Understanding the Structure of Service Processes from a Customer Perspective
- an Event Segmentation Approach
Sabine Fliess, Stefan Dyck and Maarten Volkers, University of Hagen
Service processes constitute the continuous flow of activities and events during service co-
creation and are therefore increasingly viewed from a dynamic, sequential perspective (Lipkin
2016; McColl-Kennedy et al. 2015). In line with Zomerdijk and Voss (2010), the sequence,
progression and duration of events or the ‘dramatic structure’ of the service process is important
for the experience-formation of the customer. The customer’s memory and evaluation of his
experience is based on the sequence of emotions and on the highs and lows during the flow of
events. Thus, service providers should not only orchestrate the various mechanical and humanic
clues that form an experience but also pay attention to the temporal design of events (Zomerdijk
and Voss 2010).
Various concepts have been developed to map the flow of activities and events in the
service process, such as blueprinting (Bitner et al. 2008; Fliess and Kleinaltenkamp 2004;
Shostack 1984), service scripts (Giebelhausen et al. 2014; Solomon et al. 1985) and the
customer journey approach (Kranzbühler et al. 2018; Lemon and Verhoef 2016; Voorhees et
al. 2017; Zomerdijk and Voss 2010). These research streams emphasize the importance of
understanding the relationships between the different stages of the service process. However,
most research has taken a static view and/or focused largely on a service provider perspective,
without analyzing the customers’ viewpoint (McColl-Kennedy et al. 2015). Recently, service
researchers have emphasized the need to shift toward a more dynamic, customer-centric
perspective on service processes in order to develop innovations that enhance customers’
experiences (Jaakkola et al. 2015; Mahr et al. 2019; McColl-Kennedy et al. 2015). This study
aims to provide an understanding of the customer’s view on the flow of activities and events
within service processes. It draws on event segmentation theory (Zacks et al. 2007; Richmond
et al. 2017) to propose a conceptual model which describes how customers sense, perceive and
process sensory clues to construct their own ‘blueprint’ of the events within services processes.
This provides an important step to understand how customers actually interpret and anticipate
the sequence of events and how service providers can influence this by orchestrating relevant
Event Segmentation Theory
Event segmentation theory is a cognitive theory which posits that ongoing events are segmented
into discrete, more manageable units in order to better predict what will happen in the near
future (Zacks et al. 2007; Richmond et al. 2017). An event is defined as “an integrated unit of
space and time that has a beginning, middle, and end” (Tversky and Zacks 2013, p. 83). It
involves actions by actors and objects embedded in a spatiotemporal location that culminate in
a particular outcome (Tversky and Zacks 2013). The perception of events involves sensory
clues being processed to form mental representations of events that are compared with prior
knowledge of similar events (event schemata), which together lead to predictions of the near
future. For example, perceiving the movement of an object is used to predict the future location
of the object, and inferring the motives of a person is used to predict his or her future actions
(Zacks et al. 2007). The mental representation of what is happening in a particular moment,
termed ‘event model’, is updated as soon as predictions of the future can no longer accurately
be made. At that moment, an event boundary is perceived (Richmond et al. 2017). For example,
a customer who observes a waiter taking the order of one person from a group of people at a
table may infer, based on previous experiences, that the waiter will continue taking orders until
all members of the group have placed their order. Thus, for the duration of the event ‘order-
taking’, the behavior of the waiter is predictable and the customers’ event model is stable.
However, when the last order is taken, the coherent pattern ceases and the activities of the waiter
are no longer predictable, which means that a new event will begin. At this event boundary, the
observing customer will look for sensory clues that may indicate what will happen next (e.g.,
whether the waiter will come to his table) and will therefore engage in more extensive
processing of information. As such, event segmentation regulates the allocation of cognitive
resources and determines when attention is sharpened (Zacks et al. 2007). The way in which
individuals segment ongoing events determines their ability to understand them and to act
appropriately (Richmond et al. 2017). In addition, event segmentation impacts memory,
because the more extensive processing of information at event boundaries results in better long-
term memory of that information (Zacks et al. 2007).
Application to Service Processes
Event segmentation theory suggests that by orchestrating event boundaries through sensory
clues, service providers can direct attention of customers and influence behavior in the co-
creation process. Customers continuously aim to interpret what is happening and to predict what
is going to happen in the service process (Mahr et al. 2019; Lipkin 2016). Effective temporal
design of sensory clues can help customers do this. Moreover, service providers may improve
the long-term memory of the service experience by enabling customers to perceive event
boundaries at specific points in the service process that are associated with positive emotions.
The application of even segmentation theory contributes to the service literature by
extending previous concepts regarding the flow of service processes. First, it extends the service
blueprint concept (Shostack 1984) and the customer journey perspective (Zomerdijk and Voss
2010) by describing cognitive mechanisms that underlie the dramaturgy of the service process
as perceived by the customer, who forms his own cognitive blueprint. Second, script and role
theory (Giebelhausen et al. 2014; Solomon et al. 1985) also posit that individuals hold cognitive
models of events from prior experiences, but event segmentation goes further by describing the
dynamics of how a mental representation of events is updated through sensory input and how
this leads to segmentation of events into smaller units that direct attention and impact memory.
Third, event segmentation theory emphasizes the importance of sensory clues for the
customers’ perception of the flow of events in service processes. Recent studies in services
marketing have emphasized the importance of sensory perception involving all five senses for
customers’ experience-formation processes (Helmefalk and Berndt 2018; Hultén 2011; Krishna
2012; Scott and Uncles 2018). However, Mahr et al. (2019) point out that those studies do not
address the underlying cognitive processes that explain how sensory clues lead to the
customer’s perceptions of his experience. The application of event segmentation theory
provides a starting point regarding this issue by including the temporal aspects of experience-
formation based on the segmentation of events and the interpretation of event boundaries.
In sum, this paper provides an extensive account on the temporal aspects of service processes
from a customer point of view and draws on event segmentation theory to propose a conceptual
model of how customers sense, perceive and process sensory clues to construct their own
cognitive ‘blueprint’ of the events within services processes. In addition, the paper discusses
how different types of sensory cues impact customers’ cognitive structure of events and
delineates how service providers can orchestrate such clues to influence the perception of event
boundaries, in order to direct attention, influence behavior and improve memory of the
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