How Can Customer Service Build the Brand of a Tour Operating Company
This research is conducted based on the case study of Thomas Cook, UK and it is supposed to investigate how the customer service builds the brand image of a tour operator. There are few chapters in this research study such as introduction, literature review, methodology, data analysis, findings and conclusion. Through this study it is able to increase the knowledge of the student about the organisation and subject matters. It increases the skills and competencies of the student and this is conducting by using both quantitative and qualitative research methods.
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
According to Thomas Cook Group (2013) Thomas cook is a tour operating organisation which operates internationally and they have brand image and reputation in the market place. It is operating as a travel agency since 2007 and a few times they merged with few organisations. This is started as a family business and they it has sold to Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits in 1930. According to annual report (2012) they are involved with the tour operators, shipping and transport services in trying to satisfy the customers from their service. It is merged with Carlson leisure group in 1999 and in 2007 they again merged with “I travel”. According to Thomas Cook Group (2013) they have 9.8 billion sales and 23.6 million customers with them and they operate the business in 22 countries in the world. According to annual report (2012:78) there are 1103 retail outlets and 40 aircrafts with them. Currently they do 73.8% controlled distribution and 30.1% internet distribution to increase their brand image. By 2011 Thomas Cook UK had 3,255million revenue.
SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
Through this research conducting it is able to increase the knowledge and skills of the researcher while increasing the practical knowledge related to customer services. This is providing knowledge about different theories and concepts related to customer service and brand image development and to operate the business and for the career development student is able to use this knowledge. Through the research it is able to get a clear idea about the tour operating system and how customer service is involved with the brand image development in tour operating organisations. Since there are several tour operating organisations to increase the brand image they need to provide effective customer service. Therefore through the study it is able to identify the relationship between the customer service and brand image development and the strategies which can implement to develop customer service.
RATIONALE OF THE STUDY
THIS RESEARCH IS BASED ON THE CASE STUDY AND IT IS DOING AS A FINAL PROJECT OF THE MBA STUDY. THEREFORE IT IS CONDUCTED AS AN INDIVIDUAL STUDY AND IT IS A MARKETING RELATED RESEARCH. THROUGH THE STUDY IT IS DISCUSSING ABOUT THE CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THE BRAND IMAGE OF TOUR OPERATOR.
There are two hypotheses in this research such as,
- Customer service affects for brand building at Thomas Cook, UK
- Customer service is not affected for brand image building at Thomas Cook, UK
PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION WITH JUSTIFICATION
According to Andrew (2001:32) customers are one of the main stakeholders of the organisation and organisation sales depend on them. Customers are able to influence the business in many ways and it is affecting for the brand image development. By understanding the problem it is able to find strategies to overcome the issue or to increase the performance. Since it is able to search customer service and the relationship between brand building researchers is able to check the issues related to customer service. As Andrew (2001:41) status, when the organisation is unable to satisfy the customers will supports to reduce the organisation image and reputation.
PROJECT AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
Here it is aimed to identify the customer service and its relationship to build the brand image in tour operator at Thomas Cook, UK.
Research objectives support to achieve the research aim and it can mention as below.
- To identify the importance of customer service
- Understand the relationship between customer service and brand image building in tour operators
- Identify the strategies to develop the brand image of the organisation
- Recognize the strategies to develop customer service
Research questions support to direct the research to achieve its objectives and when it is developing literature review research is able to follow the research questions.
- What is customer service?
- Why customer service is important?
- What is brand image?
WHY BRAND IMAGE IMPORTANT FOR AN ORGANISATION?
- What is the relationship between customers services a brand building?
- How customer service builds brand image at Thomas Cook UK?
As Bryman and Hardy (2009:90) status, when it is conducting research is able to use different research methods to conduct the research in an effective manner and based on the requirement it is able to select the methods. This research is using both quantitative and qualitative data to achieve the research objectives. According to Gill and Johnson (2002:31) data will be collected through the customer survey and secondary data will be collected through the organisation publications and websites.
Since this research based on the hypothesis it comes under the deductive research and inductive research conducts based on the observations. According to Gill and Johnson (2002:10) when it is conducts deductive research it is using positivism and theories to reach the objectives. When it is conducting inductive research it is using interpretivism paradigm.RESEARCH TOOLS
According to Mugenda and Mugenda (1999:12) Research tools are required to collect the data and to present data and there are several research tools which can apply for research reports. Here it is using sampling to select the customers and there are 25 customers as the research population. They need to face questionnaire which is developed for 30 minutes and based on their answers, it is able to collect the quantitative data. It is using publications, journals, and websites, to collect the data.
