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Chapter 8 Involving the guest: coproduction.

Hospitality Principle:

If you can't get it for yourself, who's going to get it for you?

--Fritz Perls, father of Gestalt Psychology


After reading this chapter, you should understand:

* How, when, and why hospitality organizations encourage or empower guests to help provide their own guest experiences.

* Which strategies most effectively involve the guest in the experience.

* What the advantages and disadvantages of guest involvement are for the organization and the guest.

* Why hospitality organizations must sometimes "fire the guest" and how to do it.



firing the guest

guest participation


In the traditional manufacturing organization, the people involved in the core production tasks are insulated from external interruptions by layers of strategic planners and middle managers. The people providing many hospitality services, on the other hand, are right out in the open where the guests can see them. In some circumstances, the guests can even become involved in producing the service themselves. Obvious examples in the hospitality industry are salad bars in restaurants and coffee equipment in hotel rooms. Other obvious examples are automatic teller machines and self-serve gas pumps.

The implications for hospitality organizations of having the guest involved in the production process as either observer or participant are many. First, the organization must remain constantly aware that the server is the point of contact between the organization and the guest. Instead of a highly paid, experienced, and loyal executive or well-trained sales representative serving as the point of contact with customers and the outside world, the hospitality organization must rely on its frontline servers to represent the company. They embody the moment of truth for the guest's contact with the organization. Each year, for millions of Disney park visitors, Southwest Airlines passengers, Olive Garden Restaurant diners, and Marriott hotel guests, the visible, frontline employees answer questions, solve problems, provide services, and keep their organizations operating smoothly and efficiently. These employees not only produce the magic that guests expect, but they do it while the guests are watching, participating, and asking a million questions about everything. Unlike the automobile assembly-line production employee who can work undistracted in a controlled and structured environment, these employees must produce the guest experience consistently and flawlessly while coping with the many uncertainties that interacting constantly with guests can create.

Guests as Quasi-Employees

Hospitality organizations know they must help manage the confusion and uncertainty guests can create for their employees while they are doing their jobs. One way is by training the employees in both job skills and guest relations. Another effective strategy for managing this confusion is to think of guests as quasi-employees and "manage" them accordingly. (1) This means organizations should design the service product, environment, and delivery system to take advantage of the skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities that these extra "employees" bring to the organization. If it is to the advantage of both guests and organization to involve guests in the experience, then the organization must take on the responsibility of figuring out how best to enable these quasi-employees to do their jobs within the experience.

Benjamin Schneider and David Bowen recommend a three-step strategy for managing these quasi-employees:

1. Define the roles you want guests to play, carefully and completely. In effect, do a job analysis similar to that developed in Chapter 5 for employees. Define the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the jobs identified as desirable and appropriate for guests.

2. Make sure that guests know exactly what you expect them to do and that they are physically able, mentally prepared, and sufficiently skilled to do those tasks. Show guests that performing the tasks is to their benefit. Give them a reason to do the tasks well.

3. Once task performance is underway, evaluate the guest's ability and willingness to perform well. In effect, conduct a performance appraisal on the guest to ensure that the experience being coproduced is meeting expectations. If it is not, identify what needs fixing. Does the guest need further training? Is something about the setting or delivery system impeding the guest's success? (2)

Of course, the customer should not coproduce the experience if learning the necessary skills is too dangerous, time consuming, or difficult. Airline passengers don't help fly the plane. By assessing the entire guest experience carefully, the hospitality provider can identify those parts of it that might be designed to discourage, encourage, or even require guest participation. A restaurant could set up a self-service salad bar, an airline might offer self-ticketing, or a hotel might provide self-service check-in. In each of these instances, customers can choose to have an employee serve them or they can produce their own salads, plane tickets, or access to their hotel rooms.

The Organization Decides

Some hospitality organizations do not offer the guest any choice; they either make guest participation impossible, or they structure the experience so that the guest must participate to some extent to have it. A quick-serve restaurant is quick-serve and inexpensive because it requires customers to serve as their own order-takers, servers, and table clearers. Without the cost of servers bustling about taking a variety of customized orders, filling glasses, and picking up dirty dishes, McDonald's and Burger King can save money and offer a quick, cheaper food product than a fine dining restaurant can. In the fast-food service setting, the customer must participate somewhat but cannot be allowed to take over completely. The efficiency of the quick-serve process is based on a carefully engineered food-production system that ensures a consistent quality and safe food product. Allowing customers to cook their own burgers and fries would significantly interfere with production efficiency while creating substantial food safety and sanitation problems. The quick-serve restaurant gains efficiency by letting the customers serve themselves in the part of the service delivery system that takes place in front of the counter but not allowing them behind the counter where they can slow down the production process or jeopardize food safety.

Organizations need to think through when to let guests coproduce their own experience and how much of it. Sometimes guest participation makes sense for the organization and the guest, sometimes not. The challenge is to identify which situation is which.


A guest can be involved with a hospitality organization in several ways: as a consultant or source of expert information, as part of the environment for other guests, as coproducer of the experience, or as manager of the service providers and systems. Some of these involvements may sound unlikely, but they are all common.

Guests as Unpaid Consultants

Guests often serve as unpaid consultants. When the hospitality organization asks its guests what they like or dislike about the guest experience, they become consultants. Since their input regarding their experiences will become part of the information management uses to review and adjust its service, environment, and delivery system, the guests are acting as expert consultants in giving this important feedback to the organization. Using outsiders in this way is not unique to hospitality firms; many other types of organizations invite their suppliers, customers, and even communities to provide systematic feedback about how they are doing. Southwest Airlines extends the consulting role to include the hiring process. It invites its frequent flyers to participate in interviewing prospective flight attendants. (3) After all, who better to judge whether a person has the qualifications to be an effective flight attendant than the most intense users of the airline? Organizations also frequently invite customers to participate as members of focus groups. As discussed in a later chapter on assessing service quality, these groups are designed to give expert feedback about the service experience to the service provider, and no one should be more expert on that experience than the customers themselves.

