Customers are an important part of the service process.
Customer participation can raise an organisation’s productivity and improve its service performance. For example, when customers use automated teller machines provided by a bank to withdraw money, they can get what they want quickly and conveniently without having to wait in a queue to be served.
Customer participation in education, personal care, health care, consulting, accounting and legal services, similarly reinforces the closeness between employee and customer in service encounters.
By providing vital and accurate information in a timely fashion, customers help service employees to deliver a more efficient and accurate service.
The quality of the information customers provide can ultimately affect the quality of the outcome by helping or hindering the productivity of service employees.
Productivity can be increased if customers learn to perform service-related activities more effectively.
To increase customer participation and help them successfully perform the role of partial employees, three conditions must be met:
The task must be clear;
The customer must be able to carry out the task with reasonable ease;
The customer must be motivated to take part in the service.
The clearer a customer’s role expectations are communicated to him, the greater is the likelihood that his contribution will lead to improved service outcomes.
The extent to which customer participation can be encouraged will also depend partly on the customer training offered by the service firm to equip customers with the expertise or skills to understand and contribute to effective service delivery.
Service employees can train customers by explaining complex concepts and providing appropriate information to aid their understanding of service offerings.
Customers need to understand their roles and be trained in ways that are similar to the training of service employees, so that they will have the motivation and ability to perform the tasks.
Customer training can take the form of formal orientation programmes, customer handbooks, directional cues and signage in the service environment, online resources and information obtained from employees.
Materials with various levels of complexity, ranging from introductory materials that include definitions and non-technical language to high-level reports, will develop customer competence gradually.
By focusing on customer education and training, perceived problems with the service delivery are likely to diminish, especially as customers become more capable and begin to assume greater responsibility for the service outcome.
Accordingly, customer participation initiatives can serve as a strong signal of commitment to customers, strengthening the service provider-client relationship.
This participation increases opportunities for co-creation and co-production between the firm and its customers as a means to achieve a competitive advantage.