From the above we might be able to interpret the term ‘servicescape’ simply as something which denotes a “picture or representation” of any given service. While this introduces us to the concept, there is in fact so much to explore that relates to not only the physical environment or picture, but also customer behavior, and even how things might look different in a post-pandemic world.
Table of contents
- What is a servicescape
- The model environment [INFOGRAPHIC]
- Servicescape importance
- Servicescape examples
- 4 ways to build your own servicescape
What is a servicescape?
For businesses that provide more intangible services, such as restaurants and salons, a servicescape helps customers to create expectations and build an impression of that service as soon as, or even before, they enter the physical environment in which the service is taking place.
The concept of a servicescape was developed in the early 80s and was defined as “the environment in which the service is assembled and in which the seller and customer interact, combined with tangible commodities that facilitate performance or communication of the service”. (Booms & Bitner, 1981)
This was further developed by Mary Jo Bitner into a model which “demonstrates the relationship between the physical ambience and place and its impact on service delivery and perception”.
In other words, servicescapes are uniquely designed by each business to create an atmosphere that aims to enhance their customer’s experience, and ultimately have an impact on their behavior. The model acts as a framework for businesses to understand the elements at play in a servicescape and how they can begin to build their own.
The model environment
Bitner’s servicescape model is made up of a number of different elements that operate alongside each other in a service environment, and eventually lead to specific emotional and behavioral responses from both customers and employees.
Physical environmental dimensions
As you can see from our servicescape model, it consists of a range of environmental dimensions, or physical stimuli, that can have an impact on a physical service environment. These dimensions are usually organized into three categories: ambience, space and/or function, and signs, symbols and artefacts. Let’s break these down:
Ambient conditions refer to a number of often intangible elements in a service environment including sound or noise, temperature, light, music, odor or smell, and even air quality.
Space and function
Space and function refers to the spatial layout of a service environment, how easy or difficult it is to navigate, and how functional it is. The type of furniture and equipment used in the space also play a part in building the servicescape space.
Signs, symbols and artefacts
This is a wider category of objects that serve multiple purposes within the service environment. Signage can dictate directions or instructions, or simply communicate a brand name. Logos, artefacts, and color are also included in this category.
A new dimension?
The above categories can be used and interpreted in a whole host of different ways, and of course each business will have their own set of environmental dimensions that are relevant to their servicescape. However variable they may be though, elements from these categories are present in some capacity in every servicescape, and are the foundation of its framework.
But how does the servicescape model begin to look when we consider the possibility of a new dimension?
Servicescape: let’s talk about safety
It’s not a surprise, and certainly not even news anymore that well over a year into a global pandemic, the way we experience a range of services has changed. From queuing on line markers outside stores, to mask-wearing while we’re being pampered, and sanitizing everything in between, Covid-19 has changed the way services are presented and delivered.
In order to even continue to operate, businesses have had to throw their original servicescape out the window in place of a socially distanced space with increased cleaning and strict government guidelines. So how does this affect Bitner’s original model? Is safety now a new ‘primary’ environmental dimension, with ambience, space, and signs sitting under it – and heavily influenced by it? For example…
Safety → ambient conditions
To present a safe physical environment a number of ambient conditions are automatically impacted. As a result of Covid-19 guidelines, premises are leaving doors open for extra ventilation which causes immediate changes to temperature, and enhanced cleaning can also have an impact on the odor that is dominant in the service environment.
Safety → space and function
This is perhaps the most heavily impacted category in light of social distancing regulations. Stores, salons, restaurants, banks etc. are now required to adhere to at least a 1m distancing rule, directly impacting capacity and layout.
Salons for example will have to space out chairs and equipment, and distance waiting areas from treatment areas. The introduction of screens and barriers also creates a completely different dynamic in any given service space. Additionally one way systems impact the functionality of the service environment and dictate how customers can move around in the space.
Safety → signs, symbols and artefacts
Safety has had a mammoth impact on the kind of signs and symbols we now see in service environments. Even before entering a space, queue markers are likely to be seen outside while signage instructing customer’s to sanitize, submit track and trace info, maintain social distance, and pay only by card now dominates.
While this all may seem a bit of a Debbie Downer, after all businesses work hard and invest resources to create a servicescape that reflects their brand and services, it’s definitely important to acknowledge. Recent research into consumer behaviors in a post-pandemic world suggests that businesses will have to adapt in order to keep customers happy – which brings us to why it’s all important in the first place. Because a customer’s perception of a business and/or service has a direct influence on whether or not they reach into their pockets.
Let’s return for a bit to our original servicescape model, which demonstrates that physical environmental dimensions have a causal effect on the eventual behavior of the customer, ie. to buy, or not to buy.
