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International Journal of Bank Marketing

Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail
Karin Newman

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Karin Newman, (2001),"Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail
bank", International Journal of Bank Marketing, Vol. 19 Iss 3 pp. 126 - 139
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Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of
service quality measurement in a high street retail
Karin Newman
Professor, Middlesex University Business School, London, UK

Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT)

SERVQUAL, Banking industry,
Marketing management,
Human resource management,
United Kingdom


This paper presents a case study
of a pioneering nationwide
implementation of SERVQUAL by a
major UK high street bank
between 1993 and 1997 at an
annual cost of one million pounds.
In addition to highlighting serious
weaknesses in the value of
SERVQUAL as a measure of
service quality and as a diagnostic
tool, this study raises some of the
practical difficulties entailed in its
implementation. Moreover, in this
particular instance, it becomes
apparent that difficulties are
introduced by the separation of
service quality management from
the management of marketing and
human resources. In addition,
there was a discernible lack of top
management commitment, as well
as obstacles in the form of
functional and informational silos,
which served to constrain an
integrated company response to
SERVQUAL criteria.

International Journal of Bank
19/3 [2001] 126±139
# MCB University Press
[ISSN 0265-2323]

[ 126 ]

Published studies of applications of
SERVQUAL have focused mainly on the USA
and, in relation to retail banking have
featured banks in North America, Australia,
Hong Kong and Singapore. This paper
presents a case study of a pioneering use of
SERVQUAL in the UK by one of the top ten
retail banks. Unlike most existing accounts
of service quality improvement initiatives
this study is empirical and qualitative rather
than conceptual and quantitative. Such an
approach is supported by Gummesson (1998),
who observed: ``There is a need for inductive
research that allows reality to tell its own full
story without forcing received theory on it''.
This study therefore seeks to add some
empirical insights to the theoretical
literature on service quality through a
depiction of a major High Street bank's fiveyear quality improvement programme, at the
heart of which lay the systematic application
of SERVQUAL. Specifically, this paper
explores the ways in which SERVQUAL was
used in a retail bank as a diagnostic tool. It
examines the difficulties that arise in the
measurement process (including the
administration and collection of the data,
sample selection, timing, retrospection) and
suggests that its value may not be fully
realised if the measuring process is not well
executed. Indeed, it may be easy to adopt
SERVQUAL and implement large-scale
surveys and continue to measure outcomes
but if they are not acted on it becomes a futile
exercise. Finally, this paper explores the
relationship between SERVQUAL use and
the management of service quality.
The paper is structured into the following
1 the financial services environment;
2 a review of the relevant industry and
academic literature;
3 explanation of the methodology;
4 the case study itself; and
5 discussion of selected aspects.
The research register for this journal is available at

The study closes with observations on both
practical and theoretical aspects of the
implementation of SERVQUAL. The
conclusion briefly stated highlights the
difficulties of translating service quality
improvements into financial results in the
context of free banking and the profitability
profile of UK retail banking customers.

Financial services environment
Increasing competition, technology, social
and cultural factors were the chief drivers of
service quality initiatives during the 1990s.
The onset of competition in consumer
financial services can be traced to the
regulatory changes of the 1970s, which
allowed the banks' entry into the mortgage
market and ended the rationing of housing
finance. In the 1980s further deregulation
with the Building Societies Act facilitated a
diversification of Building Societies into
unsecured lending, insurance brokerage and
paved the way for demutualisation and
conversion to plc status. The Financial
Services Act 1986 promoted competition in
the savings industry and put in place a
system of industry self-regulation to protect
consumers of investment products. The
traditional business boundaries or horizons
of banks, building societies and insurance
companies crumbled away. Traditional
players now competed against each other for
the custom of personal customers of current
accounts, savings products, personal loans,
mortgages, credit cards and insurance
products. New entrants attracted by the
liberalisation cherry-picked their way into
profitable segments and niche products in an
expanding market as household income and
wealth increased substantially (Harrison,
2000) while shares and savings accounts and
new tax-sheltered products such as PEPS and
TESSAs were created to absorb the increase
in net wealth.
Simultaneously, the development of
corporate treasury operations reduced the
bank profits from corporate banking. The
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at

