What is service quality?


Assume that you go to buy a computer. What is it that you look for? You took for tangible features like the memory, drive, expandability, software compatibility and may be other less important features like the monitor and the key board and certainly brand or vendor credibility. Over and above all this, you look for service support in the form of training and after sales service, which will help you to ensure zero down time. Now, you know that you can get all tangible features from any computer company. But are all suppliers the same service support? Your own experience or the experience of your peers will help shape your expectations and image of different suppliers-both the known ones like HCL, IBM etc. and the clones. If the performance of the product both the tangible and intangible aspects of it live up to your expectations, you will be satisfied and recommend it to your friends and peers. Thus, to begin with, customer satisfaction is a function of customer expectation from the firm and the actual performance by the firm. Expectations shape customer perception of product / firm’s performance. Thus,

Customer Satisfaction = Actual Performance by the firm / Customer Expectations

Another way to examine this is that when positive perceptions are not confirmed by the actual performance of the firm, a gap occurs, and this has been called the service quality gap.

As we mentioned above, customer perceptions of the firm and its offer are shaped by:

1. Word of mouth publicity—like recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors and peer group at work place.

2. Personal experience on the part of the customer.

3. Personal needs of individual customers.

4. External communications like the publicity of the firm in the media and its advertisement and other corporate communications.

A research study showed that customers assessed the service of a firm on the following five terms:

1. Tangibles, i.e. the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication material.

2. Reliability, i.e. the ability to perform the desired service dependably and accurately.

3. Responsiveness, i.e. the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.

4. Assurance as measured by competence of the firm to deliver promised service, courtesy extended to customer, firm’s credibility(i.e. trustworthiness, believability and honesty of the service provider) and extent to which the customer feels secured.

5. Empathy—the caring, and individualized attention that the firm provides to its customers.

Research showed that Indian customers perceived reliability, assurance, tangibility, responsiveness and empathy—in that order—as determining the service quality of a firm. This is different from study made for other customers (of another country) showed that reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy were rated higher by customers than the tangible dimension of service. Perhaps the reason is that in India firms have yet to incorporate state-of-the-art technology in their products and services. They will have a long way to go in terms of improving their atmospherics and communications. Hence the customer believes that a service company should show higher priority in upgrading its facilities, equipment and communications. Once all firms are at par on this dimension, may be the Indian customer, too will be like his or her Western counterpart placing least weight age on the tangible factor.

One thing that stands out is that delivering service quality is a combination of people and technology strategy. The latter affects all factors of organization and service delivery points which can help the firm achieve 100% customer satisfaction.