Tourist Customer Service Satisfaction: An Encounter Approach

Erwin Losekoot (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

Managing Service Quality: An International Journal

ISSN: 0960-4529

Article publication date: 6 September 2011




Losekoot, E. (2011), "Tourist Customer Service Satisfaction: An Encounter Approach", Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 570-572.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This textbook is one of 20 books in the Routledge Advances in Tourism series edited by Professor Stephen Page of London Metropolitan University. The introduction states the target market is students and practitioners in the hospitality field. Its authors are all prolific authors in the area of customer satisfaction, consumer behaviour, tourism marketing and social science research and policy. In the introduction the authors remind readers that what we are doing in hospitality is to socially engineer a satisfactory experience between different groups of customers and front line hospitality and tourism staff. The book mentions Southwest Airlines and their “fun” approach to their customers and staff several times and suggests that such attitudes can be communicated in advertising and promotional material. They point out that the bureaucratic structures which theoretically provide support to staff to do this, often merely succeed in bringing additional complications to the mix. They urge hospitality and tourism businesses to remember that unhappy staff rarely make for happy customers, and therefore management must always see staff as internal customers and assume that their external customers will stay with them for many years. Staff struggling with role conflict or role ambiguity in their daily work are unlikely to want to stay in a service organisation. There should be no incentives from management to take short‐term decisions which will damage long‐term customer relationships. There may also be situations where an organisation decides not to satisfy a particular target market because that particular segment does not match the current service offering or the strategic objectives of the organisation. Finally they warn that increased globalisation and a better‐informed public means that there is greater competition than ever in an industry where there is often very little that differentiates service organisations from one another. The ability to create “raving fans” who will act as advocates for your organisation in the real or virtual world is therefore one of the few sustainable competitive advantages left. Given that research has repeatedly found that job satisfaction and employee commitment to the organisation are closely correlated, the authors argue management need to prioritise a positive customer experience with front‐line personnel.

Divided into nine chapters, the book starts with an explanation of encounter theory and its origins in symbolic interaction theory but then brings the focus down to the service provider and their interaction with the hospitality and tourism consumer. It discusses the “stage” on which hospitality and tourism staff are expected to “perform” and what management can do to support their front‐line personnel who represent the organisation to their customers. They suggest that management must work hard to recruit the right kind of staff and to then ensure that the “bureaucratic barriers” that large organisations seem to develop very quickly despite their best intentions are not preventing staff from giving customers the experience they expect or even hope for. Some service situations, they warn, are more like “service prisons” where passengers have little space and less privacy, as is the case in some airline situations. Both front‐line employees and their customers operate to learned “scripts”, and deviation from that script causes discomfort. Symbolic interaction theory, the authors claim, can help management understand why customers and staff behave in certain ways in such situations, and help organisations to better understand the “implicit belief systems” that people use to evaluate verbal and non‐verbal cues.

Apart from outlining the broad topic, the book also discusses the motivational and cultural pitfalls that hospitality and tourism staff face on a daily basis with customers who are not constrained by behavioural norms as they are out with their normal culture or never likely to pass that way again. There are regular references to developments in terms of new technology and new ways of communicating with businesses or with other customers. However, the same technological advances can also mean that travellers interact more with travel blogs and online route‐finders than the local population or other travellers around them. The importance of understanding the needs of various market segments and how they change over time is discussed with examples from the Walt Disney Company, Scandinavian Airlines and Marriott amongst others. In an increasingly globalised tourism offering, the needs and expectations of different cultures and nationalities is discussed with examples of empowerment, perceptions of time, personal space and what is considered acceptable behaviour in public. A recurring theme is the idea that senior management must not only facilitate desirable customer‐focused orientation in their front‐line “boundary spanning” staff, but also demonstrate their commitment to delighting the customer in their own words and deeds. The authors point out that organisations rarely make full use of the large amount of customer data they already hold in terms of tracking purchases, requests made and any observations by staff. Staff must also be encouraged to engage customers in conversation to find out “what drives them”. However it is also pointed out that with freedom to use their initiative staff must accept the responsibility for resolving problems when they (inevitably) occur. The point is made that front‐line staff often know what will upset their customers – but management fail to ask them! If staff are to learn these lessons and thereby benefit the organisation then they must be encouraged to stay with the organisation with reward systems that include distributive, procedural and interactional justice. The reward systems must match the long‐term goals of the organisation. The book summarises a number of guidelines from the academic literature on how to defuse a confrontational situation with an angry customer.

In the final section of the book the importance of customer “loyalty” over “satisfaction” is emphasised, using the argument of “return on quality” to support investment in the people of an organisation leading to a passion for excellent service. Marriott suggest a 1 per cent increase in customer satisfaction is worth $50m in additional revenue. It concludes that having the right people in the right positions is essential for survival and perhaps the only way of staying ahead of technology and the competition.

This is an interesting and informative book written by three authors who are very well‐versed in the debates in the field of customer orientation and satisfaction. It attempts to provide for both an academic audience (there are in excess of 350 references in the bibliography) and a reflective practitioner audience (with specific recommendations about service offerings, recruitment, reward systems and the management of expectations).

The vignettes which appear in boxes throughout the text are useful starting points for discussion groups or seminars in classroom or workplace settings. Academics and postgraduate students will find this a rich source of ideas and further readings although undergraduates may struggle somewhat with the earlier chapters. Some readers may feel the text is written from a culturally “American” perspective, but as this is where the authors are based this is perhaps understandable. For those readers they may wish to also read Morgan et al. (2010).

Overall this is an interesting and challenging text which brings together the considerable experience and knowledge of the authors in a logical, coherent and comprehensive manner.


Morgan, M., Lugosi, P. and Ritchie, J.R.B. (2010), The Tourism and Leisure Experience: Consumer and Managerial Perspectives, Channel View Publications, Bristol.

Further Reading

Sharpley, R. and Stone, P. (Eds) (2010), Tourist Experience, Routledge Advances in Tourism Series, Routledge, Abingdon.

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