket counters and check in for their flights at their own convenience. Customer service agents are relieved from the burden of manually entering information and checking in a large number of passengers before flights. They would be able to help people who have difficulties with kiosks and those who need to discuss special accommodations instead. The self-service model reduces or in some cases, eliminates the needs for airline staffs to personally cater for passengers in performing tasks that the passengers themselves are often willing and able to do it themselves. The main challenge faced by various aviation companies is in fact, keeping a large number of kiosk assistance on standby 24/7 to handle surges in passenger traffic.

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