Academic journal article IBAR

Service in Ireland: A Comparative Study of Practice and Performance

Academic journal article IBAR

Service in Ireland: A Comparative Study of Practice and Performance

Article excerpt

Introduction

Ireland, with its reputation for easy-going and friendly people, might be expected to have service organisations that perform well when customer contact is such an important contributor to good service performance. However, until relatively recently, with the exception of a few specialised areas, Ireland was seen as an under-performer in service (Dublin Chamber of Commerce, 1993). Yet, in the last decade, the importance both of the service sector and of customer care in the service mix have grown. Mounting evidence suggests that international travel and the globalisation of businesses, including the spread of service firms internationally and the transfer of management practices from one country to another, affect customer expectations (Carson & Gilmore, 1989; Meyer and Dornach, 1996; Voss, Blackmon, Chase, Rose & Roth, 1997). Throughout the 1990's, the Irish economy has been one of the fastest growing in the world, and much of this growth has been among Irish service organisations. The structure of the economy has continued to change and, by 1999, it was anticipated that there would be a gradual shift from high-tech manufacturing to market services, especially internationally traded services, over the following decade (ESRI, 1999). Yet, for example, few of the 83 Irish companies studied by Byron ( 1996) had in place a structured or planned approach to building relationships with their customers that would encourage loyalty. Even in 1999, there were still signs of problems. An article in the Irish Times noted:

The new "Ireland of the Welcomes" is over-priced, underserviced and distinctly unfriendly (Sheridan, 1999).

This paper will present the results of an in-depth comparative study of practice and performance in the Irish service industry carried out in 1996. The objective of the study was to determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of Irish and UK service organisations, and, in particular, to determine if there were any substantial differences between service in Ireland and the UK. After introducing the underlying model on which the study was based, the paper will outline the approach taken to data gathering and analysis before presenting the findings and highlighting some emerging issues.

The Service Management Model

The study of practice and performance in the Irish service industry was carried out in 1996. The model on which the study was based, the Service Management Model, was developed in the UK as part of the "Service in Britain" study (Voss, Blackmon & Johnson, 1995) from which the UK data used for comparative purposes here were drawn.

The "Service in Britain" study set out to assess a representative cross-section of UK service organisations drawn from both public and private sectors. Between December 1994 and May 1995, a study team from London and Warwick Business Schools conducted face-to-face on-site interviews with directors and senior managers from 115 service organisations. These organisations ranged from small, privatelyowned businesses to large multi-nationals and included public sector organisations and privatised utilities in the following sectors: professional services; utilities; public services; retail & leisure; finance; industrial services; and, transport.

The Service Management Model drew on established models of practice and performance in service organisations, including the service profit chain (Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser & Schlesinger, 1994; Heskett, Sasser & Schlesinger, 1997), the UK Chartermark and the European Quality Award. These models were combined into the Service Management Model that linked practice in service management to service and business performance. This model was based on the underlying proposition that best practice in service management led to high service performance which, in turn, led to superior business performance. The Service Management Model is illustrated in Figure 1. …

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