PHYSICAL EVIDENCE AND THE SERVICESCAPE - Principles of service marketing management

When customers visit a service facility, they expect it to be user friendly easy to find, simple to use, and staffed by helpful personnel. Operations specialists tend to focus on the functional aspects of facility design, with an emphasis on productive use of resources and safe, efficient delivery of services. But marketers also care about the impression that service facilities and personnel make on customers and how they contribute to the overall service experience.

In many instances, it's the nature of that experience that differentiates one service provider from its competitors. So marketers must address the question: What physical evidence should our facilities present? When you go to a service factory and interact directly with employees, you're exposed to more compelling evidence than when service is delivered at your home (or work locations) or through electronic channels.

Physical evidence one of the 8Ps of integrated service management refers, first, to the tangible elements encountered by customers in the service delivery environment and, second, to the tangible metaphors used in symbols, slogans, or advertising messages. For example, the clean streets, colorful signage, and costumed employees of theme parks like Disneyland and Legoland contribute to the sense of fun and excitement that visitors encounter on arrival and throughout the service experience.

Alternatively, consider the office of a successful professional business an investment bank or law firm where wood-paneled walls, leather-bound books, and antique furnishings are used to create an elegant and impressive atmosphere. Marketers use strategically managed physical evidence in three ways:

  1. As an attention-creating medium, differentiating their company's services from those of competitors and attracting customers from target segments
  2. As a message-creating medium, using symbolic cues to communicate with the intended audience about the distinctive nature and quality of the service experience
  3. As an effect-creating medium, employing colors, textures, sounds, scents, and spatial design to create or heighten an appetite for certain goods, services, or experiences


Antique stores provide a nice example of how carefully crafted physical evidence can become an important effect-creating medium. As Philip Kotler noted:

Many antique dealers also make use of "organizational chaos" as an atmospheric principle for selling their wares. The buyer enters the store and sees a few nice pieces and a considerable amount of junk. The nice pieces are randomly scattered in different parts of the store. The dealer gives the impression, through his prices and his talk, that he doesn't really know values.

The buyer therefore browses quite systematically, hoping to spot an undiscovered Old Master hidden among the dusty canvases of third-rate artists. He ends up buying something that he regards as value. Little does he know that the whole atmosphere has been arranged to create a sense of hidden treasures.1

Take a look at Figure, which shows the interiors of two restaurants. Imagine that you have just entered one of these two dining rooms and examine the physical evidence each picture provides. How is each establishment positioning itself within the restaurant industry? What sort of meal experience can you expect? Which clues do you use in making your judgments?

Resort hotels provide another illustration of how physical evidence can be used as both an attention-creating and an effect-creating medium. Club Med's villages, designed to create a totally carefree atmosphere, may have provided the original inspiration for "get-away" holiday environments. The new destination resorts are not only far more luxurious than Club Med but also draw inspiration from theme park approaches to creating fantasy environments both inside and outside.

Perhaps the most extreme examples come from Las Vegas. Facing competition from numerous casinos in other locations, Las Vegas has been trying to reposition itself from a purely adult destination, once described in a London newspaper as "the electric Sodom and Gomorrah," to a somewhat more wholesome resort appealing to families and convention organizers as well.

The gambling is still there, of course, but many of the recently built (or rebuilt) hotels have been transformed into visually striking entertainment centers that feature such attractions as erupting "volcanoes," mock sea battles, and even reproductions of Venice and its canals.

Services cape Design

The term services cape describes the style and appearance of the physical surroundings where customers and service providers interact. Since services capes can create powerful positive or negative impressions, it is important to manage them effectively (especially in high-contact environments). Consider these examples.

  • Airlines employ corporate design consultants to help them differentiate the appearance of their aircraft and employees from those of competitors. Although the flight attendants from many airlines look interchangeable in their black or navy blue outfits, some have distinctive uniforms that identify them as employees of uniquely positioned carriers like Singapore Airlines or Southwest Airlines. And most airlines have specific color combinations and logos that appear consistently in the interior decor of the plane, the napkins, the snack food packaging, etc.
  • Restaurants often seem to pay more attention to design than to the food they offer. Furnishings, pictures, real or fake antiques, carpeting, lighting, and choice of live or background music all seek to reinforce a desired look and style that may or may not be related to the cuisine. Some restaurants follow themes in both decor and food service. For example, the menus for the Outback Steakhouse chain list hearty foods and beverages with distinctive names, and the settings are designed to make guests feel like they have just taken a journey "down under" to Australia for a meal.
  • Many expensive hotels have become architectural statements. Some occupy classic buildings, lovingly restored at huge expense to a far higher level of luxury than ever known in the past, and using antique furnishings and rugs to reinforce their "old world" style. Modern hotels sometimes feature dramatic atriums in which wall-mounted elevators splash down in fountains. Resort hotels invest enormous sums to plant and maintain exotic gardens on their grounds.

As in a theater, services cape elements like scenery, lighting, music and other sounds, special effects, and the appearance of the actors (employees) and audience members (customers) all serve to create an atmosphere in which the service performance takes place. In certain types of businesses, services capes are enhanced by judicious use of sounds, smells, and the textures of physical surfaces. Where food and drink are served, of course, taste is also highly relevant.

For first-time customers in particular, the services cape plays an important role in helping frame expectations about both the style and quality of service to be provided. Because it's hard to evaluate many service performances in advance (or even after service delivery), customers seek pre-purchase clues about service quality. Hence, first impressions are important.

But as customers move beyond the initial contact point, continued exposure and experiences combine to create a more detailed impression. Consider the impressions recorded by a mystery shopper appraising a Toronto supermarket for a grocery trade magazine see the boxed story "Let's Go Shopping (Maybe at Your Store)."

Many services capes are purely functional. Firms that seek to convey the impression of cut-price service do so by locating in inexpensive neighborhoods, occupying buildings with a simple (even warehouse-like) appearance, minimizing wasteful use of space, and dressing their employees in practical, inexpensive uniforms like the bright red aprons worn at Home Depot. However, services capes don't always shape customer perceptions and behavior in ways intended by their creators, because customers often make creative use of physical spaces and objects to suit their own purposes.

For instance, business people (or college students) may appropriate a restaurant table for use as a temporary desk, with papers spread around and even a laptop computer and mobile phone competing for space with food and beverages. Smart designers keep an eye open for such trends, which often underlie creation of a new service concept like the cyber cafe.

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