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When something goes wrong and no one is

around: non-internet self-service technology


failure and recovery
Lukas P. Forbes
Gordon Ford College of Business, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA
Abstract
Purpose This paper aims to focus on non-internet-based self-service technologies through the presentation of failure and recovery strategies
employed by service firms using self-service forms of interaction.
Design/methodology/approach The paper employs the critical incident technique using 508 customer responses to present nine failures and nine
recovery strategies used by self-service technology firms. It presents data on post-recovery satisfaction levels and propensity to switch behavior. The
paper also compares findings in the non-internet self-service technology context to findings from e-tail and bricks and mortar settings.
Findings Findings indicate that: non-internet self-service technology customers experience different types of service failure relative to traditional
retail and e-tail settings; non-internet self-service technology firms employ a different series of recovery strategies relative to traditional retail and e-tail
settings; and post-recovery switching by customers can be high even with satisfying experiences.
Originality/value This paper strengthens the existing failure and recovery literature by presenting data on the largest growing sector of the service
industry, self-service technologies, and the largest sector within self-service technologies (non-internet purchases). These findings will have value to
traditional firms looking to expand to their channels in addition to firms currently experiencing customer dissatisfaction.
Keywords Service failures, Self-service, Internet, Critical incident technique
Paper type Research paper

customers used an SST when flying in 2001, but over 70


percent were using some form of SST by 2004. In 2003 alone,
it is estimated that 10.8 billion transactions occurred at
ATMs, total internet spending reached $100 billion
(Mullaney et al., 2003) and total non-internet self service
technology spending in the USA rose to $128 billion (Holman
et al., 2004).
This incredible growth of SSTs has not occurred without
problems. All forms of SSTs are plagued with concerns
regarding the level of service provided during the course of
these types of transactions. In the SST context of internet
shopping (e-tailing), for instance, market research suggests
that one out of every four online shoppers perceives major
problems associated with online shopping, includes problems
such as confusing information, long upload sessions, and
payment difficulty (E-marketer, 2001). Likewise, only 10
percent of self-service banking customers will use an ATM to
deposit money due to fear of a banking error or unforeseen
problem (Bruce, 2003); in other words, these individuals feel
comfortable taking money out of ATMs but are hesitant to
deposit money because of the potential for service failure
mistakes.
In the area of retailing, service failure and recovery has
received considerable academic study. For bricks and mortar
firms, Kelley et al. (1993) presented a typology of service
failures and recoveries and other researchers have studied

An executive summary for managers and executive


readers can be found at the end of this article.
Allen Crocket is a do-it-yourself flier. Though he travels 100,000 miles a
year, [he] rarely talks to an airline employee on the phone or at the airport.
He buys tickets online. He prints boarding passes at home. He gets alerts on
his cellphone if his flight has been delayed. If he doesnt have an exit-row or
front-of-the-section seat, he checks in at a kiosk at the airport (Yu, 2006).

The emergence of self-service technologies (SSTs) in the past


two decades has introduced interesting changes and
challenges within the retail and services sector. SSTs are
defined as technological interfaces that enable customers to
produce a service independent of direct service employee
involvement (Meuter et al., 2000, p. 50). The above example
of todays air traveler, taken from a recent article in a leading
US newspaper, provides the perfect example of the use of
SSTs, in many forms, to conduct routine service activities;
this flier used the internet, a computer, a cell phone and a
kiosk to conduct his basic travel needs. Other examples of
SSTs include retail activities such as internet purchases, ATM
machines, telephone banking and transportation tokens (e.g.,
subway). Consumer spending in this area has been dramatic;
it is estimated that all SST purchases will exceed $1.3 trillion
by 2007 (Holman et al., 2004), reflecting a growth rate of 88
percent within the last two years. For instance, in the Airline
industry, Northwest Airlines estimated that only 20 percent of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0887-6045.htm

Received: March 2006


Revised: July 2006
Accepted: October 2006
This research was funded, in part, through a grant from the Von Allmen
Center at the University of Kentucky. The author would like to thank
Scott Kelley and Traci Freling for their helpful comments on previous
versions of this manuscript.

Journal of Services Marketing


22/4 (2008) 316 327
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0887-6045]
[DOI 10.1108/08876040810881713]

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Journal of Services Marketing

Lukas P. Forbes

Volume 22 Number 4 2008 316 327

customer perceptions of general types of service failures


across industries (Bitner et al., 1990; Gremler and Bitner,
1992), employee attributions of service failures, customer
complaining behavior (e.g., Alicke et al., 1992; Gilly et al.,
1991), types of recovery strategies in specific industries (e.g.,
Hoffman and Kelley, 1996; Hoffman, 1995a, b) and the
consumer recovery evaluation process (e.g., Sundaram et al.,
1997; Tax et al., 1998).
In SST settings, Meuter et al. (2000) investigated satisfying
and dissatisfying service transactions in the context of SSTs
and Forbes et al. (2005) investigated internet service failures
and recoveries. However, to the best of our knowledge, no
current research has studied the types of service failures and
service recoveries that occur at non-internet SSTs; too
often, nstead, studies involving SSTs combine internet (i.e.
e-commerce or e-tailing) services along with non-internet
SSTs (e.g., ATMs), despite their numerous differences. Since
it is estimated that non-internet SSTs make up 57 percent of
all SST usage by consumers (Holman et al., 2004), it is
important for marketers to understand the differences
between internet SSTs and non-internet SSTs.
Given existing research focusing primarily on bricks and
mortar or internet-based retailing, the emergence and rapid
growth of the non-internet-based services such as ATMs and
kiosks, and the importance of responding to and recovering from
service failures in self-service environments, a logical extension
is to conduct empirical research that specifically enhances our
understanding of non-internet-based SST failures, and the
recovery strategies employed by firms, through the use of data
focusing exclusively on non-internet-based SSTs.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to present a
typology of service failures and service recoveries occurring in
non-internet SSTs. Additionally, findings on customer
satisfaction and loyalty within non-internet SST firms are
presented. Because a comparison between bricks and mortar,
e-tail, and non-internet SSTs is valuable for firms, this
research will also compare findings in non-internet SSTs with
those for internet shopping (Forbes et al., 2005) and
traditional retailing shopping (Kelley et al., 1993) settings.

