Service quality is generally viewed as the output of the service delivery system, especially in the case of pure service systems.
Moreover, service quality is linked to consumer satisfaction. Service quality is a perception of the customer.
Customers, however, form opinions about service quality not just from a single reference but from a host of contributing factors.
1. Meaning of Service Quality 2. Definitions of Service Quality 3. Concept 4. Characteristics and Objectives 5. Dimensions 6. Principles
7. Steps 8. Service Quality Standards 9. Monitoring Service Quality. 10. Service Quality Measurement and Control 11. Models 12. Evaluation 13. Strategies for Improving Service Quality.
Service Quality: Meaning, Definitions, Concept, Dimensions, Attributes, Models, Evaluation and Other Details
Service Quality – Introduction and Meaning
It is a combination of two words, Service and Quality where we find emphasis on the availability of quality services to the ultimate users. The term quality focuses on standard or specification that a service generating organisation promises. We can’t have a clear-cut boundary for quality. Sky is the limit for quality generation. Scientific inventions and innovations make the ways for the generation of quality. More frequency in innovations, less gap in the process of quality up-gradation.
Like the goods manufacturing organisations even the service generating organisations are found instrumental in promoting research and devising something new that makes the services, schemes distinct to the competitors and creates profitable market opportunities to capitalise on. It is against this background that in the developed countries, the process of innovation is found more frequent.
The created quality shapes the boundary of expectations since the users tasting the sweetness, of world-class services expect the same from other organisations. The expectations pave the avenues for satisfaction or dissatisfaction. If we succeed in fulfilling the expectations of users, they are found satisfied and the satisfaction makes the ways for increasing the market share.
It is right to mention that the service quality satisfaction is the outcome of the resources and activities expanded to offer service against the expectations of users from the same. It is also opined that the service quality can be broken into technical quality and functional quality.
For the purpose of improving the levels of the quality of services that we offer. The service generating organisations are required to identify the reasons entailed behind mounting dissatisfaction amongst the users and to activate appropriate measures (technical or functional) to minimise it.
The technical measures draw our attention on the inventions and innovations in the field of technologies that help to improve the quality of services. It focuses on the use of technology or prefer to have a technology-driven service. The functional measures gravitate our attention on improving the quality of services offered by the employees, which pave ways for style of functioning, work culture, formulation of a profitable package, behavioural profile of employees or so.
The frequency in the process of technological innovations vis-a-vis the growing influence of high-performer employees develop technology-driven and user-friendly service with a new quality.
The functional quality of employees can be improved by strong emphasis on behavioural areas such as attitudes, service-mindedness, accessibility, interpersonal relations, appearance, and commitment. It is right to say that poor quality of services or service failures are not designed into the system by the choice of the senior management.
The aforesaid facts make it clear that the perception of service quality keeps on changing and the governing factors are use of new generation of technologies, development of quality people and an attitudinal change in the boardrooms.
The top management and the senior executives bear the responsibility of shaping the perception of service quality by promoting the use of sophisticated technologies and increasing the number of personally- committed employees. This makes it essential that the service generating organisations prefer to practise the principle of making things happen which focuses on quality generation.
Meaning of Service Quality:
Service quality is generally viewed as the output of the service delivery system, especially in the case of pure service systems. Moreover, service quality is linked to consumer satisfaction.
Although there is no consensus in the research community about the direction of causality relating quality and satisfaction, the common assumption is that service quality leads to satisfied customers.
For example – customers leaving a restaurant or hotel are asked if they were satisfied with the service they received. If they answer “no,” one tends to assume that service was poor.
Direct service providers, such as waitresses, also note that at times the best service efforts are criticized because the customer’s perceptions of the service are clouded by being in a bad mood or having a disagreement with someone just before arriving at the restaurant.
These service providers recognize that in practice the influence of service quality on customer satisfaction is affected by other factors, one of which is the customer’s physical and psychological conditions.
Over the last fifteen years, research on service quality has grown extensively and substantively. The topic has attracted interest among managers and researchers because of the substantial effects customer perceptions of service quality have on the satisfaction and loyalty of customers, as well as on brand equity.
Service quality research has also achieved a truly global scope and significance and attracted contributions from scholars from many disciplines.
Even though a number of methodological issues have been debated, the preponderance of research has been strongly influenced by the conceptual model of service quality proposed by Parasuraman et al. and subsequently operationalized and refined by the same authors.
This articulation of the service quality construct and its associated SERVQUAL measure has spawned hundreds of studies around the world, over 70% coming from outside the United States. It has contributed to a rich empirical record that has yet to be synthesized using meta-analytic techniques.
The research derives from an extensive project that began by gathering over 500 service quality articles. Articles were coded by two researchers and then included in a meta-analysis if they contained any of the following matrices – mean levels of customer expectations, performance perceptions, or gaps between expectations and performance perceptions, correlations linking service quality to other related constructs, inter-correlations among the five SERVQUAL dimensions, or consumers’ importance ratings of the SERVQUAL dimensions.
The data was analysed by means of a nested, multi-level modelling procedure using the HLM program. Although based upon sophisticated meta-analysis, our intent is to present the fascinating and far-reaching results of this work with both a research and a managerial emphasis.
Service Quality – Definitions
Service quality has been defined keeping in view at least four perspectives:
(i) Excellence – Although the mark of an uncompromising student and high achievement, the attributes of excellence may change dramatically and rapidly. Excellence is often externally defined.
(ii) Value – It incorporates multiple attributes, but quality and value are different constructs—one the perception of meeting or exceeding expectations and the other stressing benefit to the recipient.
(iii) Conformance to Specifications – It facilitates precise measurement, but users of a service may not know or care about internal specifications.
(iv) Meeting and/or Exceeding Expectations – This definition is all-encompassing and applies across service industries, but expectations change and may be shaped by experiences with other service providers?
Most marketing and researchers have concentrated on the last perspective. The Gaps Model of Service Quality reflects that perspective and offers service organizations a framework to identify services in the form of the gaps that exceed (or fail to meet) customers’ expectations.
The model posits five gaps that reflect a discrepancy between:
(i) Customers’ expectations and management’s perceptions of these expectations (Gap 1);
(ii) Management’s perceptions of customers’ expectations and service quality specifications (Gap 2);
(iii) Service quality specifications and actual service delivery (Gap 3);
(iv) Actual service delivery and what is communicated to customers about it (Gap 4); and
(v) Customers’ expected services and perceived service delivered (Gap 5).
Although all five gaps may create hindrances to an organization in providing high quality service, the fifth gap is the basis of a customer-oriented definition of service quality that examines the discrepancy between customers’ expectations for excellence and their perceptions of the actual service delivered.