Guests as Part of Each Other's Experience

If you enjoy simply watching other guests, you may think of them as part of the service environment. If other guests are especially important to your enjoyment of your experience, you might even consider them a part of the service product itself. The line is not always clear. As a simple example, most people don't like to go to an empty restaurant or movie; enjoying the experience along with other people, even strangers, is part of the package. Going to an amusement park when it is comfortably full and when it is almost empty are very different experiences. Amusement parks, like many other service situations where the emphasis is on "having fun," rely to some extent on other customers being part of the fun. Thus, many people get great enjoyment out of watching other people, ordinary folks just like themselves, act as bit players in a Universal or Disney-MGM Studios' film-making demonstration. For those doing the acting, the guest experience obviously includes the opportunity to participate in the movie simulation. For observers, however, those customers doing something unusual are perhaps best considered as part of the service environment. Though interesting, unusual, or amusing, they are not really why you came to the theme park, water park, or gaming casino.

This principle of encouraging customers to watch other customers in action is as new as "Funniest Home Videos" and as old as the famous Coney Island, where one of its earliest amusement parks, Steeplechase, had a stadium set up next to a rotating Barrel of Love so that the customers could watch others fall down in a tangle with complete strangers and look foolish. For them, the opportunity to watch other people falling down awkwardly was an important part of the amusement experience. Indeed, the founder of Steeplechase Park early in the twentieth century, George Tilyou, was one of the first to recognize that a successful amusement park provided its customers with the opportunity to observe the most entertaining experience of all: other people. In his park the visitors were the main show. According to amusement parks authority Gary Kyriazi, "Tilyou felt that people will pay any price in order to provide their own entertainment." (4)

After couples had finished the Steeplechase ride, they would walk down a corridor and then find themselves on a brightly lit stage called the Insanitarium. Unknown to them, crowds of people would be sitting in bleachers watching them. As Kyriazi describes the scene, "Suddenly, strong air jets would lift the women's dresses (exposed ankles were rare at the time) and blow the men's hats off. A clown would prod the man with an electric stinger. When they tried to escape, piles of barrels on either side of the exit gangway would begin to sway and appear to tumble down on them as they made their escape." They could then join the crowd beyond the glare of the stage lights and laugh at others going through what Kyriazi calls "the same light, humorous torment." (5)


Although standards have changed, and modern hospitality organizations do not see torment, even if "light and humorous," as a service they want to provide, the principle that guests enjoy watching guests is as true today as it was then. Successful operators make sure to offer plenty of opportunities for park attendees to observe each other in a variety of amusing situations.

Although a case can be made for considering other guests as part of the service itself under certain circumstances, they are most often a part of the service environment. Like any other environmental element, they can be a neutral influence, they can damage the experience for others, or they can enhance it. Movies, concerts, and Broadway plays all rely on the audience to help create the mood. All these entertainments are more enjoyable with a full house than they are when empty. The laughter and other reactions of the people surrounding the customer become an important part of the customer's environment as well. Indeed, some attractions rely on paid professionals or electronically created artificial cues to generate applause, laughter, or other emotional responses that create the right setting for the service experience. At the other extreme, everyone has had an experience ruined by a crying baby, a public family squabble, or a thoughtless bunch of loud talkers. For better or worse, other guests are part of the hospitality servicescape and therefore need to be managed like any other environmental element.

Guests as Coproducers

Perhaps the most important way in which guests can participate, other than simply being there, is as active coproducers of the guest experience. They can actually become part of the production and delivery system. This participation can be as simple as having guests serve themselves at a fast-food restaurant as substitutes for a paid waitstaff, preparing their own salads at the salad bar, or carrying their own bags at the golf course. The value of guest coproduction can be substantial for the organization. Every time guests serve themselves or produce their own products, they are replacing labor that the organization would otherwise have to pay to do the same thing, while often improving the quality of their own experience.

Alaska Airlines is developing computerized receivers in airport kiosks that can read information encoded on a passenger's "proximity card" containing a computer chip, microwave transmitter, and battery. Passengers insert the card in the receiver, go to the departure gate, merely show their identification, and take a seat that has been assigned since they informed the airline of their proximity to the gate. The airline also hopes to institute self-check-in of luggage. Passengers would get computer-generated luggage tags at the proximity card kiosks, attach them to the luggage, and place bags on a conveyor, where they would be scanned and sent to the correct flight. Airline agents would always be available for passengers needing or wanting assistance with coproduction of their flight experience.

Advantages of Coproduction for the Organization

The organization gains several advantages by having the guests coproduce their experience. First, coproduction can reduce employee costs. The more guests do for themselves, the fewer employees the organization needs to employ. In addition to being an obvious labor-saving strategy, guest coproduction allows the organization to use the talents of its employees better. If guests are allowed, encouraged, or forced to take care of some of their own basic requirements, employees are freed up to do more elaborate or complicated tasks that the guests would not enjoy or do successfully, and tasks that would simply not be suitable for guests. For example, at some Epcot restaurants, patrons are allowed to make their own reservations by touch-screen television. Maitre d's take fewer reservation phone calls, which permits them to spend more time responding to the needs of guests who need information or advice. In effect, the quality of the restaurant service goes up with no increase in costs by letting the guests schedule themselves through the computer.

In a similar fashion, the strategy of offering buffets at lunch is an effective way for restaurants to stay open at lunch time without overextending the waitstaff. Many servers are unhappy working at lunch time, because the check sizes (and tips) are lower. People tired out from working at lunch cannot work as efficiently at the dinner hour. A buffet provides meals with a minimal use of waitstaff, the diner gets a good price on the meal, the restaurant provides a better work situation for its servers, and the service at night may be better than if servers had also worked at lunch time.