Data collection
The critical incidents obtained for this study were collected
using 106 undergraduate students from three different midwestern universities (one large state public, one small state
public and one private). These students were enrolled in
either a retailing course or a services marketing course. In
order to address potential bias issues (e.g., inappropriate
questions to sway answers towards intended outcomes;
interviewing based on convenience sample; unfamiliarity
with the study), several steps were taken during the research
process. First, prior to collecting the critical incidents, each
student was trained on the CIT and shown examples of
researchers using the CIT method. Second, students were
given instruction and guidance in conducting interviews and
encouraged to take notes during the interviews to seek
clarification in the event any questions arose during the
interview. Third, to ensure an adequate sample, each student
was instructed to recruit and conduct personal interviews with
five participants stratified by age; students were required to
sample five individuals from at least four of five designated
age categories, were allowed to use a maximum of one student
participant, and were required to use face-to-face interviews
(as opposed to previous studies which allowed phone
interviews (e.g. Forbes et al., 2005)). These constraints were
imposed in an effort to obtain a sample more representative of
the overall retail customer population. Interviewers were also
trained on SSTs and instructed to only collect SST CITs
from consumers in non-internet settings. Finally, to validate
the sample, random calls were placed to respondents
following data collection to ensure their participation was
valid and methodological procedures were followed.
During the interviews, respondents were told the definition
of an SST and then asked to recount a failure they
experienced during a purchase from any self-service
technology. After describing the failure, respondents were
then asked to describe the service recovery process (the survey
instrument used to gather the information regarding the
failure and recovery incidents is included in the Appendix,
Figure A1). A total of 508 critical incidents were gathered out
of a possible 530 (106 students assigned five incidents each).
A total of 22 incidents were deemed unusable and were
excluded from the analysis, resulting in a completion rate of
95.8 percent.
The demographic profile of our sample indicated that 270
of the respondents were male (53.1 percent) and 238 were
female (46.9 percent). The ages of the respondents were as
follows: four were under 18 years old (.7 percent), 138 were
between 18 and 24 (27.1 percent), 141 were between 25 and
34 (27.7 percent), 78 were between 35 and 44 (15.3 percent),
61 were between 45 and 54 (12.1 percent), 46 were between
55 and 64 (9.1 percent), and 40 were over 64 years old (7.9
percent). With regard to education, eight had some high
school education (1.6 percent), 71 had a high school diploma
or GED (13.9 percent), 215 had some college education
(42.3 percent), 127 held bachelors degrees (25 percent), and
87 had graduate level education (17.1 percent). Our data
appear to represent the broader population of self-service
technology users across the variables of gender, age and
education level (Pew Internet Study, 2002) and retail
consumers in general.

The study
Critical incident technique
This study builds upon previous research by examining
failures and recovery strategies in non-internet SST settings
through the critical incident technique (CIT). In the current
study, the CIT highlights service failure and the ensuing
recovery process, focusing on interactions between customers
and non-internet SSTs in which the interaction is negative.
Researchers have previously used this methodology to
investigate a variety of related issues such as the effect
service failures and recovery strategies within the hospitality
and retail industries (Hoffman and Chung, 1999; Kelley et al.,
1993); service failure and recovery within an e-tail
environment (Forbes et al., 2005); service failure in airlinecustomer relationships (Bejou et al., 1996); favorable and
unfavorable incidents within the service encounter in general
(Bitner et al., 1990; Gremler and Bitner, 1992);
communication difficulties (Nyquist et al., 1985); and
customer switching behavior (Keaveney, 1995).
As is usually the case with research using CITs (Flanagan,
1954; Nyquist et al., 1985), five steps were followed here.
Specifically, we determined the general aim of the activity,
formulated plans and specifications for the collection of
critical incidents, collected the data, analyzed the data, and
interpreted the data for our final report.

SST products
Products and services identified by respondents included
most major categories of consumer goods available in selfservice form (excluding any internet form) to include
banking, movie tickets, subway tokens, parking tickets,
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vending machines, gas, postage, library and self-check out


lanes for items such as groceries.
Data analysis
Coding schemes from earlier CIT research focusing on
general service encounters (Bitner et al., 1990), retail failures
and recoveries (Kelley et al., 1993) and e-tail (internet
shopping) failures and recoveries (Forbes et al., 2005) guided
our content analysis of the critical incidents. The critical
incident sorting process involved the following steps:
.
Step 1: classification of failure incidents. Previous CIT
research provides evidence indicating that brick and
mortar retail failures can be classified through 15 unique
types of failures (Kelley et al., 1993) and that e-tail failures
can be classified using ten types of failures. These sets of
failures were used as a starting point for the classification
of the non internet SST incidents. Non-internet SST
failure that could not be classified into one of the existing
categories were classified through the establishment of
new categories. After initial sorting and classification, nine
failure categories were identified for SST failures,
including one failure unique to the SST setting. (For a
comparison of SST failures to retail failures (Kelley et al.,
1993) and e-tail failures (Forbes et al. 2005) see Table I.)
.
Step 2: classification of recovery strategies. Earlier research
on brick and mortar recoveries identified 12 types of
recoveries (Kelley et al., 1993) and 11 types of recoveries
for e-tail business (Forbes et al., 2005). These types of
recoveries served as a starting point for the sorting and
classification of the non-internet SST incidents.
Recoveries that could not be classified into one of the

existing sets of categories were classified through the


establishment of new categories. The preliminary sorting
and classification resulted in the identification of 15 noninternet SST strategies.
Step 3: reduction of recovery strategies. Further sorting and
re-classification resulted in the reduction of the total
number of non-internet SST strategies from 15 to nine.
Reduction occurred to ensure categories were distinct and
to ensure clarification of the recovery type found within
each category. After reduction, eight of the strategies
identified were also included in the earlier work of Kelley
et al. (1993) and Forbes et al. (2005), and one of the
strategies was unique to SSTs. Additionally, two bricks
and mortar strategies and two e-tail recovery strategies
identified by Kelley et al. (1993) and Forbes et al. (2005)
did not occur in the non-internet SST context. (For a
comparison of non-internet SST recoveries to retail
recoveries (Kelley et al., 1993) and e-tail recoveries
(Forbes et al., 2005) see Table II.)

