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Service quality mind games and the penalties of being a defender.

Service quality mind games and the penalties of being a defender

‘Some minds remain open long enough for the truth not only to enter but to pass on through by way of a ready exit without pausing anywhere along the route’, said Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny, best known for devising methods to treat poliomyelitis by stimulating and re-educating the affected muscles rather than immobilizing patients with splints and casts.

Her comment is likely to strike a chord with many a marketing researcher, trying to make sense of surveys showing that different people who experience exactly the same level of service in exactly the same conditions can come away with opposite views on its quality. The fact is that people’s emotions affect the way they process memories and that memories are generally prone to distortion over time.

According to Elizabeth Kensinger, of Boston College, negative events may edge out positive ones in people’s memories, and the details people remember about a negative event are more likely to be accurate. The reason, she says, is that when people have a strong negative emotional reaction to something, the brain is programmed to remember it more vividly than anything else that was happening at the time.

She uses the example of a person mugged at gunpoint. He or she is likely to remember the pointed gun in great detail, because of the fear it instilled, while completely or partially forgetting such peripheral detail as the weather at the time of the attack or what the assailant was wearing. Conversely, events that people experience as emotionally positive, such as a wedding, or as neutral, such as an ordinary day at work, do not trigger the brain to focus on any specific detail, so ‘people simply remember everything going on in an equally good fashion’.

These conclusions appear to conflict with those of Bogomolva, Romaniuk and Sharp (in International Journal of Market Research, Vol 51 No 1 2009). Their research into the catering and financial-planning sectors reveals that people who have recently experienced a service are more likely to report positively about it than those who experienced it a little while ago.

Helms and Mayo, meanwhile (in Managing Service Quality, Vol 18 No 6 2008) examine the factors most likely to cause customers to feel dissatisfied and to defect to another provider. Their survey reveals the biggest ‘turn-offs’ to be rude employees, overall poor service, employees socializing instead of paying attention to the customer, and slow service.

The survey is particularly interesting because the information came not from end-users, but from customer-service representatives employed at a call centre – people who deal with customers for a living and are trained to act on customer concerns. These employees perhaps know better than most that a mountain of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that customers receive high-quality service at the point of delivery. Yet a study by Wang, in Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, January 2009, reveals that the most visible performances are often more highly rewarded than equally important performances that take place out of sight of the customer.

The article reveals that US basketball players who score frequently tend to receive higher wages and more votes in fans’ popularity polls than their team-mates who play in defence. This occurs despite the obvious fact that preventing opponents from scoring is every bit as important to team success as the act of shooting a goal.

The odd thing is that the fans recognized that defenders make a greater contribution to overall team performance than shooters – yet still supported paying attackers more than defenders.