Technological disruptions in services

When our fridge broke down, at the end of last month, the job of finding a replacement was made a lot easier by the existence of websites, and significantly more interesting by the existence of augmented reality. With the former, we could gather lots of information about each fridge’s features and their availability, which helped us narrow down the choice to a handful of options. But, with the latter, we could visualise how the fridge would look like in the space available, and alongside the other devices in the kitchen, which helped us avoid an expensive mistake. A grey fridge sounded great, but looked terrible!

Augmented reality is a technology which delivers a graphical or informational layer over the user’s physical environment, via the use of cameras. Its most popular application may well be the game Pokemon Go, but this technology has also been used in museums to provide immersive experiences, and by IKEA to help customers choose and purchase furniture:

The paper “Technological disruptions in services: lessons from tourism and hospitality” discusses how this and other technologies are impacting service production and delivery. The paper is authored by Dimitrios Buhalis, Tracy Harwood, Vanja Bogicevic, Giampaolo Viglia, Srikanth Beldona and Charles Hofacker.

The authors review 4 types of technology:

  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality
  • Location-based services such as those enabled by RFID sensors which interact with screens (such as customers’ smartphones)
  • Autonomous devices such as virtual assistants, robots, drones and autonomous vehicles

These technologies result from broader technological developments such as 5G networks, Blockchain and so on:

Image source

In the paper, Buhalis and his co-authors discuss how these technologies impact on the service experience. Namely, they identify 3 types of impacts:

  • VR and AR enable extra-sensory experiences which will impact all stages of service production and delivery from helping participants visualise future experiences, control those experiences, and remember them (both on their own, and with their social networks);
  • Location-based services enable hyper-personalised experiences, which merge location and social data, at the point of service delivery; 
  • Autonomous devices enable beyond-automated experiences, which support the automation of service delivery but provide flexibility to meet different customers’ needs and expectations.

It’s certainly an interesting world out there for marketers in general, and service marketers in particular. Though, as the paper’s authors emphasise, it is important to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, these technologies are just a means of delivering the service, NOT the central service itself. 

You can find an open access version of the paper, here.

If you had any interesting service interactions, recently, mediated by one of these technologies, please share them with me, so that I can add them to my teaching materials.

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