Reliability
In order to assess the reliability of the nine failure types and
nine recovery strategies identified here, an independent judge
(with expertise in retailing) classified each of the CITs in the
sample based on the established failure and recovery
typologies. The classification of both failures and recoveries
was based on the primary failure and primary recovery
described in the critical incident. To begin the assessment
process, the independent judge was given the definition of
each failure type and each recovery strategy. The independent
judge was then given all 508 critical incidents in order to sort

Table I Retail failures vs e-tail failures vs non-internet self-service technology failures

Failure type

Group 1. Response to service delivery system/product failure


1A. Policy failure
1B. Slow/unavailable service
1C. System pricing
1D. Packaging errors
1E. Out of stock
1F. Product defect
1G. Hold disaster
1H. Alterations and repairs
1I. Bad information
1J. Web site system failure
Group 1 total
Group 2. Response to customer needs and requests
2A. Special order/request
2B. Customer error
2C. Size variation
Group 2 total
Group 3. Unprompted and unsolicited actions
3A. Mischarged
3B. Accused of shoplifting
3C. Embarrassments
3D. Attention failures
3E. Unsure response
Group 3 total

Forbes et al.
Current study self-service
Kelley et al.
(1993) retail failures (2005) e-tail failures technology failures (non-internet)
Frequency %
Frequency %
Frequency %
14.1
4.1
1.8
3.2
2.4
33.3
2.3
4.2
5.1

70.5

15.9
6.1
43.0
2.9
12.2

5.3
4.5
89.9

9.8
3.3

8.3
4.1

8.9

34.4

6.5
1.5

8.0

3.2
3.2
3.7
10.1

10.0
37.1

47.1

13.5
0.8
4.4
2.9

21.6

0.0

6.1

12.4
18.5

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Table II Retail recovery strategies vs e-tail recovery strategies vs non-internet self-service technology recovery strategies

Failure type
Discount
Correction
Manager intervention
Correction plus
Replacement (via original channel)
Apology
Refund
Customer-initiated correction
Store credit
Unsatisfactory correction
Failure escalation
Nothing
Replace at brick and mortar
Intentional repeat purchase

Forbes et al.
Current study self-service technology
Kelley et al.
(1993) retail recovery strategies (2005) e-tail recovery strategies
recovery strategies (non-internet)
Frequency %
Frequency %
Frequency %
3.3
12.3
1.8
3.2
26.2
8.0
12.3
0.9
1.7
5.6
7.6
17.2

3.8
37.0

15.8
5.4
1.6
5.1

1.9
3.5
5.1
18.3
2.7

the incidents into appropriate failure and recovery categories.


The independent judge correctly classified 91.2 percent of the
failure incidents and 93.1 percent of the recovery incidents. In
addition, the reliability coefficient Ir was computed (Perreault
and Leigh, 1989). The value for Ir was 0.918 for the failures
and 0.941 for the recovery strategies. These findings are
indicative of high reliability for the classification schemes.

1.8
3.3
2.4

1.2

6.3

6.1
17.2
47.6

14.1

includes excerpts from our data pertaining to each failure


type.
Classification of failures
The failure sorting and classification resulted in nine unique
types of failures for non-internet SSTs. The following
discussion of these failures is organized around two of the
three broad groups of failures included in the work of Bitner
et al. (1990), Kelley et al. (1993), and Forbes et al. (2005):
Group 1. Response to service delivery system/product failure;
Group 2. Response to customer needs and requests. The
third broad group of failures that was previously identified,
Group 3. Unprompted and unsolicited actions, did not occur
in data for e-tail settings (Forbes et al., 2005) but does now
occur for non-internet SST settings (see Table I). The fact
that Unprompted and unsolicited action failures once again
occur in our data is interesting but not surprising. In previous
research these failures were generally associated with the

Results
The results of the sorting and classification process for our
data are reported below. First, the failure classification
scheme is discussed, followed by the presentation of the types
of recovery strategies identified. Table III includes the failures
identified through our analysis, their frequency and
percentage of occurrence within our sample, and the mean
respondent rating of the magnitude of each failure. Table IV
Table III Non-internet self-service technology failures
Failure type

Group 1. Response to service delivery system/product failure


1A. Slow/unavailable service
1B. System pricing
1C. Out of stock
1D. Product defect
1E. BAD information
Group 1 total
Group 2. Response to customer needs and requests
2A. Special order/request
2B. Customer error
Group 2 total
Group 3. Unprompted and unsolicited actions
3A. Embarrassments
3B. Unsure response
Grand total
a

Magnitude of
failurea,b

Frequency

Frequency %

50
17
42
21
45
175

9.8
3.3
8.3
4.1
8.9
34.4

5.62
5.32
3.6
5.27
4.9

51
188
239

10.0
37.1
47.1

5.55
3.91

31
63
508

6.1
12.4
100

6.42
6.61
4.69

Note: Magnitude of failure is rated on a scale of 1 (small failure) to 7 (large failure); Standard deviations are reported in parentheses

319

(1.78)

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Table IV Non-internet self service technology failure anecdotes (gender, age range, education level)
Slow/unavailable service
System pricing
Out of stock
Product defect
Bad information
Special order/request
Admitted customer error

Embarrassments

Unsure response

Called that national number for Social Security. Automated service had individual wait for over 15 minutes and then
disconnected her due to length of waiting time. Told her to return call at non-peak hours (F, 25-34, Bachelors Degree)
Went to car wash. The price charged on my credit card was more than the price listed at the car wash for the type of wash I
received (M, 35-44, 1-2 yrs college)
The vending machine was out of the product that I wanted to buy (M, 25-34, Bachelors Degree)
Used a catalog telephone operating system to order computer product, but when I received the product it was not working (M,
25-34, 1-2 yrs college)
The screen I used to order tickets to the musical was hard to read, and when I pressed the button to order orchestra section it
ended up giving me a seat in the far back, definitely not orchestra section (M, 45-54, Grad School)
I need a monogram for my wedding on the gifts for the groomsmen. I used a monogram machine outside of the mall store. It
made a mistake and put the monogram initials in the wrong order (F, 25-34, HS school degree)
I used an automatic parking machine at the campus lot. You had to park in a slot, take the number down, walk over the machine,
put in money and the slot, and then walk back to your car and display it on the windshield. I didnt do it properly and got a ticket
even though I paid to park!! (F, 18-24, 3-4 yrs college)
I am still mad about this! I was trying to get money out of machine in Chicago, late at night. There were many people waiting in
line for me. The machine gave me an incorrect amount of money and then ate my card! I kept trying to fix the problem while
everyone in line was yelling at me to hurry up. I was so angry and was very embarrassed. One guy yelled at me and said whats
the problem lady, cant you use an ATM machine and everyone laughed (F, 55-64, Bachelors Degree)
I paid a parking ticket out of state with their automated phone system. The system was a joke! I entered all of my information
and never received any verification that it was paid, nor did they give me a receipt via phone or mail. That ticket could still be
unpaid and I wouldnt know it! (F, 18-24, Bachelors Degree)

human element of the service encounter (Bitner et al., 1990;