As Saungers (2009:34) states, when it is conducting research there are several limitations related to researches and some of them can mentions as below.
- Limited time to conduct the research
- Privacy of the data and participants
- Accuracy of the data
RESEARCH REPORT-LITERATURE REVIEW
WHAT IS A BRAND?
According to Andrew (2001:32) each product, service or organisation has their name and it can be a symbol, design, name or term which is specific to the product or service. There are several branding concepts such as commodity branding, concept branding and etc. brands are important to increase the sales and to gain the competitive advantage. Most of the time customers identify the products through the brands and in each industry there are branded organisations or products. When it is considered the Thomas Cook they have developed their brand name in the airline industry and travel industry as an international airline service due to their brand image. Article (2001:4) mentions that through the brand it specifies the characteristics of the particular brand. To increase the brand image it is important to provide quality products, good service to customers and they use to rate the brand. This is the process of increasing the brand image in the market place. According to Best (2009:85) brand image is developed based on the customer perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and experience on the particular products and they use to talk about them in public. This is a psychological factor that increases in customer’s mindset and it is affecting for the organisation revenue, sales and competitive advantage.
As Buist (2011:812) status, there are different types of branding based on the variables in branding such as product features, marketing mix, position and etc. there are different types of names in branding based on the evocative, geography and etc.
IMPORTANCE OF BRAND BUILDING
According to Carldwell (2000:90) branding is important to research the marketplace and to compete in the market place. It supports to get more customers to the organisation and creates long term benefits to the organisations. As an example there are several organisations that have developed their brand image in the marketplace and because of their brand image regular customers are not interested to move into new markets. Therefore the brand image is one of the main reasons which are supported for business performance. When it is advertising product the brand image is important to promote the products and services. According to Diller et al. (2006:3) when it is developing brand it is important to identify the concepts of branding and the target market and branding is depends on the quality of the products. Brand image supports to maintain the market price and when the brand image is high it is able to increase the price than the competitors.
According to Diller et al. (2006:5) even the product cost is high there is a place in the market for those branded products and services and people use that particular product due to the brand. People use branded products to maintain their lifestyle or their reputation in the society. They are more aware about the quality of the products and they are willing to pay the cost because of the brand image. According to Easterby-Smith et al. (2002:412) after it is develop the brand image in the international market place it is important to maintain the product quality and the services related to it. Branded products and services have its uniqueness and people like because of those reasons. Product appeal, packing, promotions, delivery process, advertising support to increase the brand image and customers are the main player of the brand building.
IMPORTANCE OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
According to Giesler (2012:31) customers are one of the main stakeholders of the organisations and it is important to increase their satisfaction level by considering their needs and expectations. When the customers are happy about the product or the service they use to mention about the quality of the product to others and this is supported to increase the brand image of the product. According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2007:41) brand image is the main factor that organisation required to develop in the market place and it supports to increase the sales and revenue of the organisation. Therefore, customer service is important to maintain by the organisation and they need to make strategies to increase the customer satisfaction. Thomas Cook use to check customer feedback for their service development and they are always trying to provide benefits for their regular customers to increase their brand image. As an example they are using effecting pricing methods and quality improvement strategies to increase the service quality to develop the customer satisfaction. It is important to maintain the regular customer base and also should get new customers to the business. Sales are depending on the customer buying process and therefore it is important to maintain the customer base of the organisation.
Customers are important to the organisation due to following reasons. And they are supporting top increase the brand image as follows. Through sharing knowledge and experience
- Through the publicity
- Through ranking the service
- By introducing product to others
- Make like in social media
- Share the organisation information in internet and globs
- By discussing positively about the organisation in public
STRATEGIES TO ATTRACT CUSTOMERS
According to Holt (2004:10) organisations are able to use different strategies to attract customers since it is important to gain the brand image of the organisation. Customers use to compare the price and the quality of the products with the other products available in the market and organisations required to highlight their products from specific features and etc of the products. According to the International Customer service standards (2009:21) Brand building is one of the strategies to attract customers and it is important to use 4P’s attract customers.
