Shiv Sena’s Gaikwad and TDP’s Reddy, Airline Staff, Service Marketing, Surface Acting and Deep Acting

One of the critical aspects in marketing and managing service products is customer provider interaction. This is also referred to as moment of truth.  This in a bullfighting situation is the moment when the matador makes the kill. In human interactions, it is also the moment when one’s character, courage or skill is put to test.  When two or more people come in a face to face to situation like a cursory exchange of glance between two car drivers at an intersection or between a doctor and patient, certain outcomes are produced.  These encounters do not produce a sum by way of simple addition, rather they unleash chain reactions as it happens in chemistry.  A chemical reaction that is produced by interaction of two molecules  is often more powerful and impactful.  Therefore, human interactions in social situations are more about chemistry than mathematics.

Jan Carlzon of SAS used this concept of MOT in his airline’s context and stressed on its importance because any customer contact, however remote, is an opportunity to form impressions. The impressions are outcomes of encounters and these must be managed because in services customers don’t take home some tangible entity but they carry intangible impressions. In case of goods, the happening of MOT begins when a consumer sets his or her sight on a product which is followed by interactions during product purchase and use and ends with feedback, if any.  A Forbes article reported that Google came up with its own concept of MOT which was called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) to refer to interactions (website searches, reading reviews etc) that happen even before buying is done.  The things did not stop here and later in  2014, Less Than Zero Moment of Truth was proposed by Eventricity Ltd to signify a situation when something happens in a customer’s life and a product search is started.

The service jobs like those of doctors, teachers, policemen, actors, air hosts and restaurant staff are tough.  They require a special type of labor- emotional labor, a concept introduced by Hochschild (The Managed Heart). The service jobs are not always nice rather often they are nasty. Imagine the stress that airline staff face when they fly into a country whose people are culturally impoverished and wear their crudity and rusticity on their shoulders.  Same also holds true for Uber cab drivers for whom some passengers are nothing less than nightmare.  The economic challenge that looms on their heads is  how to ‘act’ in such a manner that customers take home good impressions. This requires them to hide what they internally feel and ‘act’ in sync with the provided script.

Services are often psychological battlegrounds where employee success depends on the ability to suppress genuine feeling and exhibiting behaviors and emotions that are not in sync with internal emotional state.  This breeds dissonance at the workplace.  The boundary spanning roles are stressful for employees for they have to keep their emotions in check.Image result for gaikwad air india


Now consider the two recent cases involving Shiv Sena MP Gaikwad and Diwaker Reddy of TDP (Shiv Sena MP hits Air India employee with slippers on plane at New Delhi airport; Another Gaikwad! TDP MP pushes, shoves & abuses Indigo Staff and gets banned by all airlines). Now imagine the stress these people would have been subjected to when a customer violates all norms of decency. What options do people have in these kinds of demanding situations?

Two types of emotional labor can be distinguished: deep acting and surface acting. An employee on the surface may wear a cool and decent façade or fake emotion for the sake of adherence to organizational rules. This happens all the time when frontline staff shows synthetic smiles and courtesy. Imagine how difficult and stressful it must have been for airline staff to be calm and composed when Shiv Sena MP acted like a goon not as MP. Deep acting on the other hand refers to a situation when an employee genuinely tries to feel the emotion that he or she is expected to show in performance of a service role. Deep acting is about internalization of emotions which removes plasticity and lends genuineness. It requires deeper engagement with heart and soul and cultivation of oneness with the expected role. People have an uncanny ability to discriminate between natural and synthetic. What touches the heart is remembered and forges deeper connections. Not all service organizations invest in frontline staff in order to transform them into people capable of genuine performance. They are quite opposite to logic and are placed at the bottom of organizational pyramid and are given lowest importance.

Viewed from the MPs perspective what do these episodes mean? When media covers these incidents they must remember that remote encounters take place and press chemistry into action. These moments of truth accumulate and create a lump of disgust, frustration and abomination towards specific individuals. This is the reason why even stalwarts are defeated in elections. If they can’t change their core and continue to be crooks, at least they can master the art of surface acting.