Expectations are desired wants—the extent to which customers believe a particular attribute is essential for an excellent service provider, and perceptions are a judgment of service performance.
Jeffrey E. Disend correlates the Gaps Model with the concept of service quality. He maintains that poor service results if the gap, or difference is large between what is expected and what is delivered.
When what is delivered matches with what is expected, customers find the service acceptable. If the service provided is better than what was expected, exceptional service materializes.
Consequently, when expectations and perceptions are ranked on a scale, the gap is a number reflecting the difference between the two, i.e., expectation ranking minus perception ranking.
If there is a poor service gap, a minus number occurs. If the number, per chance, is zero, service is acceptable (expectations match perceptions). If a positive value emerges (perceptions exceed expectations), the service organization has achieved exceptional service. In fact, this characterization is too simplistic; even a minus number may signify exceptional service.
The definition of service quality presented in the Gaps Model recognizes that expectations are subjective and are neither static nor predictable. The model’s designers were influenced by the confirmation/disconfirmation theory, which involves a comparison between expectations and performance. Before using a service, a customer has certain expectations about it. These expectations become a basis against which actual performance is compared.
After having some experience with a service, the customer can compare any expectations with actual performance and his or her perception is confirmed (if they match), negatively disconfirmed (if expectations exceed perceptions), or positively disconfirmed (if perceptions exceed expectations).
Terry G. Vavra, in his discussion of satisfaction, regards the term “positive disconfirmation” as “confusing” and prefers to use the words “affirmed,” “confirmed,” and “disconfirmed” to describe the three situations:
(i) Expectations are confirmed when perceived performance meets them;
(ii) Expectations are affirmed (reinforced by positive disconfirmation) when perceived performance exceeds them; and
(iii) Expectations are disconfirmed (failed by negative disconfirmation) when perceived performance falls short of them.
Clearly, this distinction also applies to service quality.
Service Quality – Concept
When defining the concept of service quality, one should always start with customers, as quality is the most important factor for customers and also it is their basis of their opinion, which will then result in the fact that service quality is achieved if the customer expectations are achieved.
While doing the service product design process, a significant element is the service quality, as it influences the volume of demand for a given service product, as well as customer profile of this service product. The most significant positioning tool of service providers and their offer on the contemporary service market is the service quality.
The impact of quality service on profit and financial indicators of business performance is an important aspect to understand in services marketing. Service quality must be viewed as a strategic force, but also as the key problem of service marketing management.
As it affects the constant improvement of service performance by increasing market share and profit growth, keep in mind that service quality is a significant source of sustainable competitive advantage. This will yield an increase in financial results and will achieve sustainable competitive advantage.
Quality-based service marketing strategy is sustainable, as not all competitors can achieve the service quality expected by the consumers. Hence those service companies that base their strategies on the quality have an excellent reputation, and this feature of their quality poses a barrier to developing competitive copycat marketing strategies.
Service providers define and attain the service quality, while consumers perceive quality during the service delivery process. The way consumers perceive moments of truth is directly reflected on the evaluation of total quality service, especially in services whose deliveries are repeated, which implies a highly professional approach to moments of truth, aimed at building and maintaining long-term consumer relations.
Improving service quality and building long-term consumer relations requires good knowledge of moments of truth, i.e. activities carried our within those, as well the customer perception of those.
Quality-based service company management should especially focus on four key areas important for achieving quality:
i. Service encounters (moments of truth);
ii. Service design;
iii. Service productivity; and
iv. Service provider’s corporate culture.
Without the appropriate design of service provision systems, service exchange on the market is not possible as its functioning enables efficient service delivery. In service design decision-making, the key problem is related to the choice between the service personnel and the technological support to the service delivery process, depending on whether the service provider is focused on achieving maximum efficiency.
The main understanding of service quality is the customer’s view of service quality is connected to certain benchmarks, if a given service can be standardised. Disagreements regarding the nature of service quality are mostly related to the relationship between satisfaction and service quality, and in addition to quality, satisfaction is affected by a larger number of factors.
Service Quality – Characteristics and Objectives
The main characteristics of service quality are as follows:
(i) Clients are a direct part of the process, bringing perceptions and expectations to the transaction that become part of their interaction with you.
(ii) Unlike a manufactured product, which can be made, inspected, and controlled for quality before it is released to the client, service quality cannot be inspected before delivery.
(iii) Because clients participate fully in the transaction, they are concerned both with the output or result of the transaction, and the process for delivering that outcome.
(iv) In a production environment, eliminating variance is critical to making high-quality goods. In delivering service, satisfying clients depends not on eliminating variance, but rather on personalizing the service delivery to the unique circumstances of each transaction. Applying certain principles consistently rather than providing an identical response to each transaction, is the key to delivering quality service.
(v) Client satisfaction is subjective. It is made up of two essential ingredients—expectations and perceptions of delivery. Clients have unique expectations based on their individual experience and needs. They have their own perception of what they received. Any difference between what they expected to get and what they perceive they got, will affect their satisfaction
Objectives of Service Quality:
The subject of service quality has aroused considerable recent interest among business people and academics. Of course, buyers have always been concerned with quality, but the increasing competitive market for many services has led consumers to become more selective in the services they choose. Conceptualising the quality for services is more complex than for goods. Because of the absence of tangible manifestations, measuring service quality can be difficult but there are possible research approaches.
Comprehensive models of service quality and their limitations can be studied. Understanding just what dimensions of quality are of importance to customers is not always easy in their evaluation process. It is not sufficient for companies to set quality standards in accordance with misguided assumptions of customers’ expectations.
A further problem in defining service quality lies in the importance which customers often attach to the quality if the service provider is distinct from its service offers – the two cannot be separated as readily as in the case of goods. Finally, issues relating to the setting of quality standards and implementation of quality management should be studied.
Service Quality – 5 Important Dimensions (With Examples)
Service quality is a perception of the customer. Customers, however, form opinions about service quality not just from a single reference but from a host of contributing factors. Service marketers need to understand all the dimensions used by customers to evaluate service quality.
David Garvin in the article ‘Competing on the Eight Dimensions of Quality’ identified the following eight dimensions of quality applicable to both goods and services.
These include – Performance, Features, Reliability, Conformance, Durability, Serviceability, Aesthetics, Perceived quality or prestige
In a further refinement of their earlier factor identification, Parasuram, Zeithmal and Berry have identified the following five dimensions of service quality as crucial.
