Service Scripting and Authenticity: Insights for the Hospitality Industry

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Customers in hotels and restaurants can quickly discern when an employee is following a service script. The customer’s reaction to that script depends in part on the nature of the service transaction, but also on how authentically the employee behaves within the script. A study of 2,407 U.S. hospitality customers found that many customers (almost half of the sample) focus on the treatment aspect of scripts—that is, how they are treated by the employee—and have a generally negative view of scripted services. However, about one-third of the sample considered the task-completion aspect of scripts. These respondents agreed that scripts are valuable for ensuring that all aspects of a task are completed correctly. Certain encounters are well suited to strict scripting (such as reservations and check-in), because their task-related aspects are critical to quality. Other encounters, such as concierge service and fine-dining interactions, might benefit from more flexible scripts, since customers are more focused on how they are treated during such service interactions. The respondents were uniformly negative when they detect what is known as “surface acting,” which occurs when employees are clearly just going through the motions of a script. In contrast, positive results occurred with “deep acting,” in which employees are (or seem to be) sincere in their service interaction. However, only a substantial minority of respondents reported perceiving sincere script delivery by employees. Given the importance of scripts in ensuring that service tasks are completed correctly, the study’s implications for hospitality managers include strategies of assessing the balance between task and treatment, determining which tasks are appropriate for flexible scripts, training employees in “deep acting,” and gaining employees’ buy-in by having them assist with script design.
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hospitality; service scripting; customer service; guest interactions
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