Cornell Study Highlights Customers' Role in Service Quality

Dec 09, 2014

Contact: Carol Zhe, 607.254.4504,

Cornell Study Highlights Customers' Role in Service Quality

Ithaca, NY, December 9, 2014 - A new study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) examines how the location or context of a service facilitates or constrains customer-employee relationships and thereby affects service dynamics. Using the cruise ship as an ad hoc laboratory, the study identifies four types of service relationships in the shipboard environment: the passenger as expert, the passenger as manager, the passenger as friend, and the passenger as a team member. As explained in the CHR report, "Managing Context to Improve Cruise Line Service Relationships," by Judi Brownell, managers can use this framework as a tool for anticipating the challenges that emerge and identifying strategies to improve service delivery in each relationship. The report is available at no charge from the CHR.

"Due to the distinctive features of the cruise ship environment, these four relationships serve as an effective framework for examining the customer's role in creating his or her service experience," explained Brownell, who is a professor of organizational behavior at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. "Based on my interviews and on numerous studies of the interactions between customers and employees, the passenger roles that emerged suggest direction for both researchers and practitioners."

Brownell outlined the framework as follows.

•    With their prior knowledge of cruise ship activities, "expert passengers" can help new passengers understand the ship's routines, but they also can interfere with or short-circuit actions that employees are required to take.
•    "Manager passengers" have specific and personalized service goals in mind and will reward or punish employees in connection with those expectations. For management, the challenge is to ensure that the passenger managers' goals are congruent with the employee's job requirements.
•    Given the frequent interaction during a cruise, passengers often befriend employees and both are likely to share personal information. The more intimate relationship that develops with these "friend passengers" can be beneficial as long as the passenger's behavior is genuine.
•    Finally, passengers can band together as teams in certain cases. Again, this can be a favorable outcome as long as the "team" energy is positive, but negative attitudes can be amplified if "team members" become angry and dissatisfied.

In summary, Brownell suggests that managers place increased focus on dimensions that form the context of the service relationship as they strive to increase customer satisfaction. The goal is to identify elements of the service environment that can be managed to improve specific interactions between customers or between customers and service employees and thereby enhance the service experience.
About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit

Center Partners: Accenture, Access Point Financial, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Cvent, Inc., Davis & Gilbert LLP, Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, Denihan Hospitality Group, Duetto, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Fox Rothschild LLP, Hilton Worldwide, Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Intel Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Jumeirah Group, Marriott International, Inc.,, PricewaterhouseCoopers, RateGain, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, SAS, SONIFI Solutions, Inc., STR, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, Talent Plus, Inc., Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., TripAdvisor, Wipro EcoEnergy, and Wyndham Hotel Group

Center Friends: Cleverdis • DK Shifflet & Associates • EyeforTravel • Hospitality Technology Magazine • Hsyndicate • iPerceptions • J.D. Power and Associates • PKF Hospitality Research • Questex Hospitality Group