Advantages of Coproduction for the Guest

For the guest, coproduction has a number of advantages. First it can decrease the opportunity for service failure while increasing the perception, and perhaps the actuality, of service quality. Since the guests themselves define value and quality, handling production themselves means they can produce exactly what they want. If guests fix their own salads at the salad bar in exactly the way they want them, how can they complain if the salads aren't perfect? Guests can pile on their favorite salad items in their favorite quantities and avoid the items they dislike. They end up feeling they got the very salad they wanted. This opportunity creates the perception of real value.


Second, the opportunity for self-service typically reduces the time required for service. A simple example is the customer at the bank who chooses to use the ATM instead of going inside the bank and standing in line for a teller. Fast-food restaurants make their reputation and define their market niche on the basis of saving time for their customers who are too busy to eat in a traditional restaurant.

Third, self-service reduces the risk of unpleasant surprises for guests. If diners walk through a cafeteria's buffet line, they can see exactly what the food products are, instead of ordering off a menu and hoping for the best. While not everything tastes as good as it looks, choosing one's own meal from a cafeteria line or buffet seems to reduce the perception of risk in comparison with ordering sight unseen from a menu.

Disadvantages of Coproduction for the Organization

Permitting or requiring guest participation may also have disadvantages for both the organization and the guest. First, in this litigious society, participation exposes the organization to legal risk. Having a guest handle a hot pot in a cook-your-own fondue restaurant can lead to a major burn and lawsuit. Second, the organization may have to spend extra money to train the service delivery employees so that they can add to their usual serving jobs the task of communicating effectively and easily about what the guest is supposed to do. These employees are responsible for instructing the guests in how to provide the service for themselves and for monitoring the experience to prevent the guests from creating any disasters. Every guest is different, comes to the guest experience with different skills, knowledge, and abilities, and has different expectations for the service itself; thus, servers who train and oversee guests must be alert, observant, and well trained in how to coach guests through the experience. Hiring and training people to perform the necessary job skills at, say, a modern copy center is one thing, but to allow or encourage self-service, the organization must go beyond basic job skills to hire and train people who can successfully teach customers to use computers, scanners, and copy machines.

If guests coproduce their own experience, the service delivery system must be user friendly. If the organization wants the guest to follow a predetermined sequence of operations to create the desired experience, it must either have people to guide them, excellent directional signs, or a layout that is intuitively obvious to people from varied cultures. Only then can the organization be reasonably sure that all types of guests will do what they are supposed to do when and where they are supposed to do it. Signs in a self-serve cafeteria must indicate clearly where the entry point is, where the trays, silverware, and napkins are, and how the diner is supposed to proceed through the food selection and payment procedure. Someone unfamiliar with a cafeteria restaurant might have no idea how to navigate this service delivery process. The cafeteria workers must be alert to confused-looking people wandering around looking for signs, directions, and instructions on how to participate successfully in this food delivery process.

Involving guests in the service delivery system also has an impact on the cost and layout of the environment. As usual, the organization must spend time and energy ensuring that the traditional front-of-the-house areas that guests see meet their expectations in terms of appearance and quality. But involving guests in the service delivery system means that some backofthe-house areas must meet their expectations as well. Making the back of the house a part of the "show" has an obvious impact on how the equipment is laid out, what it looks like, how shiny it is kept, how the personnel are dressed, and what skills they must have to work alongside the guests in service production. Instead of having not particularly articulate cooks in greasy aprons producing meals in an out-of-sight kitchen, involvement of the guest in a food-production system means that the organization must hire employees who can communicate easily with diners, look trim and neat in appearance, and ensure that the kitchen and other visible food preparation areas are always clean and healthy looking to meet the guest's expectations. All this is expensive as the costs of the uniforms, the extra interpersonal skills required of the employees, and the rearrangement of the food-production area to allow the guest to be involved in the food-production process will add to the costs of the production system.

Guest involvement changes the role of the guest-contact employee. Now the employee must have the skills and abilities to be a coach, trainer, teacher, standard setter, and manager of the guest flow through the delivery system. Hospitality employees must know how to get guests engaged in coproduction and also how to get them to disengage. If guests enjoy coproduction and are reluctant to disengage, the organization that does not want to prod its guests along may have to add extra capacity.

Clearly, when guests become coproducers, the traditional role of server in the guest experience needs redefinition, and servers need additional training in the new roles they must now play if coproduction is to work to the organization's advantage.

Disadvantages of Coproduction for the Guest

From the guest's perspective, coproduction also may have disadvantages. The most obvious one is that paying guests may resent having to produce any part of that for which they are paying. Some task-oriented guests don't particularly want much guest-server interaction; they just want, say, a good meal. A production-line approach suits them just fine. Other guests insist and thrive on close personal attention and are willing to pay for it. If shifting part of the guest-experience production to guests themselves results in less TLC, some guests will be dissatisfied. Another possible disadvantageous outcome is failure to coproduce the service or any associated product properly. If you find that the items you assembled from the salad bar don't taste as good as you thought they would, or if your experiment with some new food selections from the buffet was not a success, you will not have coproduced a wow for yourself. And you can't even blame the service provider for the unsatisfactory experience. Hospitality organizations try to protect guests against self-service failures; as much as you do, they want you to have the satisfying experience you expected when you chose them rather than a competitor. They may let you try again or offer to help. The risk is nonetheless present that the guest will coproduce an unsatisfactory experience.

The High Cost of Failure

While unsatisfactory or unsuccessful coproduction can be a minor annoyance to a restaurant patron, it can be disastrous if the cost of failure is great. If you run a dude ranch and let inexperienced riders go off alone on horseback, the result may be humiliation, broken bones, or worse--plus a law suit. Or imagine a situation in which you coproduce a meal in front of a peer, boss, or significant other--and fail. Good hospitality organizations make every effort to ensure that guests succeed as coproducers, but the risk of failure is always there. If the costs of failure would be too high, then the organization must tactfully intervene to keep the guest from failing. The server must be sensitive and aware enough to recognize when a guest is about to fail, must take over before the failure occurs, and must be able to do so with sufficient grace that the guest is not embarrassed by failing when others all around are succeeding. Those requirements add up to a tall order.

