Get a clue: how entrepreneurs can manage the service experience to differentiate themselves & provide value propositions that maximize customer satisfaction.

Author:Wall-Mullen, Eileen


Entrepreneurs operating service-based businesses must offer exceptional customer service as "the" key factor for success, which can be a unique and more challenging charge than entrepreneurs who strictly operate a commodity or goods-based business; this is primarily due to the fundamental difference in what they are offering the customer. Service providers must always be on their toes, primarily because services are performances rather than objects, which means that the customer has nothing to hold and examine or try before purchase, and oftentimes owns no real tangible asset after purchase. As a result, services are more difficult for customers to evaluate. Because of this lack of tangibility, customers form their service evaluations on the things that they can perceive through their five senses, such as the comfort of furnishings, diplomas and decor of a lawyer's office, the appearance and behavior of the office receptionist, or the aroma in a spa.

In using the traditional business plan model, entrepreneurs really only address functional clues, which are the rational value propositions of the product or service they are providing. They do not adequately nor specifically address the mechanic or humanic clues or emotional components of Customer Experience Management. The focus is primarily on the functional aspects of the experience, such as the reliability and quality of the product itself. At no point in the traditional business plan is there a specific section to describe how they will establish that emotional connection with potential customers. According to Berry, Wall and Carbone (2006), great organizations go beyond the functional aspects of the business to establish emotional connections with their customers. This allows them to go beyond the commodity of the service offering, thus increasing customer commitment to the business. Wall and Envick (2008) suggest that Customer Experience Management, with its three clues of service, should be incorporated into the business plan development process as a first step. In this paper we look at a real business to examine their Customer Experience Management techniques to and explore how they utilize these clues in their operations. Then, we contend that each of the three clues should be included in the business plan to illustrate their value by service entrepreneurs to so they can increase customer satisfaction and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Through our case study, we illustrate how each clue is executed to promote customer satisfaction.


In interacting with organizations, customers see and process more information than service entrepreneurs may realize. In choosing and using services, customers frequently behave like detectives as they search for information and organize their perceptions into a set of feelings about the service. Anything the customer perceives through the five senses is a clue (Berry, Wall and Carbone, 2006). For example, everything on a restaurant table potentially communicates to customers, including the table covering used, if any; the use of paper or cloth napkins and their texture; the cleanliness of the table, and of course, the presentation and taste of the meal.

Berry, Carbone and Haeckel (2002) discuss three categories of clues present in the service experience: functional clues, mechanic clues and humanic clues. Functional clues concern the technical quality of the service, For example, the taste and freshness of a shrimp scampi restaurant meal is a functional clue. Mechanic clues are non-human elements in the service environment consisting of design and ambient factors. Mechanic clues include the service provider's equipment and the service facility's layout, lighting and color. For example, the hair stylists' stations or the shampoo area, as well as ambience and decor serve as mechanic clues in a hair salon. Humanic clues consist of the behavior of service employees, including body language, tone of voice, and level of enthusiasm. For example, the warm, friendly smile and sincere greeting of a receptionist illustrate humanic clues.

Functional Clues

Functional clues are the basis for service success--the core of the business offering that meets the customer's need or want. Few restaurateurs would argue that quality, wholesome food served at an appropriate temperature is a must for a positive dining experience. Customer Experience Management suggests that functional clues primarily influence customers' cognitive perceptions of service quality (Berry, Wall and Carbone 2006). However, while functional clues (technical competence) are the foundation of the service experience, by themselves they are not enough to differentiate a firm that hopes to build its brand and provide value propositions that promote their reputation for great service. For example, a rude, bored, or unavailable server can effectively ruin a customer's restaurant experience even if the meal was prepared properly. This is consistent with the findings of Parsa, et. al. (2005), who found that while food quality was critical to restaurant success, alone it did not guarantee success. A great service experience that truly differentiates the service components relies on mechanic and humanic clues as well. While entrepreneurs may address functional clues in the 'Service Plan' section of a business plan, they also need to incorporate mechanic clues in the 'Operations Plan' and humanic clues in the 'Management Plan'.

Mechanic Clues

Throughout the service experience, customers are affected by a variety of mechanic clues. Literature in environmental psychology and marketing form the theoretical basis in this area of...

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