Chapter 11. Service as a Chain of Promises

Imagine you’re a weary traveler. You’ve just arrived at your hotel and you’re not in a good mood. Your flight was delayed; there was terrible turbulence when it finally got under way; the cab driver on the way from the airport was crazy.

You finally make it to your hotel and present yourself at the front desk. It’s late, you’re tired, and you just want to check in and get to your room. The desk agent greets you with a sad look and informs you in an apologetic voice that he can’t check you in because the check-in system is down.

What just happened is a service failure. To understand the true nature of the failure and to understand how best to repair it, we need to revisit the definition of service. The language of promise theory can help make sense of the problem and guide the discovery of an effective solution.

The Service Promise

For the purpose of this analysis, we can define service along three axes:

  • Experience, not thing

  • Relationship, not transaction

  • Co-creation, not delivery

Customers experience service as something that unfolds over time across touchpoints, not as a momentary thing. Your experience of a hotel begins when you log onto its website to reserve a room. The site is slow, hard to use, and doesn’t let you search for rooms based on your needs. You manage to book a room, arrive at the hotel, and can’t check in because the systems are down. You finally check in, find your room, and turn on the TV to find a lousy channel ...

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