This essay will first define and discuss the concept of service quality, and then will examine the main difficulties in measuring service quality.
Service quality is the function of perceptions, expectations, and performance, it can be defined as a comparison of what a customer expects from a service provider with how the provider actually performs. Service quality is the measure of how well a service level delivered matches the customer’s expectation (Gilmore 2003 p. 14; 22-25 & Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science; 2002, page 359). Delivering service quality means conforming to the customer’s expectation on a consistent basis. Service quality plays a non-neglectable role in organisations as it mainly contributes to the implementation of defensive and offensive marketing. In most cases these are customers, and not organisations, that judge service quality.
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Different methods have been developed to measure the quality of services. The first service quality measurement model created was the SERVQUAL model (1985-1988), followed next by the SERVPERF model (1992) and finally by the Human-Societal Element Model in 2002 as documented by Clement Sudhahar & Selvam (2007 p. 776-777). SERVQUAL and SERVPERF are two competing measurement paradigms as explained by Jain and Gupta (Measuring Service Quality: SERVQUAL vs. SERVPERF Scales ; 2004 April-June, p.26-29). On the one hand SERVQUAL is based upon a comparison of perceptions of the service with customers’ expectations, whilst on the other hand SERVPERF measures the perceived aspects of the service provided. Finally the Human-Societal Element Model conceptualizes customer-perceived service quality based on five service quality dimensions: core service, human element of service delivery, systematisation of service delivery, tangibles of service, and social responsibility.
The intangible nature of the service is the biggest obstacle for customers in evaluating service quality. How would consumers be able to evaluate something that they cannot see, feel, taste or even hear? A massive amount of consumers lack knowledge and skills in the evaluation of the quality of many types of services. Customers must consequently place a great deal of faith in the integrity and competence of the service provider. Though evaluating quality is very complex, service quality appears to be the only way customers can trial a service over another. For this reason, services marketers’ attitudes and behaviour are fully dependent on how consumers judge service quality.
In delivering high levels of customer service, organisations must consider the following key issues that will be discussed next: the understanding of customers’ expectations; the establishment of service quality standards; the management of customers’ service expectations; and the measurement of employee performance.
A major difficulty in measuring service quality is that the quality of a service depends on the organisation’s understanding and conforming to the customers’ expectations. The difficulty remains in to deliver high levels of customer service an organisation must develop an objective understanding of customer’s expectations. This involves developing service attributes that customers use to evaluate and trial between service providers. For example, when evaluating a website, customers will form opinions about the availability and the content of information, the ease of use or usability, the graphic style, the privacy/security, the fulfillment, and much more (Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science; 2002, page 359). Though there is an unlimited amount of potential ranges of services attributes, it is possible to distinguish five common dimensions that customers use to evaluate the quality of a service. These dimensions include: reliability (consistency and dependability, customers’ evaluation criteria relies on if the service begins/finishes at the right moment or if customers are correctly billed for example); tangibles (tangible cues that can be used as a means to evaluate service quality prior to purchase, for example the condition of equipment or of the premises); responsiveness (willingness and ability of the organisation to provide the service, for example if the service is provided promptly); assurance (trust and confidence that the customer has in the service provider); and empathy (care and attentiveness expressed by the service provider, for example if the organisation cared about customers’ interests).
Overall, the difficulty in measuring service quality mainly depends on reliability which is generally the most important criterion as it is the realisation of what the service offers. However, the difficulty is not all about identifying the service attributes, the marketing organisation must also sharply understand the customers’ service performance expectations (Dean, November 2002, Monash University Faculty of Business and Economics). Customers’ service performance expectations express the quality level at which consumers expect the service to be provided. Consumers will obviously have much higher expectations of a first class plane ticket than of an economic ticket for example. However it is crucial for a service provider to satisfy at least the minimum customers’ requirements in order not to get a bad reputation.
As a consequence, to measure and provide a good service quality an organisation will need to conduct thorough market research involving qualitative research to identify the customers’ service performance criteria, and also regular sample surveys to determine actual levels of customer service delivery.
Measuring an organisation’s service quality also resides in its establishment of service quality standards. Once an organisation has identified its customers’ service performance expectations, the organisation is henceforth able to develop service standards (Cummings, Settlement Council of Australia, 2010). Service standards are the benchmarks by which service operations performance is evaluated, and set performance requirements for employees that will deliver customer expectations. As explained by The Institute for Working Future (2007), there are many different ways to express service standards. Service standards can be expressed by a set of descriptions included in planning documents, as well as by a code of service to respect as an example. For immigration and citizenship in Australia, individuals expect accuracy from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of the Australian Government. It is consequently necessary for the Australian Government to develop objective standards for communication and decision making in order to ensure every individual’s requirement is satisfied, as explained in the Australian Government online brochure. This can be by quickly returning voicemail messages, emails, phone calls, or by providing assistance for completing visa applications for example.
