Handbook of Service Marketing Research
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Handbook of Service Marketing Research

Edited by Roland T. Rust and Ming-Hui Huang

The Handbook of Service Marketing Research brings together an all-star team of leading researchers in service marketing to explore many of the hottest topics in service marketing today.
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Chapter 11: Service encounters in service marketing research

Mary Jo Bitner and Helen Si Wang


The service encounter or the "moment of truth" is one of the foundational constructs of service marketing. One of the earliest and most cited papers on this topic defined the service encounter as "the dyadic interaction between a customer and a service provider" (Surprenant and Solomon 1987, p. 87), meaning the moment in time when a customer interacts directly with a service provider. A broader view of the construct was also prevalent in a definition provided by Shostack (1985, p. 243) who described the service encounter as "a period of time during which a consumer directly interacts with a service." This broader definition suggests the term "service encounter" encompasses not only dyadic interactions with employees, but also customer interactions with technology, other customers, physical facilities, and other elements of the service. Later, Bitner and Hubbert (1994, p. 74) added an element to the definition which distinguishes it further from longer events or experiences in delineating a service encounter as "a discrete event occurring over a definable period of time." Over the years, the term "service encounter" has come to encompass technology-based encounters along with encounters that occur in person, over the telephone, or through the mail, and even within organizations (Zeithaml et al. 2013, ch. 4). In tracing the term service encounter back to its origins, the earliest published papers on the topic include a paper by Solomon et al. (1985) appearing in the Journal of Marketing and a book entitled The Service Encounter (Czepiel et al. 1985).

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