Dimension # 1. Reliability:
This dimension is shown to have the highest influence on the customer perception of quality. It is the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately. Sahara Airlines, an upcoming domestic air carrier within India, has been striving to protect itself as a reliable airline. It hopes to differentiate itself from other airlines Indian Airlines. To protect this reliability, Sahara Airways has a scheme of full refund plus a coupon of Rs.3,000 to every passenger on delay of flights by more than 59 minutes.
When service delivery fails the first time, a service provider may get a second chance to provide the same service in the phase called ‘Recovery’. The expectations of the customer are usually higher during the recovery phase than before because of the initial failure. Thus, the service provider is likely to come under greater scrutiny, thereby increasing the possibility of customer dissatisfaction. The reliability dimension, which ensures timely delivery time after time, helps the service provider to meet the customer expectations fully at the lowest level of service expectation.
Dimension # 2. Responsiveness:
It is the willingness of the service firm’s staff to help customers and to provide them with prompt service. The customers may have queries, special requests, complaints, etc. In fact, each customer may have problems of his or her own. While the front- end employee may have been trained or equipped to deliver standardised services, the customers want them to go beyond this limit. It is the willingness to help the customer or willingness to go that extra distance that is responsiveness.
Example – A customer calls room service to find out if they would pack a Jain lunch. It is not the hotel’s normal policy to cook such specialty and customised meals. However, the customer being very religious minded would be very pleased if the hotel could pack it for him to carry and eat. This may impose some strain on the kitchen. However, the hotel may be rewarded in two different ways if it agreed to provide the meal. The customer would be very pleased with the service and is very likely to recommend the hotel to his friends and acquaintances.
In addition, the hotel could charge extra commensurate with the extra efforts. He is unlikely to mind paying more. The second aspect of responsiveness is speedy response to a customer request. When response is delayed customers usually loses interest. Many sales representatives respond on the phone, ‘I will call you back’. The call is never returned. The customer draws his or her own conclusion about the quality of service he is likely to receive in the future.
Dimension # 3. Assurance:
It defined as the ability of the company to inspire trust and confidence in the service delivery. It refers to knowledge and courtesy of the service firm’s employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence in the customer toward the company. This dimension is considered vital for services that involve high risk as customers may not be able to evaluate all the uncertainties involved in the process by them.
Example- Medical services requiring complex uncommon procedures, sales/purchase of financial securities, investment issues, legal affairs, etc., demand this service quality dimension. There are property developers/builders who provide a list of previous buyers of flats or apartments to potential buyers.
The evaluation of construction services is beyond technical capabilities of most buyers. However, the prospective customers are free to call the previous customers. When prospective customers hear from them about the company and its satisfactory delivery, they feel assured and develop a more positive attitude towards the company.
Dimension # 4. Empathy:
It refers to the caring, individualised attention the service firm provides each customer. When service provider puts himself in the shoes of the customers, he may see the customer’s viewpoint better. When customers feel that the provider is making his best effort to see their viewpoint, it may be good enough for most. Example, a lady customer with a young child arrives slightly late at the check-in counter and requests the agent for a seat along the aisle and near the toilet.
Even if all such seats have already been taken up, the agent and the airline may make even effort to request another passenger to exchange seats and meet the customer demand. The lady passenger would be delighted if her request could be honoured despite the last minute checking in, and even if she does not get such a seat, she would be grateful for their effort.
Dimension # 5. Tangibles:
It refers to physical facilities, equipment, and appearance of a service firm’s employees. The job of the tangible and physical evidence of a service is multifunctional. When a patient in the waiting room of a clinic sees the doctor’s certificate, he becomes aware of the quality of service he is about to receive.
If a dental clinic provides patients with clean rubber footwear and freshly laundered bibs or coats before the actual service, the patients and their accompanying relatives or friends will be impressed. A dentist dressed in a spotless white coat is likely-to impress, them even further. Tangibles provide the customer proof of the quality of service.
Service Quality – 3 Important Attributes
The process used for goods in evaluating services differs from the process used by consumers. Goods tend to be high in search qualities whole services tend to be high in accepted quality and experience.
1. Search Qualities:
Search qualities are attributes that consumers can evaluate prior to purchasing a service or good. Items such as colour, style, fit, feel, smell, and price, are found included in the search qualities. Some products such as shoes, jeans, washing machines, cars are high in search qualities.
Raw materials, component parts, and office supplies (business goods) also tend to be high in search qualities. Consumers can easily evaluate the quality of goods prior to purchase since they are high in search qualities.
2. Experience Qualities:
Experience qualities are attributes that consumers can evaluate only during or after the consumption process. Food, catering services, meals, entertainment, and cosmetic surgery are services high in experience qualities. Under the business services, some services which are high in experience include lawn services, delivery services etc. Only after the service has been consumed or during the process of consumption, evaluation takes place. For example, a meal at a restaurant can only be evaluated once it is eaten and not before.
3. Credence Qualities:
Credence qualities are attributes that consumers have difficulty evaluating even after the consumption is complete. Consumer services such as accountant services, funeral services, education, and veterinarian care are examples of services high in credence qualities.
Examples in the business sector would include financial advice, and advertising services. Few consumers have the medical knowledge or tax knowledge to judge if the service provider performed the service properly. The same is true for a business trying to evaluate consulting or advertising services. Clearly, evaluating services high in credence qualities is difficult.
Service Quality – Steps that Lead to a Better Management of Service Quality Delivered to the Customers
Service quality is vital for any service organisation today. This is more so because of the global competition and the number of players present in the service industry today. One such example of Gaps in services is seen in the airline Industry. When predictions are inaccurate, however customers may still have to wait and sometimes may not be served at all, as when airlines overbook the number of seats available on a flight.
Victims of overbooking may be compensated for their inconvenience in such cases. To minimize the no show problem, some organisations (e.g., hotels, airlines, conferences/training programs, and theaters) charge customers who fail to show up or cancel their reservations within a certain time frame.
The following steps however could lead to a better management of service quality delivered to the customers:
1. Differentiate Waiting Customers:
Not all customers necessarily need to wait the same length of time for service. On the basis of need or customer priority, some organisations differentiate among customers, allowing some to experience shorter waits for service than others.
Known as “queue discipline,” such differentiation reflects management policies regarding who to select next for service. The most popular discipline is first-come, first-served. However, the rules may apply.
Differentiation can be based on factors such as:
i. Importance of the Customer:
Frequent customers or customers who spend large amounts with the organisation can be given priority in service by providing them with a special waiting area or segregated lines.
ii. Urgency of the Job:
Those customers with the most urgent need may be served first. This is the strategy used in emergency health care. It is also the strategy used by maintenance services such as air conditioning repair that give priority to customers whose air conditioning is not functioning over those who call for routine maintenance.
iii. Duration of the Service Transaction:
In many situations, shorter service jobs get priority through “express lanes.” At other times, when a service provider sees that a transaction is going to require extra time, the customer is referred to a designated provider who deals only with these special-needs customers.
iv. Payment of a Premium Price:
Customers who pay extra (e.g., first class on an airline) are often given priority via separate check-in lines or express systems.