service recovery (Hart and Bogan. Sophisticated automatic teller machines (which allowed cash withdrawals. 1993. organisations in the top quintile of relative service quality on average achieve an 8 per cent higher price premium (Buzzell and Gale. Service quality improvements were necessary not only to reduce costs and increase competitiveness but also to improve revenue (by selling a greatly enlarged portfolio of products to an increasingly wealthy. Hallowell et al. Other consequences of superior service have been found including word of mouth recommendation (Parasuraman et al. 2000).725 and 6... derives from reduced customer acquisition costs and lower costs of serving repeat purchasers leading to increased profitability (Heskett et al.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 banks' high-cost income ratios of between 60 and 70 per cent (Dalton. Improvements in IT and database competencies allowed the establishment and development of telephone banking with over 15 million accounts by 1999 (British Bankers' Association. increased revenue. Between 1992 and 1994 over 90 per cent of companies within the financial services sector had adopted one or more quality initiatives: business process re-engineering (75 per cent). a conceptual framework that postulates that in service firms profitability and growth are stimulated mainly by customer retention. The consequence. Relevant industry and academic research Service quality as a route to competitive advantage and corporate profitability The service marketing literature of the 1990s has advocated customer service excellence and prescriptions for improving service quality as a way to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty leading to increased competitiveness and profitability. balance enquiries and statements) increased from 14. Technology facilitated the automation of services (processing of accounts and transactions. Findings demonstrate that firms offering superior service attained higher than normal market share (Buzzell and Gale.. 1993) and that. 1994). anywhere'' (Financial Times. 2000) fuelled by more recent innovations such as Internet. Customer satisfaction is the result of the buyers' perception of service quality and satisfaction leads to customer retention. 1998). Such changes inaugurated the emergence of ``Martini banking'' ± services available ``anytime. competitive pressure to reduce cost (52 per cent) and customer demand for quality of service (51 per cent) (McCabe et al. Several studies have identified a significant relationship between service quality and performance. 1997). 1994). that service quality impacts on profits via enhanced market share as well as premium prices (Gummesson. 1987). which leads to repeat purchase and increased scope for relationship building and word of mouth recommendation. 1991). PC and digital TV banking. Consequently service quality is accepted as a winning competitive strategy. compared to competitors. The drive to reduce fixed costs centred on a restructuring of services. service quality (59 per cent) and total quality management (46 per cent). error and cost reduction and increased efficiency) and allowed the transfer of the ``back office'' into a few regional processing centres. 2000). 1998) were no longer sustainable and the drive to reduce fixed costs and raise revenues preoccupied the banks' business strategies during much of the 1990s. aware and demanding consumer). 1987). 1994). relationship quality (Storbacka. heavy investments in technology and the application of service quality improvements.274 between 1994 and 1999 (British Bankers' Association. The number of customer visits to expensive bank branches fell and so did the number of branches from 13. 1992) and customer service [ 127 ] . thereby improving customer accessibility and convenience. In the process of these changes financial service providers moved from the process driven control and check to a sales and customer orientation (Dalton.. shopping centres and railway stations. enthusiasm of the CEO and senior management (70 per cent). 2000) respectively were located away from branches in supermarkets. good for service providers ± and their customers. Quality of service is also attractive to retail banks as a competitive differentiator (McCabe et al. customer satisfaction (Rust and Zahorik.950 to 11.212 in 1999 of which 1. Retention is a direct result of customer satisfaction and satisfaction is primarily influenced by the value of services provided to customers. 1996). 1997). A 5 per cent increase in customer retention can increase profitability by between 25 and 85 per cent (Reichheld and Sasser.. 1990).163 (British Bankers' Association. customer care (69 per cent). The antecedents to customer retention include service quality (Storbacka. anyplace.606 in 1994 to 23. A survey in mid 1994 of quality initiatives amongst UK financial services reports the following main motivations for quality initiatives: competitive pressure to improve service quality (74 per cent). Such findings are encapsulated in the service profit chain.