Kelley et al., 1993), which is virtually eliminated from the
technology-based encounters using the internet but returns
when you consider non-internet-based SSTs (Meuter et al.,
2000). The magnitude of each failure type was measured on a
seven-point scale with anchors of very small (1) and very large
(7). Mean failure ratings are reported in the subsequent
discussion.

1C. Out of stock


These incidents include non-internet SST purchases that
were back-ordered or out of stock when purchased by the
consumer at the SST. In order to be included in this failure
category the customer must have been clearly notified by the
SST retailer of the back-ordered or out of stock situation at
the time of, or immediately after, placing the order.
Customers perceived this failure to have a mean magnitude
of failure of 3.6, the lowest failure rating in our typology. This
failure represented 8.3 percent of all failures.

Group 1. Response to service delivery system/product


failure
1A. Slow/unavailable service
This category included incidents involving delays in service or
purchase for the consumer that eventually resulted in the
customer receiving the purchased item. For example, some
critical incidents within this category involved situations
where the service did not occur on time, but eventually was
delivered without any customer follow-up (e.g., a customer
waited in line at an ATM an inordinate amount of time, had
thought the ATM had locked-up, but then received her
money (described as a few minutes later)). Other incidents
included delays where the service product was not delivered
to the customer until after the customer initiated a follow-up
contact with the SST retailer; in the these instances, it was
apparent that if the customer had not initiated the recovery
process, he/she would not have received the service ordered.
Customers perceived this failure to have a mean magnitude of
failure of 5.62, the third most severe perceived magnitude of
failure. This failure represented 9.8 percent of all failures.

1D. Product defect


Critical incidents classified as product defects included
purchases received by the customer which were damaged in
some manner (e.g., missing pieces, broken items, damaged in
some way). Customers perceived this failure to have a mean
magnitude of failure of 5.27 and represented 4.1 percent of all
failures.
1E. Bad information
These failures included any instance where the customer was
provided with misleading information about the product or
the product capabilities. Examples of this failure include
incorrect information or poor information. These types of
incidents typically occurred in situations where a customer
bought a SST service/product, but then was disappointed
with its performance due to what he/she felt was a
misrepresentation of product capabilities. Consumers
perceived this failure to have a mean magnitude of failure of
4.90. This failure represented 8.9 percent of all failures.

1B. System pricing


This category includes involving pricing issues where the
customer was mischarged as a result of an SST error.
Examples include being double-, or even triple-charged for
merchandise purchased (e.g., being double-charged for one
subway token); being charged regular price for items on sale;
being charged tax on non-taxable items. Consumers perceived
this failure to have a mean magnitude of failure of 5.32, and
this failure represented 3.3 percent of all failures.

Group 2. Response to customer needs and requests


2A. Special order/request
This category of critical incidents included any specially
ordered or requested product or service requiring
customization that resulted in a service failure. For instance,
adding monogramming to a purchased item would be
considered a special request due to the specific nature of the
purchase. Customers perceived this failure to have a mean
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magnitude of failure of 5.55, and represented 10.0 percent of


all failures.

addition, Table VI provides critical incident excerpts for each


of the recovery strategies identified.
This analysis presents a discussion of the non-internet SST
recovery strategies that emerged through the classification
process, a report of the mean levels of customer satisfaction,
and a report regarding the propensity to switch following the
self-service technology recovery strategy. Customer
satisfaction was assessed through a seven-point scale with
anchors of low satisfaction (1) and high satisfaction (7) and is
consistent with other studies assessing the uni-dimensionality
of satisfaction using a single-item scale. The propensity to
switch was measured through a single-item scale asking
respondents how likely it would be for them to switch to
another retailer if another retailer using a self-service
technology could provide the item purchased just as well.
This item employed a seven-point scale with anchors of low
loyalty/likely to switch (1) and high loyalty/unlikely to switch
(7). The measures for satisfaction and loyalty were
intentionally chosen for this study so that the results
presented here could be compared to results to previous
typology studies of service failure and recovery for retail and
e-tail settings (Kelley et al., 1993; Forbes et al., 2005).

2B. Customer error


This category included both admitted and un-admitted
customer errors. Unlike e-tail studies (Forbes et al., 2005),
however, the majority of failures in this category were
admitted errors (i.e. the customer knew they were not doing
something right during the process). Incidents involving
admitted customer errors included a clear statement within
the critical incident indicating a mistake was made during the
course of completing the purchase (e.g., typing in ones credit
card incorrectly). Conversely, un-admitted errors included
incidents where the customer did not admit to making a
mistake; however, to the researchers, it was obvious that an
error had been made. Customers perceived this failure to have
a mean magnitude of failure of 3.91 and this failure
represented 37.1 percent of all failures, by far the largest
amount of failures within self-service technologies.
Group. Unprompted and unsolicited actions
3A. Embarrassments
This category of critical incidents includes any situation in
which the service failure resulted in embarrassment to the
consumer due to SST carelessness. For instance, this
occurred when an employee sent over to help the
consumer using the SST caused the consumer to be
embarrassed or feel stupid, or if the customer was using an
SST incorrectly in front of other consumers. Customers
perceived this failure to have a mean magnitude of failure of
6.42, the second largest of all failures, and represented 6.1
percent of all failures.