2. Make Waiting Fun, or Atleast Tolerable:
Even when they have to wait, customers can be more to less satisfied depending on how the wait is handled by the organisation. Of course the actual length of the wait will affect how customers feel about their service experience. But it is not just the actual time spent waiting that has an impact on customer satisfaction-it’s how customers feel about the wait and their perceptions during it.
In a Classic article entitled “The Psychology of Waiting Lines,” David Maister proposes several principles regarding waiting, each of which has implications, for how organisations can make waiting more pleasurable, or at least tolerable-
i. Unoccupied Time Feels Longer than Occupied:
Time When customers are unoccupied they will likely be bored and will notice the passage of time more than when they have something to do. Providing something for waiting customers to do, particularly if the activity offers a benefit in and of itself or is related in some way to the service, can improve the customer’s experience and may benefit the organisation as well Research in an airline context has suggested that as uncertainty about the wait increases, customers become more angry, and their anger in turn results in greater dissatisfaction.
Research also shows that providing customers with information on the length of the anticipated wait and /or their relative position in the queue can result in more positive feelings and acceptance of the wait and ultimately more positive evaluation of the service.
ii. Unexplained Waits are Longer than Explained Waits:
When people understand the causes for waiting, they frequently have greater patience and are less anxious, particularly when the wait is justifiable. Being provided with an explanation can reduce customer uncertainty and may help customers to make -at least a ballpark estimate of how long they’ll be delayed. Customers who don’t know the reason for a wait begin to feel powerless and irritated.
iii. Unfair Waits are Longer than Equitable Waits:
When customers perceive that they are waiting while others who arrived after them have already been served, the apparent inequity will make the wait seem even longer. This can easily occur when there is no apparent order in the waiting area and many customers are trying to be served. Queuing systems that work on a first-come, first-served rule are best at combating perceived unfairness.
However, as pointed out earlier, there may be reasons for the use of other approaches in determining who is to be served next. For example, in an emergency medical care situation, the most seriously ill or injured patients would be seen first.
When customers understand the priorities and the rules are clearly communicated and enforced, fairness of waiting time should not be an issue.
Service Quality – Quality Standards
Quality standards were developed in the context of production and manufacturing initially. The main reason was to improve the product quality and conformance. This performance of quality now implies to all areas of marketing too.
This is because all the functional areas together impact the organisation’s performance and customer satisfaction levels. The aim of Quality systems is to reinforce performance with major focus on procedures and processes. Thus some quantifiable standards called benchmarks are formed to be able to maintain a set service quality standards.
Many an international quality performance standards like National – BS (British Standard) 5750, European – EN 29000, International – ISO 9000 have been used to maintain service quality. BS 5750 can be said to be the first standard of its kind. The British Standards Institute (BSI) gave us standards to measure the service. The main parameter is that quality is really what is perceived by the customer.
Quality systems of any company should match international standards like that of BSI recommendations. Quality has to be functional, not restrictive and relate to all activities of the organisation. Also the good service quality calls for commitment of everyone in the organisation, and not just a specified quality manager.
Better the quality, more is the value which the customer gets. This leads to a better corporate performance.
An organisation, which has fully researched quality issues in both its internal and external markets, should now be in a position to set quality standards which can be regulated and monitored and which meet customer requirements. In order to do this, standard measures need to be determined.
The establishment of a baseline figure and a common index is an essential part of measuring performance, both externally and internally. The baseline is the target operating norm of the organisation. This can be termed a benchmark – a standard against which performance can be measured.
Nowadays when we talk of standards, the same has to be measured in comparison to competitors. For example, that airlines can judge their benchmark standards by looking at other airlines’ quality standards. At the same time the airlines will also have to study the standards of related fields of business like railways and other alternative forms of travel.
ii. Quality Process:
The quality process for service organisations can be listed as follows:
(i) Define quality in the organisation.
(ii) Get a market research, done internally and externally.
(iii) Take in a competitive analysis.
(iv) Develop quality standards which is a process of Benchmarking.
(v) Judge actual performance with the benchmark quality standards.
(vi) Develop a Quality Strategy for getting rid of quality gaps.
(vii) Design programmes for proper quality standards implementation.
(viii) Control and monitor the service quality performance of the company regularly.
The procedure above would need a through study of the procedures/frameworks, training and communications.
Implications of Service Standards:
Service standards are on a rise in today’s global world. In the competitive and dynamic world of today, technology has lead to redesigning of the service standards drastically. Where a normal TV was the basic need in a hotel, today LCD has replaced the same as & basic need.
An internet service in the room which was a delight need for the consumers has today become a basic or core need of the consumers. Thus today the service quality standards are raising their bar.
For example in a traditional measurement system in a company’s training division, the instructor and his quality was the only service standard checked for the training. When one does a market research of the audience, one could find three more factors which could affect the service quality of this training which are specific requirements like- (1) Instructor’s style, (2) Instructor’s expertise, and (3) Instructor’s management of class.
The company should invest in customer-defined standards project so that the resulting measurement system is more successful in judging the consumers requirements.
The level of customer requirements will generate a customer-defined standards which will lead the company to a concrete behaviour and actions.
Customer Defined Service Standards:
The customer-defined standards bring in a translation of customer requirements into goals and guidelines for employee performance. This then become a guideline and a benchmark to achieve when interacting with a customers and delivering service to him.
i. “Hard” Customer-Defined Standards:
Hard standards and measures judge the things which can be counted, timed, or observed through audits. For example a customer complaint of late product and service delivery and the service quality mistakes can be measured and is thus a hard service standards.
Hard service standards for responsiveness make sure that the organisation is matching the speed or promptness to deliver products to the consumers, handles complaints and answer questions.
ii. “Soft” Customer-Defined Standards:
Some customer expectation cannot be counted, timed, or observed by audits. For example the ‘understanding and knowing the customer’ cannot be counted, or observed. Thus the soft measures have to be documented using perceptual measures.
These are opinion-based measures which can be taken by talking to customers, employees, or others. Soft standards are a direction, and a guidance to employees for achieving customer satisfaction and can be judged by measuring the customer preconceptions and beliefs.
Service Quality – Methods to Monitor Service Quality
Apart from using quality management techniques and adopting service quality improvement strategies, organisations should continually monitor their service quality. This will help the management ensure that customers receive the quality of service that their organisation intends to deliver.
