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People, process and physical evidence: expanding the marketing mix

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Marketing mix originally devised by booms and Bitner in the early 1980s, who added people or participants in the service delivery, process of delivery and physical evidence. The reader will discern overlap between these three additional P’s and some justifiably consider them as part product and part communications mix. But the extra three-p framework is particularly useful for tourism, which is typically a high contact service (in people component), an extended and complex service( the process component )and a service that can only be evaluated by the consumer as they experience the delivery (incorporates the physical evidence component).

An inclusive tour, for example, involves extensive interaction with the tour’s operator employees, with the staff of other organizations such as travel agency, airline, accommodation providers, restaurants, bars and clubs, with other tourists, and with destination residents many of whom do not perceive them as part of the tourism industry. The product is rich in human contact and there are plenty of opportunities for error especially if a product is consumed over a lengthy time period, say a week, and involves a number of different service providers.

The product is also complex from a process perspective as it is the totality of the many services that make up the overall tourism experience. Some such services may be contracted out by the tour operator, such as airport transfers or excursions, while others are selected by the visitor, such as taxi, bars and cafes or tourist information centres. Third, an inclusive tour is difficult to assess at the point of sale but easy to evaluate during the holiday itself.

To assist the prospective buyer and ease the purchase decision, inclusive tour operators need to provide tangible clues about their product offers and to use design or “physical evidence” to support the service delivery and provide satisfaction with the holiday during consumption. On all three counts, there are benefits accruing to travel and tourism marketers who pay close attention to the extra Ps of the expanded marketing mix outlined below.

The people component

It is easy to recognize that most of the variability of the tourism product stems from the substantial human interactions inherent in the experience. It is a useful exercise to categorize the participants for marketing purpose. They are:

* Visitors: the individual consumers of the product and the other tourists present at the same time and place.

* Employees: the staff of an organization can be subdivided into front-line members with visitor contact and non- contact employees who provide support.

* Host community: the residents of a resident of a destination community who may not regard themselves as part of the tourism business but who, nonetheless, interact with visitors informally and whose friendly or hostile behaviour can make or mar the visitors’ experience

The elements of the marketing mix are traditionally viewed as controllable by the marketer. Clearly, the travel and tourism marketer has greatest control over product design and employees, less over purchasers and very little if any direct control over the host community.

The marketing response and internal marketing

Increasingly known as internal marketing it is a logical extension of the marketing mix considerations to recognize that the employees of an organization are stakeholders too. Marketing is as applicable to internal audiences within a company as to prospective customers and others outside it, including the host community at destinations. Communication techniques such as newsletters, in-house magazines, electronic mail, notice boards and open meetings can also be used to transmit internal marketing messages, whilst a clear and credible mission statement can help develop a united sense of purpose amongst staff.

The service delivery process

The travel and tourism product experience consists of both process and outcome. For customers the outcome is often intangible benefits, such as a sense of well-being, mental and physical recuperation, development of personal interests such as culture, or revived relationships. For individual service providers the outcome is rather more prosaic, for example, arrival at the airport/destination at the specified time. For travel and tourism, perhaps more than for any other service products, the outcome is highly dependent on the quality of service delivery as perceived by the user. A financial investment can be judged by the out come of monetary return, a degree course by the grade of the award achieved the advice of a law firm by legal success or failure.

Planned service recovery system, recognizing marketing as well as operational needs, provide opportunities to convert dissatisfied consumers into satisfied ones. Drawing on work by Bateson (1995) and Zeithaml and Bitner (1996), the following points for service recovery are judged to be particularly relevant to ravel and tourism organization:

* Measure and track costs of customer retention in comparison with the costs of attracting new customers. Communication sots, the potential lifetime value of a new customer, word of mouth recommendations and the value of familiarity with the service delivery process of customers as co-producers should enter into the cost calculation.

* Encourage complaint and use them as part of a comprehensive service management system that not only addresses consumers’ concerns but analyses and rectifies problems. Research suggests that for every complaint made to a company, there may be twenty other dissatisfied customers who refrained from voicing their unhappiness to the company itself.

* Train employees in the service recovery using, for example, forms of “empowerment” that simultaneously help employees show empathy for customer problems and understand management’s perceptions of what are acceptable and unacceptable responses.

Service delivery perceived as scripts

As alternative way to improve the performance of service delivery is to draw analogies with the performance of a play or film. To see a play, for example, is to experience the writer’s script in action. The words, movements and props are taken from a script and rehearsed to polished fluency. The notion is relevant in tourism because many services can, in effect, be scripted with the staff playing their roles as actors on a stage. A script is a sequence of actions, equipment and words that enables the service delivery process to run smoothly and seamlessly.

Service blueprinting

Talking Levitt’s original conceptualization of the service delivery process to a logical conclusion some authors have concluded that improvements can be derived from constructing a formal service “blueprints” or flowchart of the service delivery process (Haffman and Bateson, 1997). It has also been described as “a picture or map that accurately portrays the service system so that the different people involved in providing it can understand and deal with it objectively regardless of their roles or their individual’s points of view (Zeithaml and Bitner, 1996:277)

* All relevant points of contact (or encounter) between the consumer and the service provider.

* A dividing line between activity that is visible to customers and the support activity that is not.

* Activities of participating, both customers and employees, directionally linked in the flow chart.

* Support processes involved in the service delivery.

* Standard length of time for individual activities and any time targets based on consumer expectations. From these, labour costs and hourly or daily throughout put can be calculated.

* Bottlenecks or points in the process where consumers are obliged to wait the longest period of time.

* Points in the process where service failure might occur that is both rated as significant and observed by the consumer.

* Evidence of service that aids positioning and consumer evaluation of quality.

Blueprints are flexible tools. They can be used to examine differences between key consumer segments and investigate differences between employee and consumer expectations.

Managing physical evidence and design

The third additional component of the services marketing mix is that of physical evidence, rooted in the five senses of sight (especially colour and aesthetics), sound, scent, touch and taste. Because tourism products are characterizes by inseparability, visitors are presents in the production premises and the design of the physical setting for the delivery process is a vital part of the product. Of course, the physical setting is something the raison d’etre for tourism in the first place but here it refers t the design of the built environment owned and controlled by a tourism organization, for example, a theme park or hotel, or to the efforts of an organization to design a natural or built area to meet particular visitor management objectives. Because tourism products are also characterized by intangibility, physical evidence is used additionally to “tangibilize” the offer away from the place of consumption, especially at the point of sale, to influence purchasing.

It is also used to reduce post-purchase anxiety, although with the notable exception of the brochure and more recently access to website, the planning of remote physical evidences has often been overlooked. Physical evidence can help to socialize customers and employees, and facilitate desired emotional states or behaviours. Physical evidence should be organized around stated goals. Physical evidences can attract desired segments whilst deterring others. Thus aiding demand management. Physical evidence may be used as a from of virtual reality to create access whilst protecting the resource.

The power that the external and internal design of buildings influences over customers and employees is increasingly recognized in all sectors of travel and tourism. Its use in communicating corporate, brand and product values is becoming more important.

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