1. Discount
Incidents in this recovery category included situations in
which the retailer approached the consumer using the SST
(unprompted), corrected the failure, and gave the customer a
discount on the item purchased. The mean level of customer
satisfaction associated with this recovery was 5.51 and the
mean propensity to switch rating was 2.61. This recovery
represented 1.8 percent of all recoveries.
2. Correction
This recovery strategy involved recovery incidents in which
the retailer approached the consumer using the SST
(unprompted), corrected the failure, but did nothing extra
for the consumer. Examples of recoveries classified in this
category included fixing a computer screen at a self-check out
lane that was malfunctioning or ensuring that the customer
received the correct item. The mean customer satisfaction
level for this recovery was 5.25 and the mean propensity to
switch rating was 3.21. This recovery represented 3.3 percent
of all recoveries.

3B. Unsure response


This category represents critical incidents in which the
customer took part in the SST but, even after purchase, was
not completely sure they did the right thing. For instance,
many consumers paid for parking tickets (to park in a lot) and
were not sure they followed the process correctly after buying
the ticket. Or, some consumers paid for a parking ticket (in a
large Northeast City) at a kiosk machine but never received a
confirmation notice after they made the transaction, so they
were not sure the bill was actually paid. Customers perceived
this failure to be a 6.61, the largest of all failures, and
represented 12.4 percent of all failures.

3. Manager intervention
This category represents corrections in which the store
manager (i.e. a person in a position of leadership) came over
to rectify a service failure. For instance, a customer having a
problem at a self-check out station at Kroger had manager

Classification of recoveries
After classifying the non-internet SST failures, the next step
was to classify the recovery strategies described in the critical
incidents. These recoveries are presented in Table V. In
Table V Non-internet self service technology recovery strategies
Recovery
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

Discount
Correction
Manager intervention
Apology
Customer-initiated correction
Unsatisfactory correction
Failure escalation
Nothing
Intentional repeat purchase

Frequency

Frequency %

Switching meana

Satisfaction meana

9
17
12
6
32
31
87
242
72

1.8
3.3
2.4
1.2
6.3
6.1
17.2
47.6
14.1

2.61
3.21
3.62
3.10
2.21
2.71
1.47
1.31
1.30

5.51
5.25
6.49
4.47
3.93
4.88
3.84
2.64
1.78

Notes: a Loyalty and satisfaction are rated on a scale of 1 (low loyalty/satisfaction) to 7 (high loyalty/satisfaction)

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Table VI Non-internet self service technology recovery anecdotes (gender, age range, education level)
Discount

Correction

Manager intervention
Apology
Unsatisfactory correction
Failure escalation
Nothing
Intentional repeat purchase

No one helped me at the store, but there was an 800 number to call. When I called to complain, they sent me a discount
in the mail for 25 percent off my next purchase as a way to thank me but didnt do anything about my purchase I dont
even know if Ill buy something again anyway (F, 25-34, Bachelors Degree)
I bought the tram ticket and it was torn so you couldnt read the scan. Instead of using the fast line, I had to wait for the
person to help. I missed the first tram and had to wait for the next one. They gave me a new ticket but didnt even
apologize (M, 35-44, Bachelors Degree)
The manager came over to the self-service aisle when he saw I was getting frustrated. He eventually scanned everything
for me and even helped me bag it up (F, 45-54, some Grad School)
The store really didnt do nothing, they just sent over a clerk and he told me he was sorry for the problem but I dont
think he really cared (M, 25-34. 1-2 yrs college)
They sent me the correct sweater, two weeks later, and then they still made me pay to ship it back and pay for the new
sweater shipping (M, 18-24, 1-Bachelors Degree)
I was ordering a sweater with a phone service, and I had to call several different numbers. I kept getting pushed from
one person to another. Finally I got the person I needed to talk to (F, 35-44, Grad School)
The store did nothing. I couldnt even find someone to complaint to. [Store did] absolutely nothing (M, 55-64, Grad
School)
I desperately wanted a drink, and I put four $1 bills in the machine because the machine kept on eating my money but
never gave me a drink. Finally, after four times, I tried a different button and received my drink (M, 25-34, Bachelors
Degree)

their way up the organization chart, in order to get the failure


resolved. For example, a customer might attempt to return
incorrect items purchased but experience difficulty in doing so
and be connected to numerous phone agents. The mean level
of customer satisfaction associated with this recovery was
3.84, while the mean propensity to switch level was 1.47, the
third lowest level of loyalty. This recovery represented 17.2
percent of all recoveries.

intervention solve her problem. This recovery had a


satisfaction of 6.49, the highest satisfaction rating, and had
a switching mean of 3.62, the lowest switching likelihood; it
represented 2.4 percent of all recoveries.
4. Apology
Incidents included in this category involved situations in
which the service/retail firm apologized to the customer, but
the customer still did not receive the item originally
purchased. These incidents included only an apology and
the firm did not follow through with any other form of
recovery (e.g., a gift, discount, upgrade, etc.). The average
level of customer satisfaction with this recovery strategy was
4.47 and the average propensity to switch rating for this
recovery was 3.10. This recovery represented 1.2 percent of
all recoveries and was our smallest recovery category in terms
of frequency of occurrence.

8. Nothing
These incidents involved situations in which the self-service
firm did not attempt to resolve the failure or involved
situations in which the customer did not pursue a recovery
following the failure experience. Generally, these respondents
elected not to pursue a recovery with the firm due to the
perceived costs, either monetary or non-monetary, associated
with the recovery process. This recovery was associated with
our second-lowest level of mean customer satisfaction
reported (2.64). It also resulted in the second-highest
propensity to switch rating indicative of the recovery that
was second most likely to lead to switching (1.31). This
recovery was our largest recovery category (47.6 percent) in
terms of frequency of occurrence.

5. Customer-initiated correction
This recovery strategy involved failures that were resolved
when the customer called over the nearest available store
employee to help with the purchase process. The mean
customer satisfaction and propensity to switch scores
associated with this recovery were 3.93 and 2.21,
respectively, and this recovery represented 6.3 percent of all
recoveries.
6. Unsatisfactory correction
Recovery incidents included in this category were incidents in
which the customer received the item they had desired but did
not receive the items in the manner they expected. For
example, in one instance a customer was required to pay for
the return shipping of the item ordered. Mean levels of
customer satisfaction and propensity to switch associated with
this recovery strategy were 4.88 and 2.71, respectively. This
recovery represented 6.1 percent of all recoveries.