The management can use the following methods to monitor service quality:
1. Conduct Customer Surveys:
Service organisations should regularly conduct customer-services to know whether the customers have any issues with the service offered or with service personnel (Refer to example, Customer Survey at Sheraton). Questionnaires should be given to customers to elicit their opinions and rate the quality of service offered by the organisation. Also, efforts should be made to explore the factors leading to any dissatisfaction.
Mystery shoppers, researchers who visit service outlets posing as customers, may also be used to identify problems with service quality. These researchers keenly observe how the service is being delivered and how the customers respond to the service. They identify the deficiencies, if any, in the service processes. The management can then take necessary action to eliminate the deficiencies.
2. Monitor Customer Feedback:
Managers should give special attention to the feedback given by customers in the form of complaints or suggestions or even compliments. The management should try to find out the root causes of problems in case of complaints, and prevent them from recurring. If the customer makes some suggestions, the management should consider them, discuss them with employees for their feasibility and applicability, and implement the ones that are valuable and practicable.
If customers give compliments to service personnel, then management should encourage the concerned employees to continue to offer quality service by rewarding them.
3. Review Service Blueprints, Problem-Tracking System:
The management should constantly review the service blueprints and identify any problems that exist. If necessary, the management should change the monitoring procedures and problem tracking procedures. Service blueprinting is the process of representing the entire service process in the form of a picture/diagram so as to ensure that all the steps in a service process are covered.
As the service blueprint provides information on each single event and activity involved in the service, a service manager can test its effectiveness on paper. He can modify the service process before applying the usual testing procedures (like test marketing, etc.)
Improving service quality is certainly not a simple, straightforward exercise.
Service quality can be improved if the following areas are given due attention:
i. Identifying primary quality determinants,
ii. Managing customer expectations,
iii. Managing evidence,
iv. Educating customers about the service,
v. Developing a quality culture,
vi. Automating quality,
vii. Following-up the service quality information system,
viii. Employing benchmarking wherever possible, and
ix. Keeping track of internal costs, external costs and quality maintenance costs.
Basics and Planning:
i. Basic Methods to Get Customer Feedback
ii. Measuring and Tracking Customer Satisfaction
iii. Customer-service Assessment Tool
iv. Customer Loyalty Value Calculator
v. Customer Feedback Helps You Improve the Customer Experience
i. Customer-service Ideas
ii. Customer-service – Web Marketing Today Info Centre
iii. Blocks to Customer Focus
iv. Getting It Together – Integrating Customer Focus, Involvement, and Horizontal Management
v. Are You Creating A Favourable First Impression?
vi. Relationship Selling – The Path to Sales Success
vii. The Customer-service Zone and Help Centre
viii. Creative Customer-service – How Far Will You Go to Wow a Customer?
ix. Seeing Things from the Customer’s Perspective
x. World’s Largest Collection of Customer-service Quotes
xi. Is The Service You Aren’t Delivering Driving Your Customers Away?
xii. Create Top five Customer-service Metrics
xiii. On Boarding – How Do You Welcome Your New Customers?
xiv. Make an Action Plan To Improve Customer-service
xv. Improving Customer-service Requires Consistency
Marketing is a tricky term to understand nowadays. Since much of the field has been joined with sales, what once was a field of analysis and research has now become generalities. Marketing does not provide research for sales, and a sale does not just provide information for marketing. The group lost in this important business development is customer-services.
Service Quality – Measurement and Control (With Examples of Quantitative Standard)
In order to rate or determine the extent to which a service or the company in general is meeting customer expectations and conclude about the service quality, the first step is to define a standard against which service performance can be compared. This process of defining standards can begin with goal setting.
These are examples of quantitative standards put in place to measure what may be ‘difficult to measure’.
1. Company-Defined Standards of Service Delivery:
In many instances, the companies themselves choose to set standards for the services delivery. These are usually set within the parameters of the ability of the company to execute them. According to the service provider, this is the standard of delivery generally prevalent or acceptable in the market place.
For example, the United Western Bank Ltd, a scheduled bank, published a ‘Citizen’s Charter’ in its 66th Annual Report to the shareholders for the year 2002-2003. The bank has a paid-up capital and reserves of over Rs. 279 crore and investments and advances of over Rs. 5,000 crore as on 31 March 2003.
Thus, it is a large public limited bank with over 62% of its shares held by individuals who are not directors or organizations. The ‘Citizen’s Charter’ was set with certain standards for the effective redress of shareholders’ service requests.
The bank also invited its shareholders to assess the quality and efficiency of the services extended to them based on the given standard.
The bank has done well to set the standards for assessment of service quality. Such setting of standards obviously provides a yardstick for measurement. It provides a guideline to its operating staff about the company expectations. Similarly, a number of nationalized banks (State Bank of India, Bank of Maharashtra, etc.) have specified time limits for services provided by front-end employees.
The problem of setting standards is more acute in cases where the service provider is dealing with a large volume of retail customers. In some ways, even the setting of internally generated standards enables the service provider in self-evaluation and employee motivation.
However, in these two examples, standards have been set after taking into account the ability of the organization and its employees to deliver the service and generous allowance has been made for possibilities of delay.
The gap between customer expectation and delivery perception occurs when the service provider does not know what customers want. Therefore, it is important to ask the customer about the time period they consider acceptable at the current level of prices or compensations. This expectation level existing in the minds of the customers changes from time to time. Thus when the customers compare the company standards with that of a competitor, the service expectation undergoes a change.
2. Customer-Defined Standards:
It is necessary to set standards that meet the customers’ expectations. The process of setting standards would involve conducting a survey of existing and potential customers about their expectations. In the case of a retail bank that is trying to evaluate its operating standards, it may conduct a survey of the existing customers with the help of a questionnaire.
When the customers are given a choice of the method of service delivery using either automation technology or personal delivery, their opinion becomes clear. In addition, it is always useful to know if the customers are willing to pay for the improvement in the service quality as, usually, the service provider needs to upgrade the facilities or increase the employee strength, etc. to provide the service of the demanded standard.
The measurement of customer expectations is the single largest factor that would enable the service provider with the requisite platform on which to base quality standards. Quality standards can be of two types – hard type and soft type. For example, a courier company which has consistently advertised and promised overnight delivery within India would find that customers have a ‘hard’ standard in their mind.
For example, they expect the delivery to be made by 12 noon and no later than 3 pm of the following day. The day and the time of the delivery is a hard standard with no room for flexibility or negotiations. If the delivery is not made within this period, customers would consider the service substandard and may even demand refund or compensation.