. Employees influence the quality of. only between 10 and 30 per cent of the customer base is profitable (Dalton. 1998). 1995). Employee attitude and employee and customer perceptions of service quality have all been shown to be related to profitability (Schneider. Schneider and Bowen. Principal among these are criticisms of its reliance on two scales measuring perceptions and expectations when one scale (that of perceptions or a simple performance measure) would be shorter. the service profit chain has very limited empirical validation (Loveman. Evidence of a positive relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction has been documented by classic studies (Schneider and Bowen. Johnson.. Service quality measurement There is still no consensus on a definition for quality. 1994) encapsulates these linkages. 1985. Notwithstanding such caveats. products and services to external customers (Zeithaml et al. Schlessinger and Zornitsky. Hallowell et al. 1998) and. who in measuring service quality in banking conclude that the disconfirmation approach has little support either theoretically or empirically. Rucci et al. 1985). and delivery of. in practice. Companies that focus on customer service retain customers 50 per cent longer. 1993. Since its formulation. 1996). 1998). Thus. Berry et al. Of equal importance is that employees' perceptions of service and actual customer perceptions of service quality tend to match (Naumann and Giel. Schneider and Bowen. Service capability depends on internal service quality. Johnson. customer satisfaction in itself may be insufficient. employees play a key role in the provision of service (Albrecht and Zemke. in many senses the true value of customer satisfaction and service quality in contributing to genuine attitudinal loyalty and subsequently to profitability remains open to some debate. Similarly. In such circumstances indiscriminate customer retention can be uneconomic. 1996. service organizations rarely have satisfied customers without having satisfied employees''. Rucci et al.. increase profits by 7 to 17 per cent and reduce their marketing costs by between 20 to 40 per cent (Zemke. 1995). The use of expectations is questioned by Babakus and Mangold (1992) and Cronin and Taylor (1992).. commitment to customer service and service capability are significant influencers of customer satisfaction. simpler and more easily understandable and ultimately more effective. IT. service quality and performance (Bergkhoff. More generally. 1988. the competitive drive to customer satisfaction and retention in UK banking in the 1990s was in reality a phoney war as clearly demonstrated by the findings contained in the Cruickshank Report (2000) on banking which noted the limited amount of switching and information gathering undertaken by consumers and the relatively high level of customer retention reflecting loyalty in behaviour if not in attitude. In service industries. 1995. Teas (1993) questions the interpretation and operationalisation of expectations and Avkiran (1999) notes a tendency to set expectations higher than perceptions thus making a gap between . 1993). The service profit chain (Heskett et al... Employee perceptions of service and customer satisfaction Customer service is a prerequisite for customer satisfaction. 1994). 1985. SERVQUAL has been used in a variety of service industries and countries. in the UK retail banking is subject to an adverse variation of the Pareto principle. 1990. Several authors of SERVQUAL-based studies have questioned its psychometric soundness and its usefulness. 1995). investment in quality continues to be seen by many as a route to competitive success and one which is of particular significance in financial services.. and equipment (Roth and Jackson. 1996. 1997).Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 (Lewis and Entwistle. 1998. 1995. ``while job satisfaction may not lead to customer satisfaction directly. It is this gap between perceptions and expectations that underpins the formulation of SERVQUAL. 1991. For UK retail banks. Garvin. the service quality measuring instrument of Parasuraman et al. 1989. that of Parasuraman et al. 1998) and may even be largely irrelevant in some cases. as Hallowell et al. Johnson. (1988) and its subsequent refinements (1990. Moreover. burdened by the inheritance of free banking. for between 65 and 85 per cent of customers who defect are satisfied customers (Reichheld. Commitment to customer service depends on recruiting the ``right'' employees and rewarding good service. despite this evidence in favour of the value of satisfaction and quality. For example. 1996). Similarly. For this paper. is adopted: Service quality as perceived by the customer is the degree and direction of discrepancy between customer service perceptions and expectations (Parasuraman et al. 1989). Yet. [ 128 ] (1996) observed. 1990. Parker. which states that the top 20 per cent of profitable customers account for 80 per cent of a company's profits. processes.