It is significant to use effective pricing methods to attract customers and they should able to buy the product from the market. Promotions are also supports to attract customers and at Thomas Cook they are doing several promotions to attract customers during the seasons. According to Scuffham (2009:42) through the advertising, publicity and promotion it is able to attract the customers and Thomas Cook is using strategies on this matter. When it is conducting customer attraction functions it is required to consider the customer role, customer role, customer type and etc for effective result.
Figure01: Customer Attraction
HOW THE CUSTOMER SERVICE OPERATES AT THOMAS COOK UK
When it is considered the Thomas Cook they are using different strategies and methods to provide better service to their customers. As a tour operator they are running the business in 22 countries to promote the business in whole world and to provide better service to their customers. According to the figures they have 23.6 million customers due to their effective service. According to Kandula (2006:80) organisation is providing training programs for the staff members to increase the customer service and there is an orientation program to adapt the staff members to organisation culture. Thomas Cook maintains the employee diversity to provide better service to their customers and since they are operating in different countries. They use to conduct customer surveys to get a better idea about their services and to make future improvements in their services. Most of the times Thomas Cook merged with organisation because they wanted to provide better service to their customers while increasing their performance. They are offering several tour promotions during the season to encourage customers to use the Thomas Cook Service. They are maintaining customer database to update the customers about promotions and etc.
HOW CUSTOMER SERVICE BUILDS THE BRAND OF A TOUR OPERATOR COMPANY
According to Kotler and Keller (2008:10) customer service is the impact of the brand building and it is important to provide better service to the customer to increase the brand image. This has operated as a cycle and when the brand image is high it is also supports to get more customers to the business. It is able to increase the customer service through the effective staff performance and staff service. According to Martins (2000:90) customers prefer to get information quick and accurately and staff members should have required knowledge and skills to provide better service to their customers.
Figure 2: Consumer acceptance cycle
From the above figure it is mentioning the customer acceptance cycle and according to that there are several factors which are affecting for the customer acceptance of a product or service. It includes the brand salience, brand performance, brand imagery, consumer feelings, consumer judgment and etc.
According to Kotler and Keller (2008:32) when it is considered the tour operator company they are providing service to the customers and customers prefer to have quality service including quick baggage clearance, comfortable seats, quick document work, quick bookings, baggage facilities and etc. As Kunde (2002:198) mentions, based on these facilities customers compare their service with the other competitors and they compare the price they pay for those facilities. Based on these factors they rate the service or the brand in the market place. Therefore Thomas Cook should increase their service quality to increase the brand image and they are able to use different strategies to attract customers such as,
- Implement pricing strategies
- Product and service quality development
- Increase the staff performance and friendly service
- Increase the benefits at Thomas Cook flights
- Increase more flights to different countries and expand the functions
- To target different market segments
This is conducting as an individual research based on the two main hypotheses as below.
H1- customer service is build the brand of tour operator
H2 – Customer service has not built the brand of tour operator
Through the research finding it is required to find whether the customer service is building the brand of tour operator.
According to Mugenda and Mugenda (1999:67) there are different research approaches and it is important to select the research approach based on the research requirements. Here it has selected the inductive research approach to conduct this research since it is based on the hypothesis and theories. It is used both qualitative and quantitative data to conduct to this research. It is collecting data through the questionnaires and survey will be conducted for the customers. According to Montada and Charnov (2008:580) Qualitative researches are related to the social constructivist paradigm since it is using the human behaviours and their beliefs. Data which is collected through the qualitative method will present as textual form. Researchers are able to use mixed methods like the pragmatic approach to conduct research by using both quantitative and qualitative methods.
RESEARCH STRATEGY AND RESEARCH DESIGN
This research will be conducted as a positivism research since researcher is conducting it as a practical research. Research has participated to visit the organisation and get customers to fill the questionnaires.
It has selected sample random based and the sample size is 25 customers of Thomas Cook UK. All the participants will get questionnaire which is required to answer within 30 minutes and the questionnaire is developed with closed questions.
DATA COLLECTION METHODS
It is used both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect the data. Questionnaires include the closed ended questions to select the answers by the customers. It is used both primary and secondary data to analysis the research topic.
DATA COLLECTION TOOLS
It is using few data collection tools such as questionnaires, publications and based on those tools it is able to collect the data to conduct the research in an effective manner. It is no need to check the validity and reliability since the questionnaire developed based on the international questionnaires.