Market, value, boundary spanners and power shift

Marketing is described in many ways including as a boundary spanning function. Marketing operates at a point where the boundary of a firm ends and market boundary begins. There is not guarantee that these two boundaries would automatically intersect with each other. It is the supreme job of marketing to make business and market meet and intersect.  Without an intersection there is unlikely to be any exchange and hence value creation.

In the old times of regulated economies and restricted supply the marketing equation was tilted in favor of suppliers. Back then consumers chased goods. Consider when brands like Bajaj, Hindustan Motors, DCM and Lifebuoy enjoyed unbridled power over their consumers. The markets/ consumer pushed themselves towards marketers. Marketing was an effortless game. Later with the adoption of pro-competition ideology industries were liberalized. This began to spoil the game for incumbent players. In competitive regime consumers don’t seek goods, rather marketers seek them. Consumers need to be pulled and attracted. Too much supply chases too few consumers. Competition strips marketers of their power. Market players win by reducing consumer’s choice set. But competition does the opposite, it expands it. The perceived similarity between Samsung, LF, Toshiba and Sony renders these companies powerless. Now the power to give sustenance stands shifted to consumers. The challenge is how to recapture it and achieve dominance of consumer.

The question arises, what are the sources of power? Power literally means ability to influence or direct behavior of others. In a marketing situation, every firm dreams of wielding power over its consumers so that they buy, buy more, buy regularly, and pay premium for its products. Alvin Toffler in his book Power Shift discusses three sources of power: violence (physical muscle based power), wealth (money-stored time and action) and knowledge (with this both other types of powers can be obtained). What source of power should a firm plug into to gain market power?

All the three sources of powers exist in a business system but it all depends upon the top management which source of power a firm plugs into. The source of muscle or violence power is likely to be production because it controls maximum number of people and physical resources. The wealth power rests with finance (money is power culture or money is most important resource and goal). It is because of their power these two departments often enjoy major sway in decision process. Firms differ in their orientations depending upon which department dominates or drives decision dynamics. Finance and production heads were once considered to be the most influential positions for their assumed significance. They derived their strength from their control over traditional sources of power that stemmed from muscle/violence/ wealth. This was in sync with the realities of agrarian and industrial economy. However environment over time has undergone subtle but profound change. The issue is can business survive by remaining plugged into same source of power in future?   

The businesses and products/ value prima facie appear same as before. But observe minutely, they are in reality not. Both supply and demand side of marketing equation have changed. The mass markets have transformed into smaller segments, niches and micro segments. Mass production with big factories, assembly lines and larger production runs are replaced by flexible and customized production. The concept of big large corporation with one production location have taken shape of hollow organization or networked systems. Unlike the past, the value is now co-created with consumer’s active involvement in product design and production processes. Have these developments altered the hierarchy of power sources in business or their effectiveness stands changed?

These changes on the demand and supply side have made the boundary spanning (information gathering and dissemination) the most important function. The stability of the environment has vanished. Present is usually not a linear extension of past. Things happen sudden and fast. Accordingly, businesses need to be as flexible and fast. This demands discovering and developing the core and shedding the non-core. Organizations therefore are now becoming ‘plug in-plug out systems’. They are coalitions of creators with one in lead role. Information is core to such system. Consider sports shoe companies like Nike and Reebok. Both of these names lead networks. They focus on the most critical value adding activity- design- and the rest is outsourced. Explore how much of a car is actually produced by the company whose badge it displays. A computer on your desktop is a fruit of collaboration.  

What value to create depends entirely upon knowledge & insights of consumer trends and micro movements in tastes and preferences? It is here the role of boundary spanners-marketing department- becomes critical. Marketing is the source of knowledge and if knowledge is the ultimate form of power then it must be brought to the centre of value creation edifice. Marketing (voice of consumer) in other words should dictate what business a business enterprise should be in. But this is not easy to achieve. It is not easy for a department which neither controls material/men nor wealth (traditional source of powers) to assume organization driving role.

Production and wealth is free floating resources. China has become the factory of the world and investment bankers chase good idea. Knowledge is the ultimate source of power-business power. So if a business is not performing well find out whether you are still plugged into old source of power. Instead of drawing more power from the old ineffective source, get plugged into new effective source of power. ‘Right’ is better than ‘more’.