Ways to Improve Customer Experience Quality and Business Performance: Case Study by Mystery Shopper Practices

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1. Paper Title: How Improving Customer Experience Quality and Business Performance? A Case Study by Mystery Shopper Practices

Authors: Yung-Lung Lai & Shih-Chieh Chang. International Journal of Marketing Studies; Vol. 5, No. 6; 2013

1.1 General description of the research method: Case Study

Case study method was first defined by Benbasat et al. (1987, p. 370) as “examining a phenomenon in its natural setting, employing multiple methods of data collection to gather information from one or few entities (people, groups or organizations)”.

Sociologists and anthropologists discussed people`s way of living, the experience of different situations and their approach toward the understanding of their world and to lead them to gain intuition into how individuals make sense of their experience and their surrounding work (Johansson, 2007). Many authors have argued methods to enhance case studies such as positivism (Lee, 1989; Yin 1989) and few authors discussed interpretive research. Eisenhardt (1989) presented a direction for developing theories from the positivist case study which integrated past qualitative studies (Yin 1981, 1984) and grounded theory construct (Glasser and Strasuss, 1967). Table 1 shows the different aspects of both approached. The particular interest of the paper 1 involves interpretivism approach to build theory from fieldwork (researchers as mystery shoppers) as well as developing a deep understanding of the interaction between Chinese restaurants and customers, process and policies within the restaurant (Cepeda et al. 2005) Lee (1989) presented field research consists of three levels of understanding:

  1. Subjective perception: detailed tracking and understanding the actors or participants
  2. Understanding interpretivism: the researcher’s concept of participants’ subjective knowledge
  3. Positivism: the researcher`s viewpoint of the “objective facts” of a case that is mandatory to be updated by interpretive understanding.

Table 1 Positivist vs Interpretative approach (Cepeda et al. 2005)

Similar to other methods of qualitative research, understanding, analysing and showing participants perspective is the researcher`s aim (Creswell 2013). A Case study is illustrated as an adaptable tool by means of conducting qualitative research most convenient for a thorough, integrated and in-depth study of a complicated problem.

Proposing and integrating the case can be as tough as defining variables and overlapping points of interest in case study research. Designing the research questions and selecting the case, identifying the focus and refining the research context is suggested for establishing the elements in designing the research (Merriam, 2009; Yin, 2014).

The selected paper applied case study as the research method which shows the improvement of customer experience quality in Chinese restaurants via the mystery shopper service which improves customer satisfaction and revisiting of customers as well as overall business performance.

Yin (2007) defines a case study as an approach to understanding the cause, the means of comprehending and the factors affecting the final result. In addition to that, he also emphasised on 'how' to come up with an insight into the research questions. Therefore, interviews and secondary sources are counted as the data collection phase.

This research aimed to fill the gap between eastern and western approached through a constructive manner- applying case study method defining research objects using the mystery shoppers- to seek peculiar details of customer experience in Chinese restaurants and facilitate their quality improvement process as well as their business performance.

1.2 Research Ethics

Since one part of the collected data has been obtained via interview, the ethical issues concerned with this research are:

  1. It is very important to provide the interviewees with the written procedure of the interview and verbally explain to them about the content of the questions, approximate time frame before starting the interviews.
  2. Interviewees should be given the choice of selecting the interview location whether they prefer it in public or private.
  3. The interviewer should be aware of their own safety while conducting an interview. All the details including their own contact details, location, date and contact details of interviewees should be left with a trustee.
  4. Confidentiality is another essential matter. Interviewees should be kept anonymous unless they have given their consent. In this case, the name of the interviewee is essential if it is eminently relevant to the research question.

1.3 Advantages of a case study

Case studies are mainly appropriate for studies that are at their infant and formative level (Roethlisberger, 1977). Moreover, case study is most useful in 'sticky, practice-based problems where the experiences of the actors are important and the context of action is critical” (Bonoma, 1983) as well as acknowledging the knowledge of practitioners and extracting theories from it. By adopting case studies as the method, the researcher gets the chance to conduct the research I “natural setting” to gain a more in-depth understanding of the issues and produce theories from the result.

In addition to that, the extensive qualitative report often written in case studies not only help to seek or explain the data in a real-life environment but also clarify the elaboration of real-life issues that may not be recorded through an interview or secondary data sources. A case study of reading methods of an individual subject can illustrate not only the information about the reading strategies but also provide the researcher with reading behavior or habit of reading.

Besides, the case study method enables the researcher to be able to answer “how” and “why” problems leading to understanding the structure and complication of the research happening (Cepada, 2005).