As opposed to this, the Post and Telegraph Department does not set any standard for the delivery of the ordinary mail (at least publicly). Thus, if there is any standard of service delivery, it could be as unspecific as ‘as early as possible’ or ‘at most within a week’, etc. The customer’s expectation is quite flexible here and perhaps unspecific. This is the ‘soft’ standard for service quality.
The dissatisfaction level is naturally higher in the case of failure if the standards are ‘hard’. Conversely, the satisfaction levels are also perceptibly higher if the service delivery meets ‘hard’ standards rather than when it meets ‘soft’ standards.
The word ‘benchmark’ originates from the land surveyors’ policy of taking measurements of the surrounding land from a local reference or standard. Thus, when absolute standards for quality measurement do not exist or when the competition between various service providers demands that the service provider conforms to the industry or competition norms in order to survive, benchmarking is desired.
David Kearns, former chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation, defined benchmarking as the ‘continuous process of measuring products, services and practices against the toughest competitors or those companies recognized as industry leaders’. The keywords here are continuous, toughest competitors and industry leaders.
Standards must be set to meet or exceed those of the industry leaders or competitors. It is useless to compare ourselves with the laggards or strugglers in the industry. Then, we would only deceive ourselves as being competitive. In addition, continuity of the benchmarking process is also very important as quality standards in products and services are not static.
For example, at one time, customers considered Bajaj scooters to be of the best quality due to their reliability. Today, the two-wheeler market is full of motorcycles that deliver faultless service with minimum maintenance and are deemed to be of exceptionally high quality by the customers.
The quality perception of Bajaj scooters has, thus, suffered due to competition. Similarly, the quality expectations of mobile telephony services have gone up due to increase in competition, including that from WLL service providers.
It is therefore in the service provider’s interest to take a periodic and regular survey of offers by the competing firms and adopt the standards that are crucial for the high quality perception of the customers. The standards must be internalized by bringing them to the notice of both front-end and back-end employees.
It is a good idea to formally set such standards before the employees and even post them at prominent places in the service setting to make both customers and employees aware of them.
The factors that contribute to the quality perception may vary from one industry to another, and, therefore, each industry needs to identify the specific factors that may contribute to this industry.
Thus, even an industry-wide standard may be developed that judges the performance of each participant in the process.
For example, the mobile telephony services in India would do well to compare themselves along the dimensions of the service such as:
1. Strength of the signal within covered geographic area
2. Clarity of the message
3. Frequency of call failure
4. Time required for the delivery of the SMS
5. Accuracy of billing
6. Actual time period between physical receipt of bills and the last date for payment
7. Accuracy of bill settlement.
3. Complaints Solicitation and Analysis:
The customer perception of service failure and the company perception of service failure may be quite different. Therefore, complaints solicitation and analysis on an ongoing basis will enable the company to understand frequent and persistent service failures better.
It is for this reason that successful airlines such as Jet Airways solicit feedback at the end of each flight. They make a public announcement on the aircraft PA system to make the customers aware of the presence of the feedback or complaints form in the seat pockets in front of them. They request the customers to drop the feedback forms in the boxes placed in the terminal or the Jet Airways counters.
The solicitation of the complaints serves many purposes:
i. At the most fundamental level, it convinces the customer that the service provider values individual customer opinions. A customer is no longer a nameless entity but an important part of the family. This contributes to the self-esteem of the customer.
ii. It has a positive influence on the service delivery employees or the agency entrusted with it. For example, the Railway catering service in India is not known for either variety or quality of the food or beverages. To most travellers, it is a necessary evil in the system. In addition, individual customers feel powerless to do anything about the poor service. However, when a passenger asks for a complaint book from the restaurant or dining car manager, the employees would almost go to any extent to avoid lodgement of formal complaint. The service provider may decide to provide extra-special service to avoid a formal lodgement of the complaint.
iii. The nature of complaints and the frequency of the same complaint would enable the service provider to note the frequent service failures. It would also enable him to learn about the standards of service delivery demanded by the customers.
It is not that the service failure or lack of quality perception is only due to the front-end employee’s failure. Many a time, a system failure leads to customer complaints. Due to the rules of the service provision, the employees may be even powerless to help the recipient customer.
Despite the complaint solicitation, it has been observed that only 4% of the dissatisfied customers actually complain about it. Thus, the extent of the problems could be much bigger and more serious than what apparently meets the eye. In addition, the dissatisfied customers who have not made a complaint may still narrate the unsatisfactory experience to many other potential or current customers. This causes a double loss to the service provider.
4. Lost Customer Analysis:
A customer who has used the service before but decided to shift or actually shifted to another service provider in preference to the original, provider is said to be a ‘lost customer’. Thus, the customer could be lost temporarily or permanently.
The reasons for customer loss may be:
i. Geographic movement away from the service provision location
ii. Persistent inferior service quality falling below the adequate level of service
iii. Poor value proposition
iv. Inadequate features of the service.
The challenges for the service provider arising from lost customer analysis are twofold:
i. Not many customers would like to announce in advance that they are planning to quit the service. Some may decide to switch suddenly. Since the absence of the customer is not immediately felt, by the time an attempt is made to contact the lost customer, it may be too late to do anything about bringing him back.
ii. The veracity and seriousness of the lost customer’s feedback is open to different interpretations. After having stopped using the service, customers may give feedback that may not include the main reason for quitting the service in the first place.
Despite these limitations, the technique does provide valuable data and insights into the quality standards and service delivery process in line with the designed quality standards of delivery.
5. Critical Incident Study:
The critical incident study technique is used to improve customer care. It is relatively simple and cost-effective for implementation. A critical incident is a defining, special, problematic, unpleasant, or even delicate incident which affects the customer perception of the quality of a service.
The advantage of this technique is that it enables both the customer and the service providers to put their fingers on something concrete, for it indicates the service perception to the customers. In an otherwise unremarkable service delivery scenario, both the high and low points of service delivery are straddled by critical incidents. A critical incident may be the final trigger that crystallizes the customer perception of service.
Service providers may actively seek details of critical incidents from the customers. For example, a number of hotels would provide extra space in a routine feedback or guest satisfaction form and urge the customers to report noteworthy incidents.
It has been noted by a number of service providers that in 80 to 90% of the cases mere recognition by the service provider of the customer’s predicament and an overdue apology are quite sufficient to make the customer dissatisfaction evaporate.
However, the critical incidents need to be taken seriously because amongst those who have been dissatisfied with the service, merely four to five per cent actually decide to report it. Thus, incidents that are reported are merely the ‘tips of the iceberg’, with over 95% of the mass hidden underneath. Therefore, each of these needs to be taken seriously. The front-end staff of the service provider may also be asked to report critical incidents.
