Regardless of whether companies consider themselves as manufacturing or service producing companies, today nearly every company offers customer support in some form. Despite the frequent presence of customer-support service in companies the understanding of how customers experience the use of it in their interactions with companies is vague. In recent studies where service has been discussed (Grönroos 2006; Edvardsson et al. 2005; Lovelock and Gummesson 2004; Vargo and Lusch 2004a; 2004b), one important aspect has been to stress context specific and even company specific issues. Therefore it is relevant to examine a specific service related to a specific industry. Such a service is what most industries have included in their offerings and most customers have experienced; customer support service.
The purpose of this article is to understand the applicable mechanism of customer support service as it is perceived by the customers, i.e. its development and appearance from the customers point of view. The relationships strength is the departure and the dynamic picture including the core service and customer support service the focus.
Customer support service was studied from the customers perspective by interviewing 70 telecom customers about what role the support service has in their relationships in comparison with the core service/product. The results indicate that customers assessments of customer-support service drive surprisingly often the relationships whereas the core service, correspondingly, has a minor role for the relationship continuation. It looks like the dynamism of the customer perceptions of the core and support service dimensions needs to be understood in order to capture the customers reality. The dynamism was revealed by applying a modification of the SPAT method (Switching Path Analysis Technique), SPAT-mechanism, to the 70 interviews and contrasted to a static content analysis of 1900 customers support-service contacts in order to learn from the differences between the two approaches and their result generating capabilities.
The contribution of the study is that customers do not carry a static picture of the core and support service configuration. On the contrary, according to their frame of references and for its situational purpose customers experience a dynamic entity. Despite the presence of customer support service in almost all companies it has rarely been focused on in marketing research. Contiguous studies again often separate the support dimension from the overall picture of service in the same way as do the company organizations generally; thus, separate functions in separated departments or units.
Based on the results of the analysis using the SPAT-mechanism and by emphasizing the customers perceptive, the following was confirmed; the definition of customer support service in telecom was possible to establish as to both its nature and its role in the relationships consequently for the strength. In order to make a comparison that either verifies or challenges such an assumption, a comparison study based on a static content analysis was carried out in order to compare the results of a dynamic analysis to the static. If a method had been used excluding the option of considering the relationship dynamism and strength, the results show that it might neither have been possible to define the dynamism of the customer support service nor determine its role for relationship strength. However, by applying the dynamic mechanism the contribution regarding the understanding of customer-support service in telecom was broadened. Support service has no static definition from the customers point of view; it rather is embedded in the core product and highly related to customers value-in-use (Bitner and Brown 2006). The comprehension of the results of the present study has implication for how companies should design their support service in order to really support the customers.
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