Service encounters are ubiquitous in everyday social interaction. We buy food products and everyday items in supermarkets, convenience stores, or markets; we order coffee at cafés; we purchase merchandise in department stores; we book flights at a travel agency; or, we request information at a bank, a visitor information center, or at a library front-desk. Following Clark (1996), I consider a service encounter a joint activity. Service encounters are everyday interactions in which some kind of commodity, be it goods, information, or both, is exchanged between a service provider (e.g. clerk, vendor) and a service seeker (e.g. customer, visitor). The participants in a service encountrer may be physically present at a designated public setting, or the transaction can be carried out by telephone, online, in writing via mail, and in face-to-face interactions. In addition to transactional talk, interactions in commercial and non-commercial settings include non-transactional talk that is embedded in the transaction such as the relational talk of greetings and small talk, and metalinguistic discussions about the product.
According to Ventola, service encounters are ‘oriented towards demanding and giving goods & services’ (1987: 115). The genre of service encounters comprises ‘a class of communicative events, the members of which [service-provider and service-seeker] share some set of communicative purposes’ (Swales 1990: 58). I note in the Introduction that the service encounters in this book belong to the same genre, as they share structural, functional, and stylistic features, as well as content. It is the sharing of these aspects, specifically, their communicative purpose in seeking and giving goods and services that forms the main criterion for the definition of this genre (1990: 58). And, while transactional talk predominates in service encounters (e.g. sales transaction), non-transactional talk (e.g. small talk, metalinguistic comments) is also important for the outcome of the interaction because it promotes and maintains interpersonal relations between the participants.
I adopt the term ‘public service encounters’ (or ‘service encounters’ for short) to refer to interactions in both commercial (e.g. delicatessens, small shops, and markets) and non-commercial settings between a service provider and a service seeker. The aim of the interaction is the exchange of information (e.g. at a visitor information center) or goods (e.g. delicatessens, open-air markets). If the exchange is for goods at a commercial (e.g. a market) or service setting (e.g. post office), it involves monetary exchange.