A service-conducive environment is one in which the physical surroundings and organizational factors positively contribute to the delivery of service to the customer. The impact of the physical surroundings and organization factors in a service environment can be the determining factor in employees’ abilities to perform a required task adequately.
- B. H. Booms and M. J. Bitner developed the concept of “servicescape” to emphasize the impact of the physical surroundings on the customer.
- It is management’s responsibility to work with employees to determine the factors that contribute to the desired environment and those that are distractions. Management should consider factors at each stage of the process, since many factors may vary or have varying impacts throughout the delivery of the service. For example, distractions should be determined prior to, during, and after job performance.
- While recognizing distractions is important, creating a process where the distractions can be captured, addressed, and corrected is also essential. Organization charts, process improvement teams, and control plans/failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) can assist in outlining the path.
- Review results of the analyses of distraction points with safety personnel to ensure that necessary safety controls are not inadvertently eliminated. Regularly review the data produced from the analyses and use them to facilitate improvements and strategy development as management seeks to reduce distractions to employees within the environment.
- In assessing which factors are service conducive and which are distracters, start with a survey of the physical surroundings. Consider the following:
To properly ascertain the optimal conditions to perform work, determine the physical environmental requirements for:
- Equipment used
- Environmental factors:
Lighting (Lighting also affects the mood of an environment and will have different impacts depending upon the organization’s environment. For example, soft lighting may be inappropriate in a CPAs office but correct for a restaurant.)
- Office layout:
Closed offices as opposed to open office plans have a significant effect on the working atmosphere. This will depend on the level of privacy required by customers in the execution of service or level of sensitive information that must be handled. Open office plans generally facilitate better communication and teamwork.
The level of freedom given to employees to personalize the space they work in adds comfort to the environment but must be balanced by the need to maintain professionalism. Too many personal items may become distracters.
Consider the following in identifying possible workplace distractions:
- Onsite work/customer site
Since customer site work exposes employees to unknown or unfamiliar locations, obtain information on distractions and plan for them. The plan can be facilitated by customer communication established during contract review. Intangible distractions, however, are inherent and common to most service work but are unaccounted for by the customer.
Site distractions include:
Human interaction. It may be common to encounter curious spectators when appearing at the customer facility. Do not allow yourself to be sidetracked from the job and employ diplomacy.
Environment factors. Noise, temperature, lighting, workspace, fatigue, cell phone, and other environmental factors use may be necessary distracters.
Special distractions. As with every situation, “special” distractions can occur, just as “special” cause data can occur in control charting. Control the occurrence of these as much as possible.
Reduce some of the distractions associated with on-site working by implementing the following:
Clearly established point of contact. Prior to initiating service at customer facilities, contact the customer representative. If it is not possible for both parties to meet to discuss possible hazards upon arrival at the site, determine distractions by using pre-work surveys or checklists.
Clearly defined and understood duties/responsibilities/tasks prior to start of work. When teams perform service work, communicate all roles and responsibilities to the customer and employees prior to performing the work. This eliminates confusion in identifying key personnel and their tasks and locations.
Measures developed through FMEA.
Employee preparedness programs to address known distractions. Include items such as safety, cell phone use, testing, fatigue, and hygiene.
- Organizational factors
A number of organizational factors also influence the level of service within the environment:
Organizational structure and management style. The structure of the organization and management style would dictate the autonomy given to employees in the execution of their duties. A flatter organization structure implies less bureaucracy in reaching decision makers. Alternatively, the system may be designed to empower employees by giving them the authority to make decisions that will allow customers’ needs to be met at the point of execution. These considerations would depend of course on the nature of the service being provided, taking health, safety, and other requirements into consideration. Risk assessment analyses would be useful in determining the optimal configuration for the service.
Organization communication flow. Clearly defined duties and responsibilities facilitate faster service. Employees should know who they can contact, when they can communicate directly with customers, and what they can and cannot do in meeting customer needs. They also should know who can help to ensure customers’ needs are met.
Union/ non-unionized environments. This factor also impacts how employees operate since union agreements usually mean that employees have fixed responsibilities that can limit their flexibility to respond if a request falls outside their purview. In non-unionized environments, management and employees may have greater flexibility to respond to requests or needs.
Leadership style. Does the organization engage in goal setting and are goals communicated to all employees? Are the vision and mission clearly communicated so that everyone operates with the same understanding? Leadership, not only top management but also those within all levels of the formal and informal spheres, sets the tone and environment for the organization. The attitudes of those responsible for ensuring that service delivery consistently exceeds customers’ expectations, and the provisioning of tools required, profoundly affect the environment.
Reward and incentive programs. Reward programs should support the organization’s goals and focus. Recognizing and rewarding employees for exceptional service reinforces in a practical way the fulfillment of the organization’s objectives. Offer recognition on an individual as well as team level, where applicable. In cases where staff may not have to interact directly with customers, recognize their contributions to the success of the interaction.
Booms, B. H. and M. J. Bitner, “Marketing Strategies and Organisation Structures for Service Firms,” in Marketing of Services, ed. J. Donnelly and W. R. George (Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1981).
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