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It's ‘service’, Jim, but not as we know it!

Professor Steve Carter, Professor of Marketing

Faculty Blog

A few months ago I blogged about the lack of a service culture and asked you for examples of a good one. Needless to say, I got no response. I’ll content myself with the supposition that you couldn’t find any! Well, I might just have uncovered one, so I’ll share it with you.

A month ago I was in Seoul, South Korea, at a conference. Now, being a statistician, I know that a sample of six does not prove much, but I encountered six of the best. Yes, six trips on the Seoul underground!

First, the stations were spotless, and the trains equally so. They ran frequently on an extensive network, were safe and ran late into the night. Second, the price for any journey, irrespective of distance, was virtually the same: little more than a couple of pounds. Third, there was a choice of two trains for many of the destinations: a slow stopping train and an express one running on parallel tracks. Never seen that before! And, to cap it all, there was a cunning environmentally friendly and common economic sense ‘trick’.

As you know, millions of train tickets are thrown away every day on underground networks around the world, but not on this one. As well as being entirely automated and able to converse in several languages, the ticket machine dispenses your ticket quickly (and with change if you have notes only). You keep it for the entire journey, then insert it into another machine at your destination station and, lo and behold, get a 10% deposit back. Ingenious! Litter solved, recycling ticked and one happy customer!

I know what you are going to say: the Koreans are much newer to the game and the tunnelling terrain and space is easier than in other systems, but that’s not the point. As you will learn from the Services Marketing and Consumer Behaviour courses (if you care to take them), in services it’s all about the ‘first point of contact’ and ‘perception’. Consumers are more willing to tolerate some aberrations in service as long as the first impression is outstanding. I guess that I might suffer some glitches on the Seoul underground next time I go on it, but for the time being the ‘halo’ has been set, and so I’m a Seoul underground advocate.