Last but not least, case studies are capable of transforming complicated science and technology projects to a coherent and compelling to non-experts. This method is flexible and comprehensive which covers brief descriptive summaries to deep, definite narratives.

1.5 Disadvantages of a case study

Regardless of the advantages, case studies have been criticised as well. Yin (1984) argued against case study research in three groups.

First, case studies are often blamed for lack of accuracy. Yin (1984:21) notes that “too many times, the case study investigator has been sloppy, and has allowed equivocal evidence or biased views to influence the direction of the findings and conclusions”.

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Second, case studies are often identified as being protracted, troublesome to conduct and producing piles and piled of documentation (Yin, 1984). Notably, case studies in ethnographic or longitudinal studies a massive amount of data can be produced as time goes by. The situation gets worse when the data is not managed and organised properly over time.

1.6 My research (evaluating and modeling Customer Experience (CX) via deep learning) and case study

Customer experience defined by Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) as “a phenomenon directed towards the pursuit of fantasies, feelings, and fun”. In addition to that, they developed that “the consumer behaviour is the fascinating and endlessly complex result of a multifaceted interaction between organism and environment”.

Owing to the fact that the case study method is founded on participative actions within single or multiple cases, this approach appears to be an appropriate and applicable approach to adopt for the implementation of qualitative customer experience research. My research will be focused on CX in the case of Airbnb reviews in London as my secondary data source. Since there are more than hundreds of thousands of reviews (people`s opinion) available online, going through each and every comment seems challenging and almost impossible. Thus DL is a powerful tool to:

  1. Access and make sense of disconnected and unstructured big data (e.g. inconsistent customer reviews).
  2. Make more accurate predictions of buyer behaviour;
  3. Personalise experiences to every single customer in real time.

My research adopts Sentiment Analysis (SA) which is a computational tool of interpreting people’s opinions, sentiments, emotions, appraisals and attitudes towards guests experience in Airbnb accommodations and their attribute - extracting sentiments from user-generated texts in social networks, blogs or product reviews. My research could be counted as a case study of customers experience staying at Airbnb accommodation and their reviews as the secondary data sources. The reviews are in the form of qualitative raw data and it shows the potential of acquiring positivist case study research (after doing the design tests such as construct validity, internal validity, external validity and reliability (Yin, 1984).

Despite having access to qualitative secondary data, the process of converting the massive number of reviews is no longer qualitative (computational methods must be applied which are pure quantitative). Thus, conducting research by adopting the methods involve big data, does not sound applicable for embracing case study as the methodology.

2. Paper title: Using netnography research method to reveal the underlying dimensions of the customer/tourist experience.

Authors: Ahmed Rageh, T.C. Melewar and Arch Woodside (2013). Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Vol. 16 Issue: 2, pp.126-149

2.1 Theoretical and philosophical perspective of the paper

In paper two, the researchers basically highlighted the nature of the research objectives to explain the notion and the element of customer experience from the consumer perspective. Generally, researchers always develop the building and testing of theory from two tactics which are deductive and inductive. In a deductive approach, “the researcher begins with an abstract, logical relationship among concepts, and then moves towards concrete empirical evidence” (Neuman, 2003, p. 51). While in the inductive approach “the researcher begins with detailed observations of the world and moves towards more abstract generalizations and ideas” (Neuman, 2003, p. 51). The authors of this article, adopt deductive and inductive approaches. Deductive approach indicates that research is designed on theories that already have been developed (Bryman and Bell, 2007). An inductive approach is suitable for studies which there is a likelihood of identifying additional factors to those already exist in the literature.

Based on Crotty (1998), to design a research proposal, four aspects should be considered:

  1. The type of epistemology notifies research such as objectivism or subjectivism.
  2. The type of philosophical perspective (positivism and post-positivism, interpretivism, critical theory-which have been described briefly in paper 1 summary) lies behind the methodology
  3. The type of methodology that rules the researchers` choice and the application of methods such as carrying out experiments, surveys, ethnography, etc.
  4. The type of methods suggests conducting the research such as questionnaire, interview, focus group, etc.

With respect to Crotty`s model, Creswell (2003) focused on three elements of inquiry (i.e. knowledge claim, strategies of inquiry and methods). In the case of this article, the researcher followed the Creswell model in order to illustrate the research design.