(1994) and tested in banking: It is considered that the Hemmasi et al. 1999) is a single scale measure of service quality designed to allow customers to reflect on their perceptions and expectations in a single statement. These interviews were augmented by drawing on the few accessible executive [ 129 ] . personnel. 2000) This measurement tool. 1999). BANKSERV (Avkiran.. Moreover on practical grounds the use of two scales and the negatively worded question items are both time consuming and too complex for most respondents (Avkiran.with the bank's own literature ± annual report and accounts 199399. adopted by a leading US bank and heavily promoted by management consultants. Prominent among these are Cronin and Taylor's (1992) SERVPERF measure which has the claimed advantage of one scale designed to measure service quality performance using a seven-point semantic differential scale with answers ranging from very poor to excellent. Babakus and Boller (1992) in their study of electricity and gas confirmed two SERVQUAL dimensions and added two from the original (Parasuraman et al. Nevertheless. employee opinion surveys and company leaflets. the accumulation of academic research over the past decade has highlighted many of the weaknesses and difficulties associated with the use of SERVQUAL. Lam (1995) reports that there were problems with the dimensions of SERVQUAL thus raising a fundamental question of what is SERVQUAL measuring? Buttle (1996) and Genestre and Herbig (1996) argue that SERVQUAL only measures process of delivery rather than the outcomes of service whilst Gilmore and Carson (1992) observe that SERVQUAL is narrowly focused on service or product dimensions to the neglect of the rest of the marketing mix. The debate continues. Academic criticism of the validity and feasibility of SERVQUAL as a measure of service quality has been accompanied by proposals for alternative service quality measures. dedicated to measure service quality in banking. which measures how well a service meets customer needs (Ennew et al. services portfolio and reliability) has been constructed (Bahia and Nantel. The importanceperformance grid was redeveloped by Hemmasi et al.. More pertinently perhaps. (1994) method is the most appropriate way of measuring service quality in the banking industry'' for it allows ``diagnosis'' and ``treatment'' of customers' priority problem areas (Joseph et al. The company documentation was augmented with in-depth interviews employing an evolutionary interview structure in which the focus. tangibles. not so much on the properties of SERVQUAL as a measurement instrument. Methodology The methodology adopted for this combined an examination of SERVQUAL survey data for 1993-97 and of customer commitment survey data for 1995-98. In such a context it was not surprising that SERVQUAL was selected as a basis for monitoring and managing service quality development. 1993). indeed. but rather on the costs and benefits of using such an instrument as part of a service quality improvement process. whether it is measuring service quality at all. It eliminates the expectations scale and has been tested in dentistry and telecommunications. Another approach is the importance-performance measure of service attributes. Since then the Banking Service Quality (BSQ) measure comprising 31 items for six dimensions (effectiveness and assurance. Published empirical studies have produced a variety of dimensions. issues and practice-areas grew over time as the programme progressed from pilot in 1993 to the eve of its sixth year. price. at the time when Bank 1 was seeking to improve its service quality measures beyond the standard internal operations measures.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 perceptions and expectations inevitable. the current study focuses attention. 1985) ten dimensions of service quality. is essentially an adaptation of SERVQUAL. The reliability and validity of SERVQUAL's difference score formulation has been questioned by Babakus and Boller (1992) and Brown et al. 1999). Fourteen in-depth interviews were conducted at headquarters with senior managers including the director of the national retail branch network with overall responsibility for the selection and implementation of the SERVQUAL surveys together with senior managers from retail support. . the pioneers have been scalped and Robinson (1999) in his synthesis of such critiques has concluded: . SERVQUAL was a pioneering tool. marketing and human resources over a period from January 1995 to May 1999. . In contrast to the existing literature. it continues to be one of the most widely recognised methods of measuring service quality. (1993) and SERVQUAL's dimensionality has not proved universal. access. notwithstanding these criticisms. In a banking context. Thus. it is questionable whether SERVQUAL is a reliable measure of service quality or..

