Threading the Needle: Balancing Core Values in Servicescapes

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(Photo: Shiva Smyth /Pexels)

Among the core values that are widely recognized across many cultures and contexts, some possess a particular importance: Integrity, autonomy, and safety are three of the most important concepts here. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, says even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3. Actors in both public and private sectors aim to meet and advance these basal ideals, and customers and clients expect them to be met.

In our article “Autonomy or security? Core value trade-offs and spillovers in servicescapes for vulnerable customers,” published in the journal Service Research, we focus on autonomy’s and security’s tradeoffs in servicescapes. We concentrate on nursing homes to show how these two core values, paradoxically, often exist in tension with each other.

Conducting interviews and observing everyday life in nursing homes, we noticed how servicescapes can help to support certain core values while not compromising others. For instance, the doors to the inner garden were open (allowing autonomous walking outdoors) because there were fences around the garden (safety was guaranteed).

This post is from authors Birgitta Sandberg, top left, from the Department of Marketing and International Business at Finland’s Turku School of Economics; Leila Hurmerinta, top right. a university lecturer at Turku; Henna M. Leino, bottom left, a doctoral candidate at Turku; and Mira Menzfeld, a postdoc researcher at the University of Zurich.

However, we also noticed that incorporating the realization of different core values into everyday conduct and services involves trade-offs: supporting one value may unintentionally decrease the other. Thus, a service element that is created to increase well-being could turn out to be harmful on another level of experience. For example, the automatic electric light that were used at night to increase feelings of safety did, in fact, frighten the residents.

Interestingly, even extremely vulnerable nursing home residents – those with severe memory disorders – use multiple methods to rebel when aspects of what they perceive as important core values are at stake. During those seemingly serene days we spent in nursing homes, we witnessed ingenious thefts and clever plans for escape. Thus, we suggest that instead of treating vulnerable customers as if they were persons who only react to circumstances, it is crucial to acknowledge that they can and will play an important role in influencing and developing servicescapes.

When trying to secure customers’ well-being, it is important to understand that their perceived autonomy and security matters—even though absolute security or autonomy can never be created, a baseline experience of both safety and sovereign agency is crucial. One task for servicescapes, for example, could be to develop and maintain the customers’ experience of autonomy by purposefully creating possibilities for making free, yet safe, choices. The relevance of these experiences is multiplied through the spillovers to family members and other customers, affecting also their well-being. This ripple effect can be positive or negative, as well as the spillovers’ well-being outcomes.

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