Recent advances in technology have created a surge in “technology-based self-service” (Dabholkar et al. 2003). Such developments are changing the way that service firms and consumers interact, and are raising a host of research and practice issues relating to the delivery of e-service. E-service is becoming increasingly important not only in determining the success or failure of electronic commerce (Yang et al., 2001), but also in providing consumers with a superior experience with respect to the interactive flow of information (Santos, 2003).
Online service delivery is very different from service delivery through other channels, whether they be “bricks” channels, as is often the case for retailing, post and mail order, telephone, or “on location” as for many leisure experiences. E-service can be usefully conceptualized as an interactive information service. Information provided by or collected from and about customers can be gathered and analyzed by the e-service provider, and used as the basis for the customization of the service that the organization offers to the customer. In addition, the online service experience integrates service delivery and marketing communications, both of which are achieved through exchange of information (Ghosh et al., 2004).
Service quality has been recognised as having the potential to deliver strategic benefits, such as improved customer retention rates, whilst also enhancing operational efficiency and profitability (Cronin, 2003; Rust et al. 1995; Zeithaml, 2000). Oliveira et al. (2002) suggest that e-service quality is amongst a firm’s competitive capabilities that lead to business performance, Roth and Menor (2003) see issues in implementing service technology and e-services as critical in service operations, and Al-Hawari andWard (2006) demonstrates that service quality impacts on customer satisfaction which in turn affects the financial performance of banks. The more customers go online to fulfil their service needs themselves, themore scalable and cost-effective the businessmodel (Schultze, 2003).
This association between service quality and business performance has driven interest in e-service, online service and Internet retailing. This interest has been further fuelled by evidence of poor e-service quality in some contexts (Boyer et al., 2002; Janda et al., 2002; Zeithaml, 2002). Zeithaml (2002) identifies the need for businesses to focus on the e-service in their e-business, and to understand the importance of e-service quality as a differentiating strategy. Businesses also need to recognize that the web experience presents the brand positioning to online consumers (Kolsear and Galbraith, 2000; Rowley, 2004), and may be an important element in the establishment of trust and relationships with customers (Roy et al., 2001; Yang, 2001; Zeithaml et al., 2002; Lee and Lin, 2005).
There are a range of studies on e-service (Zhang and Prybutok, 2005), with some escalation in their extent and diversity evident during 2004 and 2005. Key themes in this literature are e-service quality and its associated dimensions and measures, the elements of the web experience, and, the relationship between elements of the web experience and consumer behaviour, customer satisfaction, intention to buy and loyalty. This paper undertakes a literature review in order to ascertain progress in the development of theory and understanding in relation to e-service, and uses this as a point of departure to pose a number of questions whose answers would drive forward our understanding of the e-service experience. First the nature of e-service is reviewed in pursuit of a definition of e-service, and the e-service experience. This includes an exploration of the inherent characteristics of technology facilitation of service, including notions of information service and self service; these aspects of the e-service experience are to a considerable...