Know-How and Motivation

Guests can safely participate when they have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities. Guests are motivated to participate when they must participate to have the experience at all or when they can see some benefits in participation. Some experiences can be completed only if coproduced. Psychiatric treatment will fail if the patient refuses to be involved. In any large geographically spread service setting--like a zoo, museum, food court, cruise ship, or national park--customers who want a particular array of experiences must schedule them for themselves. If customers don't plan out their time and physically move themselves around, they don't enjoy the experience as much.

Many guests are motivated to participate because of their personalities or their familiarity with the experience being offered, or they are simply looking for something to do while waiting for the other parts of the guest experience to take place. Some guests just want to be a part of whatever it is they're involved in at the moment, no matter what, and constantly look for such opportunities. Some people always park their own cars, carry their own luggage, or walk up the stairs because they like to demonstrate for themselves (and anyone else who cares to watch) that they are physically fit enough to do these things. Others like to show how mentally fit or technically adept they are by doing things for themselves--whether it be by making their own on-line travel reservations or baiting their own hooks on a deep-sea fishing trip.

Finally, some people just like to be the center of attention and seek opportunities to be "on stage." In a simple situation, Joe wants to show his friends how well known he is at Ralph's Restaurant, so he goes and gets his own coffee or refills his partner's ice water instead of waiting for the server. Even more on stage is the person who volunteers to sing in a karaoke bar or to be drenched by Shamu in the SeaWorld demonstration. Many people enjoy showing off, and hospitality organizations should try to provide appropriate opportunities for them somewhere in the service delivery system.

The Guest as a Substitute for Management

Guests can even serve in a quasi-managerial role as unofficial supervisors and motivators of employees; they can even train other guests. How and when do they supervise employees?

Guests as Supervisors

Guests have more contact with the service personnel, talk to them more often, and see more of their job performance than the organization's own supervisors do. Guests have the opportunity and the motivation to act as supervisors and provide immediate feedback as to whether an employee is making them happy or unhappy. After all, the guest is paying for the service and is therefore motivated to tell the server (who to the guest receiving the service is the organization) what the guest thinks about the service, the server, and the organization. Hospitality employees are trying to produce magical guest experiences; the guests themselves will let the employees know how well they have succeeded. The more familiar guests are with the organization, the more they know about what level of service should be provided and the more qualified they are to provide technical feedback. All of these guest activities and functions are in a sense supervisory because the guests are observing, guiding, and motivating the behavior of employees, then "paying" them for good or poor service with a large or small tip.

Everyone has watched an unhappy guest tell an employee that the employee is not providing the service properly. That guest is in effect performing a supervisory function: providing feedback to the employee. Anyone watching characters in the Magic Kingdom interact with the children will soon see that the children are supervising the actions and behavior of the characters better than any supervisor ever could. The children will immediately respond to any deviation from character or any flaw in the character performance. They give constant feedback to cast members to let them know if they are not doing something right. Although supervisors also monitor the behavior of cast members as they perform their character roles, their job is, in a sense, much simpler than that of supervisors in the manufacturing sector. The typical auto assembly-line worker never has a car talk to him, smile at him when he installs the brakes correctly, or complain when he doesn't. The assembly-line supervisor must do all these things. In the hospitality organization, guests talk, smile, give directions, and complain. They assess the performance of servers and, through tips, compensate them accordingly. Having guests constantly monitoring and responding to the employee's job performance is a substantial aid to the supervisory responsibility.


Guests As Motivators

Having guests participate in supervision can be highly motivating to employees when guests tell them in both verbal and nonverbal ways what a good job they are doing. Most hospitality employees find great enjoyment in meeting and exceeding the expectations of guests. Chefs love to be challenged by others who are also knowledgeable about the culinary arts. Hospitality employees usually enjoy the opportunity to be challenged by a guest who shares an interest or expertise in the subject of the experience. College professors often find the students who ask the most difficult questions to be the most fun to have in class. Most hospitality employees are constantly tested by the variety in guest expectations and ability to perform their responsibilities in the service delivery process. The challenge of making all children happy by responding to their unique needs and personalities makes the job of playing a Disney character a high-status and highly sought-after job inside the Magic Kingdom. It's fun to show off what you can really do when you have an appreciative audience.

Guests Train Guests

Guests can also train each other. Learning how to stand in line seems like an obvious skill until one encounters people from other cultures who do not believe in standing in line. Someone has to train the untrained to stand in line in an orderly way, and the people already in line will do that. Watch the customers already standing in line the next time you see someone break into a line and you'll witness a training session in line standing. Most guests of hospitality organizations, like most employees, are anxious to fulfill their responsibilities and do their jobs well. They can be seen watching other people to learn what their own behavior should be in the various tasks of the production process. We all learn from watching others, and with so many people in most hospitality situations on a typical day or occasion, we can learn what we're supposed to do to enjoy the experience by observing others. The first-time guest at a basketball game learns from others when to chant "airball" and enjoys the game all the more for chanting.

The organization can also use videos of experienced guests to show waiting guests what they are supposed to do. At most amusement parks, television monitors are set up so waiting guests can see what role will be expected of them when their turn comes to participate in the attraction or get on the ride. Waiting lines are frequently located to allow guests not being served to observe guests who are being served; by the time the guests in line get to the server, they know pretty much what they are supposed to do.

If the organization can use its guests to train at least some of the other guests, it can save itself the cost of those employees who would have been required to train those guests and minimize the time spent explaining to the next guest what the last guest just did. The cost and time savings can be substantial.


