Posted by: Chris | December 10, 2008

In Services Marketing, Image is Critical

To kick off my newly determined blog posting format, I’ll share a couple of quick, personal, service marketing experiences.

Recently, I took my 2-year old daughter to Krispy Kreme. This is a special treat for her. Every time we drive down 71st past that iconic Krispy Kreme building, she yells “doughnuts!” On this particular trip, we chose to go through the drive thru. Actually, I made the decision. My daughter didn’t really have much input on the method of approach—so long as it resulted in getting a doughnut. I was OK with the longish line because generally speaking, Krispy Kreme is one company that handles drive-thru business well. Well, perhaps it was because I had a hungry, highly verbal 2-year old in the back seat, or perhaps it was because my own stomach was growling, but this wait seemed to be unusually long. As I edged up to the building, I could see two employees on the back patio taking taking a “smoke break.”

I’ll stop there (admittedly abruptly) and move on to my second anecdote.

Not too long after my Krispy Kreme experience, I found myself in another drive-thru line. This time, it was at Arvest bank—another business with a particular focus on moving drive-thru traffic quickly (as the entire baking industry has…or at least should have). Again, the amount of time in line seemed to be unusually long, and again, I noticed an employee taking a “smoke break” outside the building.

Ultimately, the employees I saw taking “smoke breaks” (yes, the continued quotes are intentional) may have had absolutely nothing to do with my progress in either line. That doesn’t matter. One of the most significant aspects of services marketing is that of perceived service provision. When a customer sees employees taking “smoke breaks” (or any other kind of break), all he or she is thinking is, “that person could be helping me get through this line/process/purchase/etc.” (Yep, we customers are selfish bastards.)

Visible “smoke breaks” in particular can be especially harmful to a company’s branded service image since a good percentage of many businesses’ customers are non-smokers who are not especially crazy about the idea that some employees who partake in a vice such as smoking are somehow entitled to take ten minutes off work every so many hours to inhale smoke. While fellow smokers may be more sympathetic, they still probably do not like the idea of being stuck in an usually long line when a perfectly good worker who could be helping out isn’t.

This is not to comment on smoking as a habit in general; it is simply to point out that no one likes to wait. Smoke breaks are perceived as a disruption to the service process, just as inept employees, outdated processes, and shoddy point-of-sale hardware are, and these visible breaks can hurt the reputation of not only an isolated branch, store, etc., but also that of the company’s brand.


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