The reasons for the failure need to be looked into to prevent recurrence of such incidents that generate tremendous amount of dissatisfaction. Similarly, the pleasant incidents can serve as a guide to other employees and form the backbone of future service.
The critical incident study can also point the way towards the following:
i. Recovery – It is the process by which the delivery that was missed or not appropriate the first time can be corrected the second time round, thereby regaining the confidence of the customers.
ii. Reconciliation with the customers – A number of times customers continue to remain annoyed despite being offered the recovery services. In such instances, it may be essential to provide some conciliatory offering as a compensation for the hardship suffered by the customer as a result of the critical incident.
This may include a discount offer, offer for a free repeat service, membership of a loyalty programme, or even financial compensation.
The very fact that the management makes an effort to compensate them indicates a level of recognition and commitment to the customer. It gives him or her immense psychological satisfaction, and the customer may report it in a much more positive light to friends or acquaintances.
Service Quality – Top 3 Models: Gap Model, SERVQUAL Model and Critical Incident Model
Different measurement criteria are required for different concepts such as service quality, customer satisfaction, customer perceptions, expectations and loyalty. While assessing these concepts, they will need to use different measuring scales, scope of opinions, attitudes and behavior.
Some current methods of measuring customer expectations and customer perceptions are SERVQUAL, SERVPERF, Critical Incidents Technique, observation studies, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews and evaluate these methods in terms of their relevance and appropriateness for services marketing in different contexts.
1. Gap Model:
Parasuraman et at., developed a conceptual model of service quality where they identified five gaps that could impact the consumer’s evaluation of service quality in four different industries-
i. Retail banking
ii. Credit card
iii. Securities brokerage
iv. Product repair and maintenance.
These gaps were:
Gap 1- Consumer Expectation – Management Perception Gap:
Service firms may not always understand what features a service must have in order to meet consumer needs and what levels of performance on those features are needed to bring deliver high quality service. This results in affecting the way consumers evaluate service quality.
Gap 2- Management Perception – Service Quality Specification Gap:
This gap arises when the company identifies what the consumers want but the means to deliver to expectation does not exist. Some factors that affect this gap could be resource constraints, market conditions and management indifference. These could affect service quality perception of the consumer.
Gap 3- Service Quality Specifications – Service Delivery Gap:
Companies could have guidelines for performing service well and treating consumers correctly but these do not mean high service quality performance is assured. Employees play an important role in assuring good service quality perception and their performance cannot be standardised. This affects the delivery of service which has an impact on the way consumers perceive service quality.
Gap 4- Service Delivery – External Communications Gap:
External communications can affect not only consumer expectations of service but also consumer perceptions of the delivered service. Companies can neglect to inform consumers of special efforts to assure quality that are not visible to them and this could influence service quality perceptions by consumers.
Gap 5- Expected Service – Perceived Service Gap:
From their study, it showed that the key to ensuring good service quality is meeting or exceeding what consumers expect from the service and that judgement of high and low service quality depends on how consumers perceive the actual performance in the context of what they expected.
Parasuraman et al., later developed the SERVQUAL model which is a multi-item scale developed to assess customer perceptions of service quality in service and retail businesses.
2. SERVQUAL Model:
The SERVQUAL model of measuring service quality is based on the pioneering work of Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry. The model talks about the way a customer distinguishes the service quality by comparing the expected service with the perceived service.
Service = Service expectations – Service perceptions
The outcome of such comparisons can take three forms-
i. Confirmed or met expectations,
ii. Unmet expectations
iii. Exceeded expectations.
Service quality is perceived to be:
1. Satisfactory – when service delivery = the expected service.
In this customer is happy and there is no situation of surplus or deficit.
2. Poor- when customer expectations are not met. The perceived service falls short of expected service.
3. Surplus- Customer expectations are exceeded, then the service quality is good. This comparison is the key building block of this model.
One must make sure to understand what is measured before starting the measuring process. When doing a comparison between expected and perceived service, it is important to find out what is the measure used in the expected service that becomes the basis of such a comparison.
Customers use five principal dimensions to judge service quality:
The ServQual instrument is used to obtain customer expectations and perception scores on these five dimensions of service.
Two scores of perception scores are compared to the two scores of customer expectations. The gaps so obtained are aggregated to obtain a composite score of service quality.
Below are the dimensions in more detail:
It includes knowledge, competence and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence in the customer towards the service firm. Competency refers to the possession of required skills and knowledge to perform the service. Courtesy involves politeness, respect, friendliness, honesty and trustworthiness of contact personnel.
Tangibles include appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials. The organisation’s physical facilities, their equipments appearance of their personnel and appearance of communication materials used to promote their products/ services are also included.
It refers to the willingness of the organisation’s employees to help customers by providing them with prompt service.
The organisation promises to perform the service dependably and accurately. The service is performed right the first time itself and honours its commitments.
The attention which the firm provides to the customer is known as empathy. The attention should be caring and individualised, including approachability, ease of contact of service providers and making of efforts to understand the customer needs.
The designers observed that these dimensions capture the key features of service quality and these dimensions are also known as SERVQUAL dimensions.
3. Critical Incident Model:
Critical incident as described by Lovelock, Patterson and Walker, is a technique designed to elicit details about services that “particularly dissatisfy or delight customers”. The information can either be collected by in-house comment cards as found in hotels or through one to one interviews.
The information and comments which are obtained from the interviews identify the common problems or the praises showered on the company. Unlike other qualitative methods of collecting feedback, customers are not forced to give answers to predetermined potential problems. Infact, customers are asked to jot down the more memorable incidents from the service.
According to Hope and Muhlemann the technique is useful in a number of respects:
i. It facilitates the identification (if specific attributes of service which have a significant impact upon customers).
ii. This can be used to redesign the service delivery system around the more important customer-perceived quality attributes.
Service Quality – Evaluation
When evaluating service quality, consumers examine five dimensions- tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy using SERVQUAL to measure Service Quality.
The SERVQUAL instrument was based on the premise that service quality is the difference between customers’ expectations and their evaluation of the service they received. The first part of the questionnaire asks customers to indicate the level of service they would expect from a firm in a particular industry. The second part of the questionnaire asks customers to evaluate the service performed by a specific service firm.
Gap Theory is the method for calculating service quality that involves subtracting a customer’s perceived level of service received from what was expected. SERVQUAL uses 21 questions to measure the five dimensions of tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy. Through SERVQUAL, firms can measure customers’ evaluations of their service performance. For example, if customers consistently give firm low scores for one dimension, such as reliability, then the firm’s management can take steps to improve that particular dimension of their service offering.