Sometimes both the organization and the guest benefit from guest participation and sometimes not. Distinguishing when, where, and how much the guest should or should not be involved in any part of the guest experience depends on a variety of factors. Generally speaking, participating in the service is in the interest of guests when they can gain value, reduce risk, or improve the quality of the experience. Participation is in the organization's interest when it can save money, increase production efficiency, or differentiate its service from those of competitors in some key way. Each opportunity for guest participation should be assessed on these criteria and designed into the hospitality organization when the factors are favorable and designed out when they are not.

Enriching the Wait

Other situations encouraging guest participation sometimes evolve when guests are required to wait for service. Organizations should try to decrease the feeling that the wait is too long by giving guests something to do, ideally something that will enrich the overall experience. A good example is getting a group of people sitting on a delayed flight to participate in a singalong, a technique frequently attributed to Southwest Airlines. Passengers get the opportunity to keep active while they are waiting for their flight to take off, and the singing may even enhance the experience by providing a pleasant way to pass the time.

Adding Value

While some hospitality situations require participation and some guests look for opportunities to participate no matter what, almost everyone is happy to coproduce if it adds value to their experience. By definition, value can be added by reducing costs (for the same quality), increasing quality (for the same costs), or both. Costs include not only the price but also the other costs incurred by being involved in the guest experience. For example, if a potential guest sees a long line outside her favorite restaurant, the time cost of waiting for the next available table may be so great that she willingly goes to a nearby cafeteria or fastfood restaurant--to minimize the time cost of getting a meal. The guest may experience a decrease in quality but expects the greater decrease in overall cost to compensate for it. Similarly, guests who want to be sure of service quality may want to participate in providing service. Those guests derive additional value from knowing that they are getting the service "their way." Home Depot has made a lot of money serving customers who want to ensure the quality and value of their home repair by doing it themselves. Customers look to Home Depot not only to provide a fair price on the building products but also to give the necessary instruction or help to do the job correctly.

Another cost of coproduction for the guest is risk, the risk that the service may not meet expectations. Guests who provide or coproduce their own experiences minimize the risk that a hospitality employee will not provide exactly what is wanted. Many people now surf the Internet looking for both hotel accommodations and flight reservations. They believe that the travel agent or airline they contact may be more interested in selling them a travel package than in finding the best price.

Key Factors: Time and Control

Several dimensions of providing service can help us distinguish between situations when guests can beneficially be involved and when they should not. The research suggests, surprisingly, that only two factors are important: time and control. Each of these is of two kinds: real and perceived. (6)

With respect to time, the feeling of how long something takes is as important to the guest as how long it actually takes. In Chapter 11 on waiting lines, these real and perceived factors are discussed in detail. The same is true for control. The amount of control over the quality, value, risk, or efficiency of the experience that guests think they acquire by participating is as important in determining the value of participation as the actual control guests have. As an example, Disney boat captains are at the steering wheels on the Jungle Cruise boats at Walt Disney World Resort. Boat passengers are comforted by the illusion that they can influence or control the captain who controls the boat, when in reality the boats run on an underwater track.

Cutting Costs, Increasing Capacity

From the organization's point of view, the most obvious reason to incorporate the guest into the guest experience is to save money. As noted earlier, whenever the guest produces or coproduces the service, the guest is providing labor the organization would otherwise have to hire. The second reason is to increase production efficiency or increase capacity utilization. If a restaurant offers a buffet at lunch, it provides a meal product at a time of day when waitstaff are sometimes unavailable or unwilling to work. The restaurant still has the opportunity to derive income from its physical plant and food-production capacity without overusing its human resources. In a similar sense, many other organizations can add self-service capacity to handle surges or unevenness in guest demand. A hotel can offer its check-in and checkout guests an automated option if they don't want to wait in line, or a rental-car agency can offer automated check-in, checkout service for its regular customers. In this way the organization can maintain a constant staffing level while still being able to accommodate the variability in customer demand for this service. Letting customers coproduce this part of the service experience increases the number of customers who can be handled without increasing labor costs.

As a Differentiation Strategy

Organizations can also use guest participation as part of a product differentiation strategy. The obvious example is the cook-your-own restaurant that sells the experience of doing it yourself to distinguish itself from other restaurants. Other examples abound from self-service gas stations to car-rental agencies, cafeterias, and financial services. Boston Market offers a take-home product but no delivery service. This combination distinguishes it from both the quick-serve drive-through and home-delivery restaurants. Having the customer come inside gives Boston Market the opportunity to sell more products than it could if the customer was ordering over the phone or reading off the menu at the drive-through window, while still positioning itself as a quick and convenient stop for busy people.

Building Commitment

A final reason for letting guests participate is to build guest commitment and repeat business. If a guest feels the organization trusts her enough to let her provide her own service, then the guest feels a bond and a commitment to this place where everybody knows her name. Getting the guest involved in the guest experience is a positive way for the guest to feel ownership in that experience and a loyalty to the organization that provides this opportunity. (7) Pouring one's own coffee at the coffee shop may be a way of getting a coffee cup filled fast, but it also may be a way for that guest and the organization to express their tie to each other. Many organizations try hard to build such relationships because they recognize the lifetime value of a loyal repeat customer. Frequent-flyer and frequent-guest programs are both designed to build this attachment so that customers come back time after time to the organization that "knows" them.

The Bottom Line: Costs vs. Benefits

The key to deciding when to offer the guest the opportunity to participate is to do a simple cost/benefit analysis, by using material like that presented in Table 8-1. The organization needs to be sure, for both itself and the guest, that the benefits of participation outweigh the costs. The organization will want to look closely at the costs to itself: the costs of extra training or more elaborate skill requirements for employees, extra or simpler equipment necessary for guest use, and extra effort to lay out the service delivery system in a way that is user friendly. In essence these are the costs of training a guest to be a quasi-employee.

