The moment of truth

Dra. Zaida Rodrigo, Postgraduate Studies and Research Co-ordinator. TSI-Turismo Sant Ignasi

cab_interculturalidadHospitality and hostility share the same etymology, both come from hospes, a word related to the term stranger (Derrida, 1997).

In 1998, Pine and Gilmore coined the term experience economy arguing the world was evolving from a service paradigm to an experience paradigm. Ek et al (2008) indicate that little is known on how tourists actually experience. Research has been done on what is known as the tourist Gaze (Urry; 1990, 2000), based on the tourist seeing, but little has been studied on this co-creation of the experience, also called  the performance turn, which is formed by acknowledging the tourist is also  creating, doing and being an active part of the experience.

According to a report from IHG, future growth in the tourism sector will not only come from products and experiences, but also from creating meaningful relationships among people. The kinship economy is the next stage from the experience economy. Kinship is about understanding the connections between people and the process of forming those connections. Hospitality has always been about relationships. The world itself means “friendliness to strangers”

We have moved from the experience economy to the kinship economy and we have also taken the tourist gaze and the moments of truth towards a performance turn. This means there is a clear interest in learning more about the formation of experiences and relationships. Experiences however become more challenging when they are taken to an international platform. A cross cultural service encounter typically exists when the service supplier and the customer belong to different cultures (Stauss 1999). It is then, when tourists’ expectations cannot be met, that reactions such as disappointment arise.

Many of you may be familiar with Carlzon’s concept “the moment of truth” as every point of contact between the customer and the front-line staff of the company. Moments of truth are make or break occasions when a company has the opportunity to disappoint the customer or get it right.  Mattila (2000) affirms that hospitality managers need to be aware of the parts of the consumer experience that are open to cultural influences in contrast with those that remain stable across cultures. The involvement of people in service delivery implies that cultural diversities and norms inadvertently come into play when customers evaluate service encounters and it suggests that customers´ evaluations of service providers´ performance may be culture dependent.

Prior research shows that the customers´ definition of what constitutes a hospitality product might depend on their cultural heritage (Houghton and Treblay, 1994)

Some cultures prefer communications that are explicit direct, and unambiguous (low-context communication), whereas other cultures prefer a more nonverbal mode of communication (high-context communication). Most Asian cultures prefer high-context communication and the opposite applies to the Western cultures

Power distance (Hofstede 1980, 1991) refers to the extent to which status differences are expected and accepted within culture. Most Asian cultures (Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Thailand etc) are characterized by large power distances. In cultures characterized by large power distances, the lower status of service employees requires them to provide customers with a high level of service (Schmitt and Pan, 1994). Therefore, Asian customers tend to have a higher expectation for the interactions quality of the service encounter. Hence, service encounters designed to meet the standards of the global traveler (influenced by the Western norms) will be less satisfying to Asian customers.

Because first class hotel and restaurant services are delivered by people, cultural factors are likely to mediate the hotel customers´ attitudes towards the service component of their consumption experience. In Asia, the key ingredient of good service seems to be personal attention or customization and not the efficiency and time savings that appear so highly valued in the West.

With all the above in mind, it is reasonable to say that hospitality firms might benefit from providing cultural training for their customer-contact employees.

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