Problems with SERVQUAL:
Although SERVQUAL is an excellent instrument for measuring service quality, managers must be aware of potential problems with the instrument, as well as with the gap theory methodology on which it is based. An understanding of these problems may prevent service companies from misinterpreting the results and developing inappropriate marketing plans.
The SERVQUAL instrument has three potential problems:
First, SERVQUAL measures customers’ expectations of the ideal firm in a particular service industry. This may or may not be relevant to the capabilities of a particular service firm or the set of service firms available to a consumer. For example, consumers may indicate that physicians should provide their services at the time they promised. Seldom do patients see the doctor at the scheduled time. No one likes waiting after their appointment time, yet, because of excess demand, patients will continue to wait.
The second problem with SERVQUAL is its generic nature. Since it is not industry specific, it does not measure variables that may be important for a particular industry. For example, in the airline business, on-time arrival is a very important dimension to travellers, but SERVQUAL does not measure travellers’ perceptions of this variable.
The third problem with SERVQUAL deals with the gap theory methodology used for measuring the level of service quality. Measuring consumer expectations after a service has been provided will bias consumers’ responses. If customers had a positive experience at Blockbuster, they will tend to report lower scores for their expectations, so there is a measurable gap between what they expected and the actual service they received.
Correct Use of Gap Theory:
Managers can use the gap theory methodology for measuring service quality performance if precautions are taken to reduce the problems just discussed. If SERVQUAL is used, the instrument should be modified to apply to the specific industry for which it is being used. Additional variables should be added that are relevant and important to customers.
When interpreting the results, managers must remember that respondents are comparing their firm with the ideal firm in the industry. To prevent biases from interfering with the gap scores, consumer expectations should be measured prior to the service and service perceptions after the service. Because consumers are affected by advertising and word-of-mouth communications, the time between measuring expectations and measuring the quality of service received should be relatively close.
Service Quality – A Key to Success in the Services Sector “Service with a smile”, “You can count on XXXX for prompt delivery”, “With ABC mobile phones you can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime”, “ZZZ Airlines – we fly you everywhere” – these are some punch lines of ad campaigns that are currently splashed across media – print, television and hoardings. How many of us can honestly claim to have experienced this service – consistently, day after day, purchase after purchase, transaction after transaction?
Yet, this is the age of the service sector, an era for excelling in quality of service provided. The service sector is growing in spread and depth to encompass all transactions involving buying and selling be it in the tangible or intangible form.
The examples below underscore how the service sector has transgressed all boundaries.
Companies across the country and the world are seeking to outsource many of their cost centres – the resultant surge in service providers like security services, indoor plants and decorative, cleaning and housekeeping and even secretarial services is phenomenal.
Dual-income, nuclear households are getting to be the norm in urban India. In cities like Mumbai, families are experiencing a burning new need more time. Overstressed with work and travel, they find it impossible to grapple with routine everyday tasks. This has given rise to hitherto unconventional new services. Housewives now make a cool sum with selling idli/dosa batter and homemade foods. Telephonic orders and home delivery are now passed with grocers and vegetable vendors.
Supermarkets sell packaged vegetables, which are chopped and cleaned – waiting to be cooked. The makeover is apparent even in traditional services like retailing and banking. These service providers have added peripheral services to reduce transaction time and improve service delivery.
Turn to product marketing – tangible products like television sets, air- conditioners, microwave ovens and refrigerators, pagers and mobile phone sets and even cars are being sold on the promise of after-sales service. Buyers are not just conscious of the necessity of services after the purchase has been made – they demand it. Having tasted the joys of greater and enhanced services in all walks of life, urban Indians are clamouring for more.
They now want an improvement in the quality of service offered. Service quality therefore is the latest buzzword – in corporate boardrooms, the local bania’s siesta conversation with his neighbours and in the king’s lair – the urban household. How then is the service provider to go about the difficult task of analysing his business operations for chinks in delivery of quality service? What tool would indicate to him that he has misunderstood his customer? Where would he seek a consultant for rectifying this fatal error?
The gaps model of service quality looks into the gaps in service quality. It is a ready reckoned to service providers to analyse their existing service delivery system and rectify matters before the company has lost the attention of the customer.
Service Quality – 6 Important Strategies for Enhancing the Quality of Service Offered to Customers
It is not too difficult for companies to improve service quality. What is required is the right strategy to do it and the commitment by all members of the organisation.
The following are some of the strategies that should be followed by service organisations to enhance the quality of service offered to customers:
1. A service provider should aim at achieving zero-defects or error-free service. This can be achieved by having a management that believes in 100% perfection, providing the necessary infrastructure that facilitates error-free service, and by testing and retesting service processes at various stages to eliminate any loopholes. This will also help them improve continuously to set and achieve new standards.
For example, DHL set up a separate express terminal spread over 26,500 sq. feet, using state-of-the-art technology, at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi. As the customs’ staff work round-the-clock at this site, the process of clearance of customers’ consignments have been speeded up, enabling DHL to deliver consignments faster to customers.
2. Internal communication promotes better understanding among employees of each other’s tasks and responsibilities, and the difficulties involved, and enhances cooperation and coordination which eventually results in better service to customers. Also, organisations should be equipped with modem training equipment and techniques to simulate real work environment and train employees to deliver quality service.
UTI (Unit Trust of India), which saw its scale of operations and number of employees increase significantly, implemented an advanced communication system with the help of Wipro, to facilitate effective communication among its scattered branches and employees.
3. Service providers should always test a service prior to launching it in the marketplace. If possible, a new service should be introduced in a few select places for test marketing. This will allow sometime for the management to obtain customer feedback. In case customers report problems, the management can take corrective action.
Another approach to prevent problems is to develop a service blueprint to identify all the activities that lead to final service delivery, identify problem areas and train employees to handle the problems. Service providers should also test the service after launching it. Setting higher service quality goals and striving to achieve them should be an on-going process as any complacency will render the service out-dated in a competitive market.
4. Sometimes, service providers fail to deliver the service despite all the precautions they take to prevent a failure. At such times, customers’ perception of service quality depends on the service provider’s ability to resolve the problem immediately. To enable effective service recovery and regain customers’ confidence, service providers should train employees in recovery techniques and empower them to resolve the problem immediately. Also, they should reward employees who take the initiative and resolve the problem quickly.
5. The management should extend support to employees by setting up the necessary information system and other infrastructure that enables employees to identify and rectify errors with ease. Further, organisations should encourage teamwork among employees. By having an effective service recovery system in place, service providers can assure customers that they care for them.
6. Trained employees will be prepared to face problems and, therefore, can resolve them as soon as they occur and sometimes even before the customer can perceive the error.