9. Intentional repeat purchase


With this type of recovery strategy the customer purchased a
second item at the SST after a failure occurred during the first
purchase. The consumer believed that there was no one
available to help them and that if they did not try to purchase
the item again, they would receive no product. This problem
occurred at a variety of SSTs ranging from soft drinkmachines where the consumer had to insert double pay, to
self-service kiosks in which there was no human-support
available at any time. Our respondents rated this recovery
strategy least favorably in terms of customer satisfaction
(2.41) and least favorably in terms of loyalty (1.30). This
recovery represented 14.1 percent of all recoveries.

7. Failure escalation
Incidents included in this recovery category involved
situations where the customer was required to make
multiple contacts with the service firm, or continue to work
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Discussion

Satisfaction, propensity to switch and SST recovery


efforts
The relatively high perceived magnitude of failure means are
especially interesting in light of respondents reported
satisfaction and loyalty/propensity to switch levels. Loyalty/
propensity to switch means ranged from very low (1.30,
Intentional repeat purchase) to moderate (3.62, Manager
intervention) on the seven-point scale used in our study. The
Manager intervention recovery strategy was the only recovery
strategy with a loyalty/propensity to switch mean rating above
the mid-point on the seven-point scale used (see Table V).
This finding suggests that consumers who purchase items
using non-internet SSTs have almost no loyalty to that firm
and may still expect or desire the interpersonal aspects
associated with service encounters taking place in traditional
retail settings when a problem emerges.
The data also suggest that, regardless of the type of recovery
strategy implemented, customers using a non-internet SST
are not likely to repurchase after experiencing a failure at a
store using non-internet SSTs. This high propensity for
switching suggests that consumers are likely to consider
alternative purchase sources despite a retailers best efforts to
retain their business after a failure in many cases, perhaps,
they are seeking a non-SST.
The mean satisfaction levels reported for each recovery
strategy seem contradictory in light of the consumers low
loyalty and high likelihood of switching. As noted previously,
the mean propensity to switch levels associated with the
recovery strategies suggest consumers experiencing failures
are highly likely to switch to competing firms. At the same
time, mean satisfaction levels associated with each of the
recovery strategies are relatively high with two exceptions.
The mean satisfaction levels reported range from very
dissatisfied (1.78, Intentional repeat purchase) to highly
satisfied (6.49, Manager intervention). In fact, all of the
recovery strategies except two were above the mid-point of the
seven-point scale used to measure satisfaction. These findings
provide further evidence of the importance of considering
satisfaction levels and switching levels in combination (Jones
and Sasser, 1995; Forbes et al., 2005), particularly in a noninternet SST context. In the case of this study, customers are
relatively happy (high satisfaction) but display almost no
loyalty despite their satisfaction (high propensity to switch).
Within the recovery categories, the most desirable recovery
strategies (based on our measures of satisfaction and
propensity to switch) involve simply addressing the problem
and correcting it, and the lowest satisfaction levels involved
customers receiving no resolution (Nothing) or being forced
to pay extra money (Intentional repeat purchase). It is also
interesting to note that the highest satisfaction, and lowest
failure level, involved a failure and recovery that includes
manager intervention; in many ways, it appears that
consumers are using the non-internet SSTs but still look for
traditional recoveries when a problem occurs. When a person
of authority becomes involved, customer satisfaction rises.
Likewise, any action that the customer must do themselves
(Customer-initiated correction; Intentional repeat purchase;
Nothing) makes customers very dissatisfied.

The magnitude of SST failures


It is interesting to note that the mean magnitude of failure for
all nine of the failure types identified was above the mid-point
of the failure magnitude scale (i.e. a mean failure rating above
a 3.5). While it is possible that this result may be reflective of
the inherent nature of the data collection (i.e. gathering
critical incident data pertaining to failures may produce data
containing relatively serious failures) it is also possible that the
process of using a non-internet SST makes failure obvious to
the consumer and immediately noticed (Meuter et al., 2000).
Additionally, all of the SSTs discussed here involve some level
of technology, which naturally precludes the development of
interpersonal relationships with customers; this, in turn,
would lead to a higher perception of perceived failure.
Previous research suggests perceptions of these interpersonal
encounters are positively influenced by the development of
service relationships (Gutek et al., 1999) and commercial
friendships (Price and Arnould, 1999). However, these
relationships are nearly impossible to develop in a noninternet SST setting. Regardless of the rationale behind
respondents perceptions of the SST failures, the scores are
quite large across all categories and raise significant issues for
service firms. Primarily, service firms need to be made aware
that customer are likely to have distinctly unfavorable
perceptions of SSTs when something goes wrong during the
transaction.
In addition to the overall high magnitude of failure
associated with all failures, there are also interesting
patterns that emerge across failure types. The largest
magnitude of failure was associated with two Unprompted
and unsolicited action categories: Embarrassment (6.42) and
Unsure response (6.61). These two failures pose an
interesting challenge to self-service firms due to the nature
of this type of shopping. The first issue, Embarrassments, has
direct implications for employee training. Employees do not
appear to be trained on handling dissatisfied customers using
SSTs. Additionally, there appears to be a gap between the
level of expertise on the equipment possessed by the employee
(relatively high) as compared to the level of expertise the
consumer possesses (relatively low, particularly if they are not
technologically savvy or new to the specific type of self-service
technology).
The second most severe failure, Unsure response, is directly
associated with the self-service firm using equipment that is
not consumer-friendly and does not let the consumer know
that they are purchasing their intended item and that their
purchase was made successfully. This situation, like
Embarrassment, can be improved by a firm simply by using
equipment which provides direct feedback to the consumer.
Not surprisingly, the lowest magnitude of failure is found in
the categories of Out of stock and Customer error. Results for
this study in the area of Out of stock (3.60) mirrored results in
internet-only (Forbes et al., 2005) and bricks and mortar-only
stores (Kelley et al., 1993). It appears as thought consumers
realistically expect some problems (i.e. service failure), and if
the failure occurs in a normal setting as well (i.e. while
shopping in a traditional store setting) it is not upsetting. That
is, these results indicate that consumers seem to recognize
that out of stock issues can occur with any type of shopping,
so they do not view this as a serious failure in any setting
(non-internet SST or otherwise). Likewise, in the case of
Customer error (3.91), the customer seems to essentially
blame themselves for the service failure and therefore not
consider the failure to be too serious.