POPULATION OF THE STUDY
Since the topic is related to customer service and brand building it has selected the sample as customers and it selects random based to conduct the research in an effective manner. Based on the sample responds it is able to make a conclusion about the whole population or about the customers. It is focusing customer service, service quality, satisfaction level, brand image and etc from the questionnaire.
DATA PRESENTATION METHODS
After collecting data it is required to present them by using data presentation methods and it is able to use diagrams, tables, and charts to present data. It is using manual processes to analysis the data and it is able to compare the data and come to a conclusion about the findings.
DATA ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
Data were analysed by using quantitative and qualitative data analysing methods and it is using the Likert’s five point scale to collect the data. It is using diagrams and charts to present the data and using triangulation method to analyse the data.
PROFILE OF THE CUSTOMERS
When it is considered the customers gender difference there are more male customers than the females and there are 60% males and 40% females. Most of them are aged between 26 to 35 years. Most of the customers are married and they travel for business purpose and to spend holidays. Most of them are in different working sectors such as the service sector, hospitality and etc. 60% of the customers are married and they enjoy travel with Thomas Cook.
Figure 03: Gender difference of the participants
Figure 4: Marriage status of the participants
CUSTOMER IMAGE ABOUT THE BRANDING
Customers are believed that branding is one of the main components in organisations and 60% of the customer’s are thinking like that. They believe that customer service is impacted for the brand building and organisations are responsible about the customer service.
Figure 5: Branding is the main component of organisations
Figure 6: Customer service is impact of brand building
How Customer service impact of brand building
According to the findings most of the customers are happy about the Thomas Cook service but they believe that organisations can provide better service to their customers. Most of the customers are happy about the advertising methods which are used by the organisation and most of them are regular customers of Thomas Cook. Customers prefer to improve the service while increasing the tour packages at Thomas Cook.
Figure 7: Thomas Cook should increase their brand image
Figure 8. Thomas Cook should improve their service quality further
According to the findings most of the customers are middle age from 26 to 35 and they are regular customers at Thomas Cook. They believed that customer service is impacted for the brand image building and organisations should increase the service quality to increase the brand image of the organisation. It is able to use different strategies such as advertising, promotions, pricing strategies and etc increase the customer base and through that it is able to increase the number of customers as well as the profits to the organisation.
Those customers believe that as an international organisation Thomas Cook is able to increase their service quality through the service they provide to customers. It is able to introduce some special packages for their regular customers and they can use new mass media for the promotions. It is important to use effective advertising methods and techniques to promote their service.
According to Michael et al. (2001:13) branding is important for an organisation due to,
- Increase the organisation reputation
- To gain the marketplace
- To increase the number of sales
- To increase the revenue of the organisation
Therefore organisations required considering their customers as an important asset of the organisation and they need to develop and implement strategies to satisfy them. According to Schmidt and Chris (2002:43) customers are promoting organisations to their friends and outsiders with the experience they get and therefore organisations should give their attention to this matter. According to the data collected from primary research it is mentioned that all the customers believe that brand image is impacted for the brand building of the organisations and organisations are responsible about this matter.
According to the annual report it can mention that Thomas Cook is using different advertising methods to increase the brand image of the organisation and following figure mentions that details clearly.
Figure 9: Advertising at Thomas Cook PLC
This research is conducted based on the Thomas Cook, UK and it has selected the topic “how customer service builds brand image of a tour operator organisation. From the first chapter it is provided brief description about the research, aims and objectives, the purpose of the research, significance, limitations of the research and etc.
From the second chapter it is mentioned about the literature review of the research and it is explained about the topic and the theories related to the topic. It discusses about the is branding, why branding is important, the relationship between customer service and brand building, how customer service build brands and etc.
From the methodology it is mentioned the methods and tools which are used to conduct the research in an effective manner. It is conducted as a quantitative and qualitative research and it has used inductive research method. It uses primary and secondary data to conduct the research and it has selected 25 sample sizes to collect the data through customers by using questionnaires. End of the research it has given some recommendations based on the findings and these factors can use to develop the customer service at Thomas Cook UK.
