Guest article by Delphine Caruelle, finalist of the 2020 SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award.

My journey in services marketing started with an internship in a shopping mall, some ten years ago. As a marketing assistant, my responsibility was to create a valuable experience at the mall so that visitors would be willing to take time to come to the mall, would spend as much time as possible in the mall, and would have a great time there. This internship helped me understand the importance of time in service encounters. A service encounter necessarily occurs over time and it constitutes a time expenditure: Customers need to spend time to acquire and consume a service. 

What is more, time – by being perceived as saved or wasted, scarce or abundant, or busy or dull – has a major influence on emotion. Intrigued by this phenomenon, I decided to investigate the interplay between time and customer emotion during service encounters in my dissertation.

Managing the emotional customer journey in service encounters

The influence of time on customer emotion is particularly evident with service encounters during which customers need to wait: The longer the wait time is, the more negative customers feel. In the first project of my dissertation, I studied how waiting shorter versus longer than expected emotionally influences customers. This project demonstrates that the gain of time generated by a shorter-than-expected wait affects customers to a greater extent than the loss of time generated by a longer-than-expected wait does. Customers are extremely happy when waiting shorter than expected, but they are not really unhappy when waiting longer than expected. The reason for this effect is that customers who wait longer than expected underestimate what they could have done in the additional amount of time spent waiting.

The influence of time on emotion can also be subtler, as the phrase “time heals all wounds” suggests. As time passes, emotion evolves. The fact that emotion evolves over time is manifest in service encounters: The intensity of customer emotion changes in the course of a service encounter. For instance, when dining at a restaurant, anticipating to get served a delicious meal creates some excitement, which magnifies when tasting the food, and then fades away as the savoring experience is over. The second project of my dissertation discussed a psychophysiological measurement method that can be employed to trace customer emotion (its arousal dimension) in real time and over time during a service encounter. 

The third project of my dissertation showed an application of this psychophysiological measurement method in a field study. This psychophysiological measurement was employed to capture variations in the emotional state of customers throughout a service encounter and to investigate how these variations impact the evaluation of the encounter. By measuring emotion over time, this third project proposes to view customer emotion during a service encounter as a journey i.e., as a dynamic rather than static phenomenon. It thus challenges the common practice of measuring emotion at a single point in time during a service encounter.

The clock is ticking – or is it?

My dissertation has several implications for service managers. The first project suggests that service managers should not necessarily be too concerned when customers wait longer than expected since customers are relatively little affected by losing time in a longer-than-expected wait. In addition, the second and third projects of my dissertation invite service managers to consider time during service encounters not only as a resource but also as a frame within which customer experience unfolds. No matter how fast a service delivery can be, a service encounter will always occur over a certain period of time, and customer experience should preferably be favorable throughout this period of time. One way to verify that customers have a great time is to study how customers feel throughout the service encounter, with the help of a psychophysiological measurement as proposed in my dissertation for instance.

Looking back in time, I wish I had had the opportunity to use this psychophysiological measurement method ten years ago, when I was a marketing intern in a shopping mall. It would have been very interesting to track how customers were feeling throughout their mall visits!
Looking forward, I am excited to see more applications of this method in both research and practice in the future.

Delphine Caruelle
Associate Professor in Marketing at the School of Communication, Leadership and Marketing, Kristiania University College, Oslo, Norway.

Dissertation undertaken at BI Norwegian Business School (Oslo, Norway) under the supervision of Prof. Line Lervik-Olsen and Prof. Anders Gustafsson.

Photo credit: Stefan Barkman.