enlisted a number of distinct but mutually reinforcing strategies ranging from cost reductions initiatives. [ 130 ] a re-emergence of mortgage demand as the UK came out of recession exposed Bank 1's uncompetitiveness due to weaknesses in the mortgage process. The cycle is based on the administration of two principal surveys: . Moreover the quality initiative was to be distinguished by its innovatory external orientation ± towards customers' perceptions of service quality ± and devolution of quality solutions to local branches. action and evaluation that has to date outlasted all its other service improvement initiatives. Triggers for interest in service quality improvement In 1992 a national survey of financial customers' perceptions of who offers excellent service in financial institutions placed Bank 1 in the middle of its rivals. staff feedback.7 (The Sunday Times. 30 ``instore'' branches of a major grocery retail chain and through the telephone. 1999). It illustrates the usefulness to this bank of SERVQUAL as a diagnostic tool. Added to this. The available information and a spectrum of viewpoints is presented prior to a discussion reflecting on the experience of this major high street bank's quality initiative and the prescriptions of the academic literature. Such features were novel to an organisation hitherto characterised by its top-down and directive management style and introversion (Senior Manager in Personnel. which acknowledges the tension between the quest for service quality and the drive for sales and revenue. 1997).Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 summaries of the bank's employee opinion surveys conducted during this time in order to improve the representativeness of the information. In pursuit of these objectives Bank 1 has. . . together with a visit to the Bank of Chicago and Omega (a management consultancy). consistently meeting or exceeding customers' expectations. In its own words. . As repeatedly proclaimed in its Annual Reports and Accounts (1994-1997) Bank 1 is explicitly committed to: . 1995. 1999). secure and maintain competitive advantage through superior customer service [and to] achieve above average growth in shareholder value over the long term by meeting the needs of our customers. Retail Support. product diversification and a twin commitment to increasing customer and product profitability through greater crossselling.33 per cent) of Bank 1's customers were found to hold three or more accounts (Bank 1. As a senior manager put it: ``we were all the same. our staff and all other stakeholders in our business.'' (Bank 1. The case study Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) This retail bank (referred to as Bank 1) is one of the top ten high street banks in the UK. Administration of SERVQUAL 1994-1998 The hallmark of Bank 1's service quality initiative was the implementation of an annual year-long cycle of SERVQUAL measurement. including ATMs and a new Branch PC network. were designed to improve processing efficiency thereby releasing staff for customer service and sales activities. at a price which is acceptable to the customers and at a return which is acceptable to the company.6 million (or 17. revenue growth through a strong selling focus. which proved highly influential in the Branch Network Director's decision to champion SERVQUAL as the keystone to improving quality of service. Employing some 18. The investments in new information technology. Only two financial providers stood out from the pack and they were miles above us. The next section describes the implementation of the measurement programme and typical quality improvement measures undertaken by individual branches in relation to their scores on each of the five SERVQUAL dimensions. This initiative is all the more striking for the bank initiated its quality improvement programme without benchmark measurements and prior to any management plans for a ``whole bank'' quality management programme. Sales and service are therefore seen as interdependent since Bank 1's aim ``is to keep long term relationships with our customers in which service quality is critical'' (Head Office Briefing Notes for Managers. . It was developments such as these. The average account holdings per customer was 1. for Bank 1 the measure of service quality is: . and records the outcomes as they were perceived by customers and the resultant degree of customer commitment. August 1993). This quality initiative stimulated the formulation of an operational definition of service quality.000 people it offers over 80 distinct products to over 15 million customers through 850 high street branches. 1999) although 2. in common with its rivals. up-selling and more significantly increasing the commitment of valuable customers.