When a customer enters a space they make an instantaneous impression based on the physical stimuli presented to them. This is referred to as the holistic environment. The holistic environment is how a customer forms a perception or judgement of a business, brand, or service. This subsequently leads to an internal response based on this perception, and eventually culminates in a behavioral response.
That’s why it’s so important that each element of a servicescape is carefully curated to accurately and effectively communicate a brand’s personality, values, and positioning. Ambient and symbolic elements such as music and color alone can significantly impact the ultimate behavioral response.
Color similarly is a great way to mold a customer’s immediate perceptions towards a positive behavioral response. Colors can carry very specific meanings and color psychology suggests that these meanings trigger automatic judgements. In fact it has been suggested that a whopping 62-90% of an initial “subconscious judgement of a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing” is based purely on color.
As previously mentioned, current consumer behaviors have also been shaped by Covid-19 and the ‘new normal’ that has infiltrated our daily lives. A 2021 study by Shopify reveals that the current normality of increased hygiene and distancing is likely to continue post-pandemic: “Shoppers hope to see many aspects of current in-store safety practices continue in the future once the pandemic is over”. Safety is clearly still a top priority for consumers and is likely to directly impact perceptions from here on out as “63% still favour health and safety measures like masks/social distancing in store”.
All of this tells us why Mary Jo Bitner made such a big deal of this back in the 90s – more than half the battle is in developing a successful servicescape. If a business can marry elements from each physical environment category in line with their brand, whilst also talking to their target customer and understanding their habits, wants, and needs (e.g shopping or eating safely), then they’re on to a winner!
This can be easily summed up by Shopify’s managing director who believes “shoppers are more aware and connected than ever before. They expect more from the brands they buy from, and the brands that recognise that will be those [sic] not just survive but thrive.”
So what does all this theory look like in practice? Here’s some examples of brand servicescapes that are getting the job done.
Apple’s store layout and design is so recognizable and iconic that it has even been trademarked! The brand does such a good job of creating a physical environment that reflects their brand with modern, clean architecture, spacious layouts, bright lighting, and dedicated service sections. As you move throughout the store you can explore additional services and products, often leading you to spend hours there without even realizing it!
Starbucks is another global brand with a consistent servicescape across its cafes, but with enough nuance to make you feel right at home. Warm brown tones and comfy chairs and sofas invite you to spend time relaxing and enjoying a cup, or two, or three of coffee. Of course the smell of freshly made coffee and snacks also greets you upon entry, with the food and drinks counter front and center to get your taste buds immediately in the mood for your morning pick me up.
Supercuts is a great example of a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin type of servicescape. A quick Google image search of ‘Supercuts’ demonstrates that their salons are often glass fronted with a straightforward, functional layout. Usually available for walk-in appointments, customers can see clearly throughout the salon and make a quick judgement on whether they are likely to get an immediate appointment. This sort of accessibility reflects the brand’s affordable hairdressing approach, with clear signage of services and offers also indicating that what you see is what you get.
4 ways to build your own servicescape
Designing a servicescape needn’t be a daunting task or a huge digital transformation for businesses just starting out, and without sights on trademarked spaces à la Apple. Although it may seem like a complex formula, if you have a good brand identity and know what you want to communicate to your customers, there are a few simple things you can start with.
We now know music is a powerful tool in creating ambience within your service environment and it’s easy and not that costly to introduce to a store, restaurant, or any kind of service. To help you pick your playlist, here’s a few things to think about in relation to your brand:
- Instrumental vs. lyrical
- Current vs. traditional
This is quite a broad one, but the upside is there are so many ways you can use space to create the right feel for your service. Whether that’s having a move around to promote new products or services, or adding in furnishings to create a cozy feel, the possibilities are endless!
Lighting is another great ambient element that can really change a perception of a brand, space, and even product. Bright overhead lighting gives customers visibility and can connote transparency and accessibility, while dimmer, softer lighting creates a more intimate and cozy atmosphere that might encourage customers to slow down and take their time. You can also use lighting as a visual cue to highlight certain products and services you’d like to draw attention to.
When thinking about the physical environment, scent may not be the first thing on your list, but again it’s something you can introduce quickly with great effect. With our olfactory system closely linked to memory, the right scent can help to conjure up happy memories and encourage your customers to explore further. Try adding scent with:
- Fresh flowers
- Fresh air
There’s no such thing as the right servicescape, simply ways in which these ideas can be applied. It’s also something which is adaptable and scalable, so don’t be afraid to get started in any way you can, as long as you start – it might just be the most important thing you sell…
Amie is a freelance copywriter with experience creating a variety of content across multiple channels.
With a background in retail management, her writing also reflects her unique insight into business operations and consumer behaviour.
Published on 18 June 2021