Help Wanted: Coproducer

As it would in assessing any job position it wants to fill, the organization must ask itself the following questions: What are the KSAs necessary to perform successfully as a guest quasiemployee? Are we likely to find them in our job candidates/guests? What is the motivation of guests to participate, and how do we appeal to that motivation? What are the training requirements for successful performance in the guest/employee role, and do we have the time and personnel necessary to train guests in the proper performance of that role? Will guests come back and use that skill again if we spend the time and money to train them? If so, the expenditure of time and money may be worthwhile. Is it cheaper, faster, more efficient for the organization to provide the service or to allow the guest to do it? Are role models (especially other guests) available to help with the training, and how can we physically structure the service environment to use these models? Are there interactions with other guests or other parts of the organization that letting guests provide their own experience will interfere with or harm?

To employ guests effectively in the guest experience, they must have the motivation and ability to participate and the knowledge of how to participate. Since the guests left home and came to your place to receive some service, they must see a reason to do something for themselves. They must have the training and KSAs to do what the organization wishes them to do, and the role they must perform in the guest experience must be clearly defined. (8) In addition, some guests just want to do things for themselves and will do so if given the opportunity. These people get satisfaction out of serving themselves and being in control of the situation. Some people, on the other hand, do not want to do anything to help provide their own experience. If they are paying for it, why should they provide it? Organizations that see mutual benefits to coproduction and try to encourage it must always have a backup plan to accommodate the fact that some guests will and some guests won't want to participate in the experience. Those organizations that find ways of using guests as much as possible will, however, decrease their costs and increase the value and quality of the service for those guests who do participate.

Inviting Guests to Participate: Guidelines

The basic point is that some but not all situations lend themselves to using self-service or guest participation for all guests. Two strategies are available to the hospitality organization contemplating how to gain the advantages of using guest participation while not incurring the disadvantages. First, they can let their market segment know that everyone entering the service setting must provide some of the service themselves. No one goes into a McDonald's expecting table service. The second strategy is to segment the service process so that guests entering the service setting can choose to participate or not. One can order off the menu or choose from the buffet at some restaurants that have learned that some guests wish to gain the advantages of serving themselves while others come to the restaurant expecting service and are willing to pay for it.

Other ideas about when to include the guest in the experience are suggested in Table 8-2. It describes several situations in which both the guest and the organization may benefit. Obviously the ideal is when both benefit in some meaningful way so that the experience is at least what the guest expected, and perhaps more.


In a sense, all guests coproduce--or have the potential to coproduce--the hospitality experience for others simply by being in each other's company. If a well-mannered, well-dressed guest sits quietly and passively within the service setting, that guest may be no more than a minor enhancement, an adornment, to the experience of other guests. Unfortunately, despite the old saying that the customer is always right, all organizations know that the customer is sometimes wrong by any reasonable standard; certain extreme behaviors are unacceptable in any hospitality setting. Guests get drunk, become verbally and physically abusive, refuse to comply with reasonable organizational rules and policies, and make outrageous demands.

Not all employees work out; not all guests work out. Sometimes the guest's "job performance" as a coproducing quasi-employee is so unsatisfactory that the organization must--as a last resort and employing clearly defined procedures--"fire" the guest. For example, if a client is rude on the phone to employees of Rosenbluth Travel, Hal Rosenbluth asks the client to find another agency. Says Rosenbluth, "I think it's terrible to ask one of our associates to talk with someone who's rude to them every fifteen minutes." (9)

Firing Airline Passengers

Referring to customers who treat Southwest Airlines customers badly, Herb Kelleher says, "When we encounter a customer like that, we say to him, 'We don't want to see you again because of the way you treat our people.' " Kelleher says firmly that the customer is not always right. If a passenger is abusive to a Southwest employee, Kelleher may call the passenger on the phone. Customer complaints to management are common; management complaints to customers are unusual. Employees appreciate this kind of support. (10)

The airlines in particular are having trouble with guests. In 1997 over 1,000 incidents occurred on airplanes and in terminals under U.S. jurisdiction, including passengers becoming angry at flight crews, punching attendants, trying to open an emergency door, head butting a copilot, and trying to break into the cockpit. Some airlines now equip each plane with a set of plastic handcuffs. According to Captain Stephen Luckey of the Air Line Pilots Association, "Passenger interference is the most pervasive security problem facing airlines." (11) After a drunk passenger struck one of his flight attendants on the head with a bottle, the chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways was able to achieve a British lifetime air-travel ban on the perpetrator. In the fall of 1998, British Airways began giving "warning cards" to passengers who seemed to be losing control. Northwest Airlines has permanently fired three passengers known to be violent. Some causes of these incidents seem to be the record numbers of people wanting to fly, more passengers per plane with less room to stretch and move around, free liquor in first and business class, and the smoking ban. Some passengers think the airlines have to an extent brought the unpleasant incidents upon themselves. Hal Salfen of the International Airline Passengers Association said, "Flights are full, there are fewer flight attendants, and there's a general indifference toward the passenger." (12)

Abrupt Firings

The termination of the hospitality relationship must occasionally be dramatic and abrupt, perhaps even implemented by a security guard, large person wearing an "Events Staff" t-shirt, or "bouncer." Dramatic "firings" should occur when customers threaten the well-being or safety of other customers, employees, or themselves. No organization should tolerate a customer who is threatening, excessively rude or loud, or dangerous to others or self. If any customer threatens or endangers the physical and mental health of an employee, that employee should be empowered to tell the offender to go elsewhere for the service, as this organization is unable to continue rendering it.

