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Customer delight during a crisis: understanding delight through the lens of transformative service research

Donald C. Barnes (University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cameron School of Business, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)
Jessica Mesmer-Magnus (University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cameron School of Business, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)
Lisa L. Scribner (University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cameron School of Business, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)
Alexandra Krallman (University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cameron School of Business, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)
Rebecca M. Guidice (University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cameron School of Business, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 4 August 2020

Issue publication date: 2 January 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

The unprecedented dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced firms to re-envision the customer experience and find new ways to ensure positive service encounters. This context has underscored the reality that drivers of customer delight in a “traditional” context are not the same in a crisis context. While research has tended to identify hedonic need fulfillment as key to customer well-being and, ultimately, to invoking customer delight, the majority of studies were conducted in inherently positive contexts, which may limit generalizability to more challenging contexts. Through the combined lens of transformative service research (TSR) and psychological theory on hedonic and eudaimonic human needs, we evaluate the extent to which need fulfillment is the root of customer well-being and that meeting well-being needs ultimately promotes delight. We argue that in crisis contexts, the salience of needs shifts from hedonic to eudaimonic and the extent to which service experiences fulfill eudaimonic needs determines the experience and meaning of delight.

Design/methodology/approach

Utilizing the critical incident technique, this research surveyed 240 respondents who were asked to explain in detail a time they experienced customer delight during the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyzed their responses according to whether these incidents reflected the salience of hedonic versus eudaimonic need fulfillment.

Findings

The results support the notion that the salience of eudaimonic needs become more pronounced during times of crisis and that service providers are more likely to elicit perceptions of delight when they leverage meeting eudaimonic needs over the hedonic needs that are typically emphasized in traditional service encounters.

Originality/value

We discuss the implications of these findings for integrating the TSR and customer delight literatures to better understand how service experiences that meet salient needs produce customer well-being and delight. Ultimately, we find customer delight can benefit well-being across individual, collective and societal levels.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper forms part of a special section “The Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond: Implications for Service Research and Practice” guest edited by Prof. Volker G. Kuppelwieser and Dr. Jörg Finsterwalder.

Citation

Barnes, D.C., Mesmer-Magnus, J., Scribner, L.L., Krallman, A. and Guidice, R.M. (2021), "Customer delight during a crisis: understanding delight through the lens of transformative service research", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 129-141. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-05-2020-0146

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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