There are four sets of philosophies relating to the knowledge claims; post-positivism, constructivism, advocacy/participatory, and pragmatism (Creswell, 2003). However, the most popular approaches of conducting social research are positivism and interpretivism. Positivism is the most matured and long-established approach (positivist has been described as more in-depth in the description of the previous article). On the other hand, interpretivist researchers try to clarify the understanding of social life and unravel the way people build meaning in the natural setting (Neuman, 2003). They discuss the importance of using common sense to guide ordinary people in their daily lives (Neuman, 2003).

This research adopts uses netnography research method which grounded in interpretivism approach and is explained thoroughly in the next section. and the merit of the netnography research method is the fact that it excels at telling the story, understanding complex social phenomena and assists the researcher in developing themes from the respondents’ points of view (Kozinets, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002).

2.2 General description of the qualitative method: Netnography

Netnography is a conventional method to qualitative research which the name is drawn from the combination of “Internet” and “ethnography” (Kozinets, 2010). In simple terms, netnography applies the nuts and bolts of ethnography to study the online world. The Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods defines it as, 'A qualitative interpretive research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to the study of the online cultures and communities formed through computer-mediated communications '.

Netnography is a flexible approach that gives the opportunity of exploring and explaining diverse, rich societies to researchers. Adopting Naturalism in direction, it reaches cultural aspect in their local contexts, showing an indication on instinctive responses. The result of a netnography could be illustrated descriptive or analytical and the method leans towards to produce strong descriptions by means of grounded interpretations (see Willig, Chapter 10, this volume), thus bringing together a thorough picture of the online experience of cultural, ethnic or racial members. There are many differences between ethnography and netnography from many aspects and it requires specific skill sets (Kozinets, 2010). These dissimilarities start with a distinctive method of computer-mediated communications. More specifically, creating the virtual environment and data collection phase, deciding about the data types and analysing, assessing the quality of the study and ethics are the main features of disparity between ethnography and netnography (Kozinets, 2002). By means of conducting netnography as a naturalistic method, its analysing could be varied out by combining elicited and repress data. These data are captured and recorded over and done with the researcher’s observation of and participation with people as they interact online within their normal environments and life (Kozinets, 2010). Online cultural research is far less interfering than classic ethnography, as well as collecting data while the researcher could be invisible to the members (Beaulieu, 2004; Kozinets, 2010). In such cases, non-participative activity is suitable; conversely, this approach is not appropriate when the researcher tends to participate in an online field site.

2.3 Ethical consideration

The ethical issues concerning netnography were suggested by Kozinets (2002). He suggested:

  1. the researcher should clearly explain her/his presence and aim to members and participant
  2. Each community member should be granted confidentiality and anonymity
  3. Members` feedback should be involved in the research process.
  4. The researcher should be thoughtful in case of taking the role as online meditator in the public or private environment.

2.3 Advantages and disadvantages of netnography

Researchers can take benefits of applying netnography over other research methods. First, the data obtained from it are counted rich and naturalistic which reflects the accuracy of the studied group. (Kozinets, 2002). Despite ethnography, netnography enables the research to be invisible which promote the view of people`s everyday life (Giesler and Pohlmann, 2003). Particularly in the situation of sensitive subjects, the invisibility of the researcher could be necessary to elicit relevant data (Kozinet 2010). Second, netnography is a flexible qualitative method that has confirmed beneficial in numerous studies (Kozinets, 2015). Netnography is also well-matched with other methods, such as interviews (Walther and Sandlin, 2013), ethnography (McGrath et al., 2013) and even surveys (Adjei et al., 2010). Finally, netnography is evidenced as being quicker, more convenient and more economical than ethnography (Kozinets, 2006). However, netnography has its own limitations as well such as the legitimacy and quality of the data (Xun and Reynolds, 2010), the difficulty of establishing the demographics of participants and suitability for studies involving factors such as age, ethnicity or gender (Mkono, 2013). Moreover, it is beyond the ability of netnography to be generalised its outcomes to cases in groups outside the online environments (Kozinets, 1998, 2002).

2.4 Netnography and my research

Considering my research title and subject have been described extensively in section 1.6, applying netnography as the method to collect my dataset which should be reliable, big set and product/service oriented seems a feasible approach to me. My research on big data of customer experience is based on the qualitative data of customers` perception of the product/service they received during their all touchpoints. But for using netnography as the method I should categorise my research to specific ethnic, age or geographical region which is not in the scope of my research. While my research requires a very big data set, netnography is not capable of producing the amount of data for my research. Moreover, my research is about detecting the peoples feeling of a purchase which will be analysed by quantitative approach to detect the pattern and predict the future sentiment of customers, as mentioned above, the data obtained via netnography is not reliable nor generalizable beyond online environment. Thus netnography does not seem a viable research method for my quantitative research.


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