Subtle Firings

Customers can also be fired subtly. Everyone realizes that organizations place their advertising so that their target markets will see it; beer commercials accompany televised athletic events. But organizational advertising can also be carefully placed so that some customers never see the ads for a service, never get promotional mailings, or are never offered premiums for using the service. Sometimes this strategy is even more overt, such as a cruise line's refusal to allow unaccompanied children under 18 to book passage, or a resort hotel's unwillingness to book a convention of ex-convicts, or a sign in a gift shop "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service."

Maintaining Guest Dignity

Not even hospitality organizations are required to extend unlimited hospitality. They should of course give guests the benefit of the doubt, but for those few guests who are demonstrably unable to participate appropriately in the experience that all have come to the hospitality provider to enjoy, the organization should not hesitate to hand them their hats and show them the exit. If at all possible, however, the dismissal should be accomplished with minimal harm to the guest's physical or mental well-being and dignity. The guest who feels unfairly treated, who is really angry about being dismissed or "fired," can become a source of long-term negative publicity and bad-mouthing.

Although the firing of a guest is a response to a guest failure of some kind, the organization must realize that it has also failed in some way. The rude, troublesome guest had--expectations whether reasonable and realistic or not--and the organization failed to meet them.

Lessons Learned

1. Train your service personnel to coach, monitor, and supervise the coproduction of guests, and hire people who enjoy this kind of activity.

2. Train your guests to participate before you let them; be sure they have the KSAs.

3. Motivate guests who derive value and quality from participation to coproduce.

4. Encourage guests to help monitor the service behavior of your employees.

5. Structure guest experiences in ways that encourage other guests to train your guests; provide preshow videos or otherwise prepare your guests to engage in the experience.

6. The more guests do for themselves, the less you have to do for them.

7. Guest involvement can improve efficiency and capacity utilization, especially at peak demand times.

8. If you have to fire a guest, try to preserve the guest's dignity.

Review Questions

1. Name some ways or situations in which guest involvement in the coproduction of a restaurant experience can be useful to the organization.

A. Name some ways in which it can be useful to the restaurant guest.

B. What KSAs should restaurant guests have to be successful coproducers?

C. "Train them if they need it; motivate them if they need it; and keep it simple, stupid." Would that formula promote successful guest coproduction?

2. Name some ways or situations in which guest involvement in the coproduction of a restaurant experience would not be useful or might be harmful to the organization.

A. When might restaurant coproduction not be useful to guests? When might it be harmful?

B. What can the organization do to discourage coproduction in those situations?

3. Suggest some ways in which a restaurant, a hotel, a theme park, a tour bus, and a travel agent might achieve a higher level of guest coproduction that would benefit both the organization and the guest. Was it more difficult to apply the co-production idea to some of those hospitality or hospitality-related organizations than to others, and if so, why?

4. Under what circumstances do you think the organization is justified in "firing" a guest? Think of a hospitality situation in which you would almost but not quite fire a guest. See whether your classmates agree with you or whether they would fire the guest.

5. Some hospitality authors suggest that guests should be managed as if they were quasiemployees.

A. Who do you suppose these authors think should do this managing?

B. Whoever these managers are, should they be selected differently for their jobs because they will have some "management responsibilities"?

C. Should they be trained differently?


1. Find a hospitality situation in which the guest is required to coproduce the service experience. Try to find something more challenging than a salad bar or receptacle labeled "Trash." Describe and evaluate how the organization prepares its employees and its guests for successful guest participation. How effective is the coproduction strategy? What incentives were offered to guests to encourage their participation? In what ways is this guest participation beneficial for the guest, the organization, or both?

2. Interview a manager or supervisor within a hospitality organization to find out what the organization will and will not let guests do regarding coproducing the guest experience. Try to get some examples of guests coproducing excessively--trying to do more for themselves than the organization wants them to--and find out how the manager, supervisor, or server handled those situations. Report your findings to the class.

3. Interview a teacher who seems to believe in classroom "coproduction," even if not under that term, and find out why the teacher does so and how the teacher got that way. Bring back your findings for discussion in groups. Discuss the extent to which you are required or invited to coproduce your own education, and how you feel about it.
Case Study

Over the Bounding Main

Luke Dwyer and Sue Mayes met when they were both crewing on a
yacht in a round-the-world sailing race. They married, started a
software business on a shoestring, came up with several innovative
ideas that enabled them to attain financial security, and then
started looking for a way of life that would be more fun if perhaps
not as profitable. Running a bed and breakfast was one possibility,
but it seemed rather tame.

Then Sue saw an article in a shipping magazine about the Shingo
Maru, a small 1920s-vintage freighter for sale. Luke and Sue sent
off for a set of the freighter's plans, looked them over with a
maritime architect, and decided to convert the ship into a kind of
floating wilderness experience. They figured that a certain part of
the cruise clientele must be tired of the typical big-boat cruise,
where all you did was sit around on deck or by the pool all day,
eat huge fattening meals, and drink all night while watching bad
entertainment and waiting for the midnight buffet. They would give
guests an opportunity not to be pampered but to take part in an
experience they would remember for the rest of their lives: helping
to sail a ship around the world or, for the less committed, some
part of it.

About a million dollars and four years later, the conversion was
complete, and Sue was breaking a bottle of champagne against the
prow of the now-christened Windenwaves, a classic square-rigged,
three-masted sailing ship with a top mast five stories high. The
ports of call on its maiden voyage were going to be
romantic-sounding, faraway places that most people experienced only
through the novels of Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson:
Bali, Zanzibar, Bora Bora, Fiji, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti,
Samoa, Barbados, and Antigua. About half the time would be spent
sightseeing in these ports and about half the time at sea. The
hired crew of twelve, all of them veteran sailors, would help the
three dozen paying guests learn to climb the masts, stand proper
watch, navigate by the stars, steer, repair sails, and all the
other standard shipboard activities. For the privilege of
coproducing their own sailing experience, the guests were to pay
anywhere from $2,500 for a one-month onboard stay to $40,000 for
the full 18-month round-the-world trip.

