Cohesive customer service-excellence by merger of customer service and social responsibility.
The aim of this research is to derive an integrative and progressive model of customer service and to provide practical evidence of its applicability in grocery retailing. Retailing has not been an area of intense academic study (Smith & Sparks 1993, Dawson 2000) and consequently, supermarkets are deemed a suitable candidate. The continuous changing dynamics of retailing add merit to the sector as a base of investigation.
The Research Team
Dr. Perry Share Principal Researcher Department of Business & Humanities, IT, Sligo. Ms. Catherine McGuinn Research Student Department of Business & Humanities, IT Sligo.
Reasons for the need for this research include:
The focus of the study is to develop a model of customer service. In order for this to be carried out the fundamental weaknesses of customer service in theory and practice have to be addressed.
Retailing is a competitive sector that is constantly evolving to meet the changing demands of consumers. Customer service has been central to the success and progression of supermarkets in Ireland. New customer service practices are needed for continued success and thus investigation is required to identify further possibilities.
Societal pressures continue to challenge current interpretations of customer service and marketing. In responding to these demands social responsibility has emerged as a key business issue.
A merger between customer service and social responsibility could provide a win-win solution for business and society.
To fully investigate such developments, examination is required to determine the current status of cohesive customer service.
‘Retailing is in a state of revolution as profound and pervasive in its effects as the industrial revolution of the previous century. The twenty-first century seems likely to usher a new millennium in which retailers are pursuing innovations in productivity and customer satisfaction with aggressiveness and competitive fervor unmatched in history.’
Engel, Blackwell and Miniard (1995:827)
Accordingly new approaches are needed to facilitate the dynamics of twenty first century retailing. What is clear is that greater complexity is emerging and now more than any time before retailers must face the many challenges of modern society. This research should aid retailers adapt. Contemporary customer service must evolve in order to secure authenticity of the concept. For a concept to develop and be refined it is necessary to question the core philosophy, such a view was referred to by Kotler (1972:46),
‘One of the signs of the health of a discipline is its willingness to reexamine its focus, techniques, and goals as the surrounding society changes and new problems require attention.’
Such advice from Kotler is appropriate to customer service and this study suggests a redirection in the philosophical understanding of customer service. The search for advancing conceptual development is essential to gain future progress.
Albrecht and Zemke (1985) refer to consumers becoming increasingly critical of services provided. In a similar manner Samli (1992) refers to the deterioration of the service component in services. Such contributions are indicative of a concept with inherent weaknesses. To compound the situation, since the 1970’s the concept of marketing itself is still the subject of much debate to find a more meaningful interpretation (Bell & Emory 1971, Abratt & Sacks 1988, Kotler 1997, Blythe 2001). Parrallel to the developments of customer service has been the proliferation of social responsibility, which has emerged as a key criterion for effective modern business practice.
Customer service is interpreted as serving direct customers. Most attention has focused on traditional or external customers and to a lesser extent on internal customers. The key to the success or failure of such efforts could depend on the application of social responsiveness in serving the needs of internal customers. There has been some focus on serving the needs of internal customers but because of the somewhat incoherent and fragmented interpretation of customer service, internal customer service has not secured adequate recognition in theory or practice.
From a philosophical viewpoint customer service requires revitalization for further theoretical progression and to gain coherent, consistent practices for future consolidation, which ultimately requires the aligning of theory and practice. A solution may be found by proposing the basic principles that guide customer service. Drafting such principles requires a political perspective that should challenge the contemporary approach to customer service. This study poses the research question: Can customer service be revitalized through a merging with social responsibility?