Comparison to brick and mortar retail settings and to


e-tail environments
To assess possible differences between the failure-recovery
phenomenon in the non-internet SST arena versus e-tail and
bricks and mortar environments, we also compared the
findings of the current study with the findings of earlier work
by Kelley et al. (1993) and Forbes et al. (2005) focusing on
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failure and recovery in the brick and mortar retail and e-tail
environments. All three studies (the current study along with
the previous two studies) utilized the CIT methodology,
followed parallel procedures in the collection and analysis of
data, and used the same measurement scales. However, any
comparison of findings across studies should be interpreted
with caution since each used independent samples and were
conducted over a ten-year period.
Across the failure categories, there are substantial variations
in frequency among traditional brick and mortar retail
settings (Kelley et al., 1993), e-tail only retail settings
(Forbes et al., 2005), and non-internet SST settings. In
traditional retail settings, the two largest areas for failure were
Product defects (33.3 percent) and Policy failure (14.1
percent). Conversely, Product defects only was found in 4.1
percent of non-internet SST failures and only 12.2 percent of
e-tail failures. Additionally, Policy failure was not found for
either non-internet SST or e-tail only settings. On the other
hand, the largest failure for non-internet SSTs was Customer
error (37.1 percent versus 1.5 percent for bricks and mortar
and 3.2 percent for e-tail) and Unsure response (12.4 percent
versus not found in the other two settings). These findings in
the area of failure magnify the significant differences between
these three types of retail settings; for management, they need
to clearly understand that a problem that might occur in their
store will likely be drastically different than a problem that will
occur on their online-store or their self-service station.
There are also interesting differences found in the area of
service recoveries for these three contexts. In the e-tail
research study, Forbes et al. (2005, p. 289) noted the the
similarity of recovery strategies implemented by traditional
brick and mortar retailers versus e-tailers. In non-internet
SST settings, however, those similarities do not exist. The
largest recovery strategy for non-internet SST settings, Do
nothing (47.6 percent), was experienced nearly three times as
frequently as the occurrence for bricks and mortar and e-tail
settings. Likewise, the third largest recovery (Intentional
repeat purchase, 14.1 percent) did not exist in the other two
settings. As with service failure, this suggests that
management recovery strategies for transactions occurring
in non-internet SST settings will be quite different than
bricks/mortar and e-tail environments.
Finally, an analysis of the comparison data reveals relatively
low loyalty at SST/e-tail settings, but high satisfaction, when
compared to bricks and mortar firms. Service firms need to
understand this discrepancy and take great lengths to have
more of a consistent balance between satisfaction and loyalty.
For instance, too often service firms use SSTs (both noninternet- and internet-based) simply as a way to save money,
without taking time up-front to ensure their customers are
ready for a change in process. By understanding the low
loyalty levels associated with all SSTs, firms can take steps to
ensure that customers have a more enjoyable process when a
failure occurs.

service failures and recoveries specific to SST. For firms and


managers, large benefits can be derived by developing
procedures that actively track service failures specific to
non-internet SSTs and customer responses to the employed
recovery strategies. By doing so, management can develop an
inventory of failures specific to their industry and a list of
managerial strategies to help the consumer (based on
customer perception of that recovery). This strategy will
prevent management from trying to apply proven strategies
from retailing or e-tailing that might, upon implementation,
prove unsuccessful with non-internet SSTs. Additionally,
management needs to better understand the feeling of being
alone that consumers experience in the typical non-internet
experience (a most common feeling found in this study).
Rather than leave the consumer to work alone at a station,
service firms should focus on having some level of assistance
available, even if that assistance is simply a phone connected
to customer service (e.g., as found in airports at the
transportation desk) or an employee responsible for
numerous self-service stations (e.g., one clerk at a grocery
store responsible for a dozen self-service stations). Firms need
to find a collective balance through which they save costs (by
reducing employees and using SSTs) yet have response
systems in place in which someone or something is
available to assist the customer in event of service failure.
Another key insight of this research comes from the very
low satisfaction, and very high frequency rate, of the Do
nothing and Intentional repeat purchase areas. It is selfdefeating for service firms to have 61.7 percent of their
customers receive no retribution in the event of a service
failure. These two occurrences actually exacerbate the initial
service failure because they offer no solution to the customer.
Recent studies have demonstrated the drastic increase of
reliance on SST equipment while, at the same time, reducing
the number of employees. As of 2006, for instance, the US
Airline industry has seen a 17 percent reduction in the
number of airline employees while, at the same time, it has
seen a 36 percent increase in the number of passengers (Yu,
2006). These passengers, in many ways, are now using SSTs
instead of humans. If firms are going to continue to use SSTs
to save money, as demonstrated by the airline industry, they
need to understand that there is still a responsibility to ensure
customer satisfaction. Firms need to develop procedures that
offer some form of solution to the customer (e.g., a complaint
forum that will allow the customer to present service failures)
while, at the same time, not forcing the firm to add additional
employees which would take away from many of the benefits
of SSTs. Simple changes, such as having a purchase
processing/purchase complete screen, along with more
complex changes (e.g., using customer input to continually
modify SST processes) should go a long way in ensuring a
decrease in the do nothing and repeat purchase areas.
Previous research has identified the difficulty in recovering
associated with technology-based encounters (Meuter et al.,
2000); hence, firms should realize that some failures are
inevitable. However, in non-internet purchases, the current
research suggests that the main problem lies with the
recovery, not the failure, in that over 60 percent of the
service recoveries involve a very unsatisfied customer (Do
nothing and Intentional repeat purchase) forced to accept
their misfortune or repurchase an unneeded second item.
Firms need to equip employees and SST stations with the
information and tools necessary to engage in more effective
recovery strategies to include simple strategies such as phone
numbers and contact information for the aggrieved parties, or
more costly strategies such as increased employee training,