After about six months, approximately half of the
passenger/guests had experienced the thrill of a lifetime. The
other half wanted their money back. They didn't enjoy sleeping in
bunks in one big dorm-type room, getting seasick, using a hose for
a shower, being without TV, eating canned and dried foods (the ship
had no refrigeration), and having little privacy. Some guests just
couldn't "learn the ropes," and the experienced sailors among the
crew didn't seem to be able to teach them how. One guest, who later
claimed that he had been forced to climb the five-story mainmast,
curled up into a paralyzed ball and had to be airlifted by
helicopter to shore. He later sued the Dwyers and Windenwaves
Partners Ltd. for $400,000 and won; the Dwyers had not thought to
get insurance protection against such an action.

The delighted guests thought their trip on the Windenwaves was a
high point in their lives, and not just because of the climb up
that five-story mast. Said one, "Everybody who's been on a sailboat
dreams of a trip like this. We saw places and things we would never
get to see in any other way." The disappointed guests were really
disappointed. They saw no reason why they should pay so much money
and have to do so much of the work themselves. Said one, "I wanted
a relaxing cruise. They treated me like a common sailor; made me
scrub the decks and empty the slop. At those prices, who needs it?
Next time, I'm going on the Disney Magic."

1. Which dangers of coproduction became realities for Luke and

2. How might they have headed off those dangers by planning more

Additional Readings

Bateson, J. E. G. 1985. The Self-Service Customer--Empirical Findings, in Leonard L. Berry, Lynn G. Shostack, and Gregory D. Upah, eds., Emerging Perspectives on Services Marketing (Chicago: American Marketing Association), pp. 5-53.

Bettencourt, Lance A. 1997. Customer Voluntary Performance: Customers as Partners in Service Delivery. Journal of Retailing 73(3):383-406.

Chase, R. 1978. Where Does the Customer Fit in a Service Operation? Harvard Business Review 56(6):137-142.

Goodwin, Cathy F. 1990. "I Can Do It Myself": Training the Service Consumer to Contribute to Service Productivity. Journal of Services Marketing 2(4):71-78.

Kelley, Scott W., James H. Donnelly, Jr., and Steven J. Skinner. 1990. Customer Participation in Service Production and Delivery. Journal of Retailing 66(3):315-335.

Lovelock, C., and R. Young. 1979. Look to Customers to Increase Productivity. Harvard Business Review 57(3):168-178.


(1.) For an excellent article on this subject, see David E. Bowen. 1986. Managing Customers as Human Resources in Service Organizations. Human Resource Management 25(3):371-383.

(2.) Benjamin Schneider and David E. Bowen. 1995. Winning the Service Game (Boston: Harvard Business School Press), pp. 88-89.

(3.) James L. Heskett et al. 1994. Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work. Harvard Business Review 72(2):172.

(4.) Gary Kyriazi. 1976. The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictorial History (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press), p. 82.

(5.) Ibid., 87.

(6.) J. E. G. Bateson. 1985. Self-Service Consumer: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Retailing 61(3):49-76.

(7.) For further discussion and examples of this point, see Neeli Bendapudi and Leonard L. Berry. 1997. Customers' Motivations for Maintaining Relationships with Service Providers. Journal of Retailing 73(1):15-37.

(8.) Scott W. Kelley, Steven J. Skinner, and James H. Donnelly, Jr. 1992. Organizational Socialization of Service Customers. Journal of Business Research 25(3):197-214.

(9.) James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard A. Schlesinger. 1997. The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value (New York: John Wiley & Sons), p. 125.

(10.) Ibid., 238.

(11.) Acting Up in the Air. Time, December 21, 1998: 40.

(12.) Ibid.
Table 8-1 Advantages and Disadvantages of Guests Coproducing
the Service

                  For Guest

   Advantages                    Disadvantages

reduces service costs       may frustrate guest
increases interest          may diminish service level
saves service time          may not have needed KSAs
improves quality            learning curve
reduces risk
chance to show off

                For Organization

   Advantages                    Disadvantages

reduces labor costs         increases liability risk
improves quality            guest training costs
reduces service failures    increases employee costs
new market niche            increases design costs
enriches employee jobs      interferes with other units
                            variability in guests

Table 8-2 Guidelines for Inviting Guests to Participate

1. Are there peaks and valleys in the demand for the service? Can
guests be used as substitutes for employees to smooth out the work
flow for your employees?

2. While they are waiting for service, do guests have time on their
hands that could be used to speed up the delivery of that service if
they could deliver some of it for themselves?

3. Are your employees doing mechanical, repetitive, easy-to-learn tasks
that could be done by guests themselves or through the use of
specialized, guest-friendly equipment?

4. Are you needlessly bombarding your guests with repetitive requests
for the same information which they could just as easily provide, once,
via a self-serve data-entry terminal?

5. Do guests show a high level of interest in or knowledge of your
service delivery system, suggesting that they might be willing to
participate if asked or allowed?

6. Do guests tie up personnel asking questions that they could easily
answer for themselves if you posted some signs or offered some
self-serve information technology?

7. Are your guests trying to bypass your service personnel (to avoid
giving tips, perhaps) in any way that offers an opportunity for

8. Are guests required to meet face to face with your service personnel
when the encounters could be done through some other means such as
telephone, mail, or computer?

9. Do your guests derive value from doing it themselves?

Source: Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review.
"Identifying Opportunities for Improving Productivity." Adapted from
Christopher H. Lovelock and Robert F. Young. Look to Consumers to
Increase Productivity. Harvard Business Review 57(3):176.
Copyright[C] 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College; all
rights reserved. Lovelock's work in the area of customer coproduction
is classic.
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Title Annotation:Section 2 The Hospitality Service Staff
Publication:Managing the Guest Experience in Hospitality
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chapter 7 Serving with a smile: motivation and empowerment.
Next Article:Chapter 9 Communicating for service.

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