Customer service quality strategy in the tourism and leisure industry : a case study of Mkabati Nature Reserve
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Customer defections have been linked to service encounter failure in the tourism, leisure and hospitality industry. This study embraces the idea of improving customer acquisition, retention and satisfaction through proactively promoting operational excellence and improved customer service strategies. Mkambati Nature Reserve is studied to evaluate its customer service levels and to lay the foundation for the development of strategies for customer service improvement. Located in rural Transkei (Eastern Cape) wild coast, the resort is trying to position itself as a world-class holiday destination. However, increasing competition and the changing needs of its customers are threatening to erode its market share. The challenge for management is how to grow its market through customer acquisition and retention. This customer service measurement survey is one of regular surveys meant to evaluate the levels of customer service at Mkambati. A research questionnaire was designed to establish the profile of the visitors, their impression of the levels of service they receive and the key attractions. The respondents were also required to give a general opinion of the service they received and any other factors of concern. The data collected has been used to test the proposition: Customers are satisfied with the level of customer service received at the game reserve, i.e. at reservations, arrival, game drives, with accommodation, at the beach, restaurant and bar, cultural village, and at departure. A literature review of customer service in the tourism, leisure and hospitality industry has been under taken. The unique features of customer service in the tourism and leisure industry emerged. These are variability, perishability, intangibility and inseparability. It also emerged that there are 10 dimensions of service quality i.e. reliability, responsiveness, competence, access, courtesy, communication, credibility, security, understanding and reliability. However, they have been reduced to the five dimensions of service quality i.e. reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy and tangibles. The SERVQUAL instrument has been used to analyse data relating to customer perceptions at Mkambati Nature Reserve. The population of the research study consists of the residents and tourists in South Africa and the respondents were selected using a simple random sampling technique. A total of 300 questionnaires were issued and 270 were returned resulting in a 90% response rate. Mathematical and statistical data treatments have been employed to evaluate the survey results. Data has been presented using tables and graphs. The research results were analysed using the computer software, Microsoft Excel and a statistical software package: Statistica. The statements in the questionnaire have been reduced to the five dimensions of customer service. It emerged that responsiveness has the highest rating of all service dimensions, followed by reliability, assurance, empathy. The least rating was for tangibles. The mean score and standard deviation stands at 60.3% and 5.9% respectively. The results of the survey revealed that the visitors are satisfied with the level of service they receive at reservations. At arrival, game drives, beach facilities, restaurant and bar, cultural village and departure there is moderate satisfaction. With an average score of 12 points, accommodation has the least service satisfaction. Thus its performance is below the expectations of the visitors. Therefore, the general conclusion is that the customers are moderately satisfied with the levels of customer service they receive at the resort. Based on the research findings, management could develop proactive strategies to improve customer service, enhance customer acquisition and retention and reduce customer defection. There is need to focus on the measures that improve operational excellence. The measures recommended include the use of information technology, development of organisational service standards (benchmarks), generate positive emotions in the service encounter, measurement and management of customer satisfaction and service quality, prioritize accommodation improvement, process improvement, service customization, improvement of the beach facilities and employee empowerment.