Implications
Managerial implications
An important insight emanating from this research is that
management strategies for traditional retail setting or e-tail
settings will not be perceived as successful in non-internet
SST settings. As noted, previous research comparing brick
and mortar to e-tail findings noted, in part, the similarities
(Forbes et al., 2005, p. 289) between those two settings. This
research, however, demonstrates that the non-internet SST
environment demands its own set of procedures for handling
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improved SST, and customer training initiatives. Firms could,


for instance, embark upon an SST-related training program at
selected stores and track customer satisfaction at those stores
versus non-trained stores.
Finally, firms and managers need to address the lack of
loyalty that is found within SST and develop ways to increase
customer loyalty. Currently, this study demonstrates that
customers display relatively little loyalty to the SST firm
regardless of their experience. To help develop loyalty, firms
should develop loyalty programs that are specific to SSTs. For
instance, firms could develop programs such as frequent
shopper programs, sales promotions for repeat customers,
points programs at participating partners, or cash-based
incentives for customers that continually use SST processes
(Miller, 2004).

encounters, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 84 No. 2,


pp. 218-33.
Hoffman, K.D. and Chung, B.C. (1999), Hospitality
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Hoffman, K.D., Kelley, S.W. and Rotalsky, H. (1995a),
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Future research directions


The CIT method employed in this research was an ideal
starting point for the investigation of non-internet failure and
recovery issues. This method resulted in a rich set of findings
pertaining to these phenomena that provide researchers with
several directions for future investigation of these topics.
Future research should investigate customer failures using
survey and experimental methods. Researchers might
employee web surveys to investigate a variety of aspects of
SSTs including failure and recovery. In addition, researchers
might develop experimental designs that are run through the
interactive SST environment. In full, this research serves as a
strong base for future SST studies and forms a baseline for
future research.

References
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Further reading
Bitner, M.J., Booms, B.H. and Mohr, L.A. (1991), Critical
service encounters: the employees viewpoint, Journal of
Marketing, Vol. 58, October, pp. 95-106.
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Appendix
Figure A1 Survey instrument

Those unlucky people needing store people to help them


out are probably also embarrassed people, especially if a
queue is forming in the lane behind them. Also considering
themselves unlucky or maybe furious are those people
who encounter glitches when using self-service technology for
all manner of transactions including movie tickets, subway
tokens, parking tickets, vending machines, and ATMs.
A massive increase in self-service technologies some
internet-based activities and others not involving the internet
has introduced serious changes and challenges within the
retail and services sector, not least the challenge of how best
to deal with service failures. Although service failure and
recovery in bricks-and-mortar retailing has received
considerable academic study and there have been studies
into internet service failures and recoveries, Lukas P. Forbes
believes no current research has focused exclusively on the
service failure and recovery aspects of non-internet service
technologies.
The consequent study discovers that management strategies
for traditional retail settings, or e-tail settings, will not be
perceived as successful in non-internet SST settings. The
non-internet SST environment demands its own set of
procedures for handling service failures and recoveries

Corresponding author
Lukas P. Forbes can be contacted at: Lukas.Forbes@wku.edu

Executive summary and implications for


managers
This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives
a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a
particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in
toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the
research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the
material present.

When something goes wrong and no one is around:


non-internet self-service technology failure and recovery
When Barbra Streisand sang People who need people are the
luckiest people in the world she did not have in mind those
people who need people to help them because they cannot get
the self check-out equipment at the supermarket to work
properly.
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Volume 22 Number 4 2008 316 327

specific to self-service technology. Primarily, service firms


need to be made aware that customers are likely to have
distinctly unfavorable perceptions of SSTs when something
goes wrong during the transaction. Leaving customers
embarrassed indicates a lack of training among staff for
handling dissatisfied customers.
Another severe failure, labeled Unsure Response, is
directly associated with the self-service firm using equipment
that is not consumer-friendly and does not let the consumer
know that they are purchasing their intended item and that
their purchase was made successfully. This situation, like
embarrassment, can be improved simply by using equipment
that provides direct feedback to the consumer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lowest magnitude of failure was
found in the categories of Out of stock and Customer
error. Consumers realistically expected, and were not upset
by, failures which might occur in a traditional store setting i.e.
they understood that items might be sold out. Similarly, they
recognized that they, as customers, could be the cause of a
technological error (perhaps by keying in an incorrect PIN
number or not following the instructions correctly).
For firms and managers, large benefits can be derived by
developing procedures which actively track service failures
specific to non-internet SSTs and customer responses to the
employed recovery strategies. By doing so, management can
develop an inventory of failures specific to their industry and a
list of managerial strategies to help the consumer (based on
customer perception of that recovery).
This strategy will prevent management from trying to apply
proven strategies from retailing or e-tailing that might prove
unsuccessful with non-internet SSTs. Additionally,
management needs to better understand the feeling of
being alone that consumers experience in the typical noninternet experience. Rather than leave the consumer to work
alone at a station, service firms should focus on having some

level of assistance available, even if it is simply a phone


connected to customer service, or an employee responsible for
numerous self-service stations (e.g., one clerk at a grocery
store responsible for a dozen self-service stations).
Firms need to find a collective balance through which they
save costs (by reducing employees and using SSTs) yet have
response systems in place in which someone or
something is available to assist the customer in the event
of a service failure.
Two occurrences actually exacerbated the initial service
failure by offering no solution to the customer. The first was
the service firm not doing anything to attempt to resolve the
failure, or when the customer did not pursue a recovery
perhaps thinking it not worth their time or effort. Another was
repeat purchase where the customer paid again because the
first time they used the service it did not work and there was
no one available to help.
Lukas P. Forbes says: If firms are going to continue to use
SSTs to save money they need to understand that there is still
a responsibility to ensure customer satisfaction. Firms need to
develop procedures that offer some form of solution to the
customer (e.g., a complaint forum that will allow the
customer to present service failures) while, at the same
time, not forcing the firm to add additional employees which
would take away from many of the benefits of SSTs. Simple
changes, such as having a purchase processing/purchase
complete screen, along with more complex changes (e.g.,
using customer input to continually modify SST processes)
should go a long way in ensuring a decrease in the do
nothing and repeat purchase areas.
(A precis of the article When something goes wrong and no one is
around: non-internet self-service technology failure and recovery.
Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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