Besides, it is likely that in a changing competitive marketplace, customer service expectations evolve through time as illustrated by Kotler, Brown, Adam, and Armstrong in Marketing (2004, p. 278-281). Organisations must consequently maintain a certain understanding of customers’ preferences, and adjust their management according to changes to correspond with customers’ service performance expectations. Nevertheless, it is crucial that the establishment of such specifications would be followed by the demonstration of the commitment to the standards by the organisation, in order to ensure delivering customers service quality standards.
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One more difficulty in measuring service quality remains in the management of customers’ service expectations. Services cannot be delivered identically as they are intangible and vary in quality. Service marketers must, as a result, be fairly active in the management of customers’ expectations if they want their services to fall, at least, in the customers’ zone of tolerance (Mittal & Sheth, 1996, Journal of Market Focused Management, p. 137-140). Advertising and other promotional vehicles consequently play an important role in that situation, however it is essential that management do not over-promise. There is nothing that runs an organisation down in customer’s minds more than not doing what the organisation claimed they would. For example, not quickly re-contacting a customer after having guaranteed them to do it. On the other hand, it is important for an organisation to attract customers to visit the organisation’s service providers, especially if the service provided is new or if it is the first time for the customer. In this context, as explained by Elliott, Rundle-Thiele, and Waller (Marketing, 2010, p. 392-293) , there may be an opportunity for a ‘special introductory offer’ instead of relying on unsustainable promises. Indeed, once a customer has experienced an organisation’s service, he will tend to base his expectations of the service on his own experience in the future rather than on the organisation’s advertising and promotion. Again, ensuring that their experience matches the promise is vital.
Nonetheless, advertisements and promotional activities don’t make the whole service provider’s reputation, customers’ feedbacks do, as explained by Cravens, Merrilees, Walker in STRATEGIC MARKETING MANAGEMENT FOR THE PACIFIC REGION (2000, Pages 141-143). Customers’ service expectations are also formed by word-of-mouth as customers tend to communicate to their partners, customers, and even friends, their experience of a service, whether it has been positive or negative. Indeed customers generally tell other individuals four times more about a poor service than a good one. That is why management needs to ensure no customer ends up dissatisfied or with a negative experience of the service provided so that they don’t communicate other individuals a negative perception of the related service.
To briefly sum up, the management of customers’ service expectation is an indicator of the quality of a service provided as it clearly represents the individuals’ service provider perception. Measuring service quality is consequently not an easy task as it involves evaluating the service provider’s management of customers’ service expectations.
Finally the last difficulty in measuring service quality is bound to the measurement of employee performance. Once service quality specifications have been established and the management commitment to such expectations have been demonstrated, management must ensure the customer service staff members can continually fit with these expectations. As explained by Performance Management Practitioner Series (January 2001; Chapter 1 Performance Management: Background and context; pp 3-4), in this context, planning (set goals and measures; establish and communicate elements and standards), monitoring (measure performance; provide feedback, conduct progress review), developing (address/improve performance), rating (summarize performance; assign the rating record), and rewarding staff (recognize and reward good performance) should point out the importance of customer service as belonging to the employees’ overall job performance. It is fairly common that difficulties show up, especially in periods of peak demand when job efficiency expectations do not correlate with the need to provide high customer service levels. In that kind of situation, customers usually tend to lay the stress on efficiency rather than on friendliness from the service provider, however they expect both. Besides, it is considerable to reward staff members for delivering high customer service levels as a bonus to their high standards of technical competence.
In conclusion, measuring service quality is a challenge for organisations as it involves maintaining an objective measurement and rewarding the customer service performance of individual staff members.
In conclusion, this essay has demonstrated the importance of service quality for an organisation and the difficulties in measuring it. Service quality can be defined as the customers’ perception of how well a service satisfies their needs and wants; and it is vital for any organisation to deliver customers a good service quality. The difficulties in measuring service quality depends on four different factors which are: the understanding of customers’ expectations, the establishment of service quality standards, the management of customers’ service expectations, and the measurement of employee performance. To deliver a satisfying service quality, a service provider will need to consider all these aspects in the evaluation of their service marketing.
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