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Managing Service Quality

The service quality of a firm is tested at each service encounter. One study identified more than 800 critical behaviors that cause customers to switch services; see the eight categories of those behaviors in Table 10.2.31 A more recent study honed in on the service dimensions customers would most like companies to measure. Knowledgeable frontline workers and the ability to achieve one-call-and-done rose to the top.32 Two important considerations in service quality are managing customer expectations and incorporating self-service technologies.

Managing Customer Expectations

Customers form service expectations from many sources, such as past experiences, word of mouth, and advertising. In general, they compare perceived service and expected service. If the perceived service falls below the expected service, customers are disappointed. Successful companies add benefits to their offering that not only satisfy customers but surprise and delight them by exceeding expectations.33 The service-quality model in Figure 10.3 on page 192 highlights five gaps that can prevent successful service delivery:34

1. Gap between consumer expectation and management perception—Management does not always correctly perceive what customers want. Hospital administrators may think patients want better food, but patients may be more concerned with nurse responsiveness.

TABLE 10.2 Factors Leading to Customer Switching Behavior

Pricing

Response to Service Failure

  • • High price
  • • Price increases
  • • Unfair pricing
  • • Deceptive pricing

inconvenience

  • • Location/hours
  • • Wait for appointment
  • • Wait for service

Core Service Failure

  • • Service mistakes
  • • Billing errors
  • • Service catastrophe

Service encounter Failures

  • • Uncaring
  • • Impolite
  • • Unresponsive
  • • Unknowledgeable
  • • Negative response
  • • No response
  • • Reluctant response

Competition

• Found better service

ethical Problems

  • • Cheat
  • • Hard sell
  • • Unsafe
  • • Conflict of interest

involuntary Switching

  • • Customer moved
  • • Provider closed

Source: Susan M. Keaveney, “Customer Switching Behavior in Service Industries: An Exploratory Study,” Journal of Marketing (April 1995): 71-82. Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Marketing, published by the American Marketing Association.

  • 2. Gap between management perception and service-quality specification—Management might correctly perceive customers’ wants but not set a performance standard. Hospital administrators may tell the nurses to give “fast” service without specifying speed in minutes.
  • 3. Gap between service-quality specifications and service delivery—Employees might be poorly trained or incapable of or unwilling to meet the standard; they may be held to conflicting standards, such as taking time to listen to customers and serving them fast.
  • 4. Gap between service delivery and external communications—Consumer expectations are affected by statements made by company representatives and ads. If a hospital brochure shows a beautiful room but the patient finds it cheap and tacky-looking, external communications have distorted the customer’s expectations.
  • 5. Gap between perceived service and expected service—The consumer may misperceive the service quality. The physician may keep visiting the patient to show care, but the patient may interpret this as an indication that something is really wrong.

Based on this service-quality model, researchers identified five determinants of service quality. In descending order of importance, they are reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles.35 The researchers also note there is a zone of tolerance, or a range in which a service dimension would be deemed satisfactory, anchored by the minimum level consumers are willing to accept and the level they believe can and should be delivered.

Much work has validated the role of expectations in consumers’ interpretations and evaluations of the service encounter and in the relationship they adopt with a firm over time.36 Consumers are often forward-looking with respect to their decision to keep or drop a service relationship in terms of their likely behavior and interactions with a firm. Any marketing activity that affects current or expected future usage can help to solidify a service relationship.

FiGURE 10.3 Service-Quality Model

Sources: A. Parasuraman, Valarie A. Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry, “A Conceptual Model of Service Quality and Its Implications for Future Research,” Journal of Marketing (Fall 1985), p. 44. The model is more fully discussed or elaborated in Valarie Zeithaml, Mary Jo Bitner, and Dwayne D. Gremler, Services Marketing: Integrating Customer Focus across the Firm, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2013).

Incorporating Self-Service Technologies

Consumers value convenience in services,37 and many person-to-person service interactions are being replaced by self-service technologies (SSTs) intended to provide that convenience. To traditional vending machines we can add automated teller machines (ATMs), self-pumping at gas stations, self-checkout at hotels, and a variety of activities on the Internet, such as ticket purchasing. Not all SSTs improve service quality, but they can make service transactions more accurate, convenient, and faster. Obviously, they can also reduce costs. One technology firm, Comverse, estimates the cost to answer a query through a call center at $7, but online at only 10 cents.38

Successfully integrating technology into the workforce thus requires a comprehensive reengineering of the front office to identify what people do best, what machines do best, and how to deploy them separately and together.39 Customers must have a clear sense of their roles in the process.

 
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