According to the findings it is able to understand the importance of customers in the organisation structure. They are able to influence for the business in a different manner and organisations are responsible about the customer satisfaction level. It is able to use different strategies to increase the customer satisfaction such as,
- Increase the product and service quality at Thomas Cook
- Increase the staff performance
- Increase the facilities
- Applying new technology to increase the service quality
- Apply suitable pricing strategies
- Training and development programs for staff members
- Reward employees to increase their performance
- Promotions and discount programs
- Privilege cards for regular customers
- Use effective marketing and advertising methods to increase the market place
According to Tan (2010:32) to increase the organisation image it is able to use advertising, promotion, internet marketing, training and development and etc.
- Andrew, W. (2001), The Golden Age of Travel (Travel Heritage), Thomas Cook, ISBN 978-1-900341-33-2.
- Annual report (2012) Thomas Cook, (online), Available from: http://www.thomascookgroup.com/annual-report-accounts-2012/ (Accessed on 13th October 2012)
- Best, R J. (2009) “Market-based Management: Strategies for Growing Customer Value and Profitability”, 5th Edition ISBN 0132336537
- Bryman, A., and Hardy, M. A. (2009), Handbook of Data Analysis, SAGE Publications Ltd
- Buist, T. (2011) What is Attraction Marketing, Attraction Marketing Insider
- Carldwell, C. M. (2000), Performance Management, AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn
- Casco, L. (2006) Managing Human Resources, Tata McGraw-Hill Education
- Chernev, A. (2009) “Strategic Marketing Management”, 5th Edition, Bright star Media, ISBN 0982512635
- Cummings, T. G. (2004), Organization Development and Change, 8th Ed., South-Western College Pub
- Dessler, G. (2008) “Human Resource Management”, PHI Learning Private Limited, New Delhi-11th Edition, pp2
- Diller S., Shedroff, N., and Rhea, D (2006) Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences. New Riders, Berkeley, CA,
- Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R., and Lowe, A., (2002) Management Research: An Introduction, 2nd, SAGE publications, London
- Giesler, M. (2012), “How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic,” Journal of Marketing
- Gill, J., and Johnson, P. (2002), Research Methods for Managers, 3rd edition, London: Sage.
- Hellriegel, D., and Slocum, J. W. (2007), Organizational behavior, Cengage Learning
- Holt, D. B (2004), “How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding” Harvard University Press, Harvard MA
- Kandula, M. (2006), Performance Management, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd
- Kotler, P. and Armstrong, G. (2008) Principles of Marketing, 13th Edition (Prentice Hall, 2008) ISBN 0136079415
- Kotler, P. and Keller, K. L. (2008) A Framework for Marketing Management, Pearson Education, ISBN 0137131844
- Kunde, J., (2002) Unique Now or Never: the Brand Is the Company Driver in the New Value Economy, Financial Times/Prentice Hall. London
- Martins, J. S. (2000) The Emotional Nature of a Brand: Creating images to become world leaders. Brazil: Marts Plan Imagen Ltda.
- Michael, G., Marius, L., and Sven, V. (2001) “Rejuvenating corporate intellectual capital by co-opting customer competence”, Journal of Intellectual Capital, Vol. 2 Iss: 2, pp.109 – 126
- Montana, P., and Charnov, B. (2008) Management, (4th ed.), Barrons Educational Series, Hauppauge: NY
- Mugenda, O. and Mugenda, M. (1999), Research methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approach. Nairobi: Acts Press.
- Mukerjee, K. (2007) Customer Relationship Management: A Strategic Approach to Marketing Prentice Hall of India, ISBN 8120332857
- Palmer, R. (2007). Managing Marketing: Marketing Success through Good Management Practice, Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 0750668989
- Saunders, M., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2009) Research methods for business students, 5thedn, Harlow: Person Education
- Schmidt, K., and Chris, L. (2002), Inclusive Branding: The Why and How of a Holistic approach to Brands. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-98079-4
- Scuffham, M. (2009). “Arcandor banks launch Thomas Cook share placement”. Reuters
- Tan, D. (2010). “Success Factors In Establishing Your Brand” Franchising and Licensing Association
- The International Customer Service Standard (2009), TICSS 2009, the International Customer Service Institute
- Thomas Cook Group (2013) Thomas Cook Group: online, http://www.thomascookgroup.com/ (Accessed on 17th October 2013)
- Wernick, A. (1991). Promotional Culture: Advertising, Ideology and Symbolic Expression (Theory, Culture & Society S.), London: Sage Publications, ISBN 0-8039-8390-5
- Winer, R. and Dhar, R. (2010), Marketing Management, 4th Edition, Pearson Education, ISBN 013038792