keeping promises. The surveys have been consistently administered with only minor adjustments in order to provide a consistent year-on-year measure of Bank 1's customer perceptions of service quality and the service quality gap. Since the pilot surveys in 1993-4. The staff responsiveness gap diminished over the five years thanks only in part to improved staff performance but also. and 2 the Branch Survey administered face-toface to around 100. The year 1995 saw the introduction of the ``mystery shopper'' Branch Survey focusing on specific aspects of service delivery highlighted by SERVQUAL scores. As the national director of the retail network explained. it seems. confidential. contrary to customary prescriptions. Together. courteous and friendly service. Bank 1's customers' expectations appear to fall. expectations are not being met on four out of the five dimensions and ± most critically for a banking service ± reliability. They are responsible. ``Assurance'' requires staff to have the knowledge to answer customers' questions and the ability to provide competent. data collection for the Branch Survey alone represents the equivalent of 850 working weeks. [ 131 ] . Moreover. Similarly. This case study embodies the largest and most consistent application of SERVQUAL by any financial services company in the UK. the ``mystery shopper'' and SERVQUAL surveys cost the bank around £1m per annum. empathy and assurance The essentially ``soft'' or ``people'' quality dimensions of responsiveness. from 1995. empathy and assurance accounted for significant gaps between customer perceptions and expectations. to declining expectations. a ``hard quality'' dimension.000 of Bank 1's customers while visiting their branch. through branch inspections conducted by ``mystery shoppers''. A gap of 12 points in staff responsiveness indicated a particular need for urgent attention. with expectations falling by some eight points while perceptions hover between one and two points and the gap being reduced rather more by the decline in expectations than by staff behaviour. the provision of prompt service. These measures were supplemented by the customary customer satisfaction surveys and. Responsiveness. Reliability Reliability became the prime focus of organisational activity. These are large-scale surveys.'' Table I shows how expectations and perceptions have changed during the years 1994-97 and how.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 1 the national telephone Market Survey administered to around 500 Bank 1 customers and over 1. Empathy scores indicate an overall decline in both perceptions and expectations. A minor adjustment to wording in 1997 from ``This branch never makes mistakes on customer accounts'' to ``This branch never makes mistakes on my account'' improved the score. For example. ``Getting it right first time all the time'' became the target for account accuracy. Improvements in staff behaviour became a prime focus for individual staff as well as for teams' improvement initiatives ± with apparent success. Efforts to improve cash machines' availability and dependability received unprecedented attention. saw the largest gap between customer expectations and perceptions. The responsiveness dimension actually incorporates a number of activities. By 1997. Scores of the assurance dimension displays similar trends. ``empathy'' was identified as a quality displayed by staff when they demonstrably had ``customers' best interests at heart'' by offering convenient opening hours. has regularly administered the market survey in May and June and the Branch Survey in October. National operating standards were devised and a monitoring and measurement system put in place alongside a major programme of investments in information technology.000 customers of seven main competitors. giving customers their undivided attention as well as being demonstrably responsive to customers' requests. meeting deadlines and providing timely and accurate information to customers. including the readiness of staff to tell customers exactly when things will be done. Dissemination of SERVQUAL data from head office to branches and action The Market Research Company presents the results of the two surveys to the retail sales department of the branch network located at head office from where they are cascaded directly to individual branch managers. understanding of individual customer needs and problems as well as providing individual attention. BMRB. both had fallen sufficiently to narrow the gap by a single point. From 1994 SERVQUAL scores were augmented by customer satisfaction surveys which have regularly produced an average score of between 60 and 70 per cent. ``in essence we present the problems and it is up to the branches to solve the issues. a well-known market research company. which had fallen owing to unfavourable publicity generated by the absorption of a rival.

E = expectation. where one point is significant and three is ``phenomenal''. only banks F and G appear to possess higher levels of support. the SERVQUAL measurement programme was instrumental in reducing the myopia of the organisation by introducing an external view.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 Table I Bank 1 overall SERVQUAL gap scores 1993-1997 Reliability Responsiveness Assurance Tangibles Empathy P 1993 E G P 1994 E G P 1995 E G P 1996 E G P 1997 E G 80 82 88 88 84 95 94 96 90 95 ±15 ±12 ±8 2 ±11 86 84 86 92 79 95 92 92 91 91 ±9 ±8 ±6 1 ±12 87 85 87 92 81 90 87 88 87 82 ±3 ±2 ±1 5 ±1 85 83 86 90 81 91 88 89 87 84 ±6 ±5 ±3 3 ±3 88 84 87 91 82 91 87 88 87 83 ±3 ±3 ±1 4 ±1 Notes: Bank 1 (score out of 100). offering greetings. customers' expectations show a decline. cleanliness and tidiness exceeded customer expectations. However SERVQUAL revealed a considerable weakness on customer leaflets. thus throwing doubt on the use of service quality as a unique differentiator. Two striking features are the ability of Bank 1's rivals to catch up in the mid 1990s and for financial providers D-G to overtake Bank 1 in perceived service excellence. P = perception. Discussion Interviews with head office senior management in the retail sales. An overall improvement of eight points in perceptions was registered between 1993 and 1997. At the same time. Bank 1's customer commitment scores as expressed by answers to the question. [ 132 ] As can be seen from Table II. Owing to the legacy of an earlier branch refurbishment programme and a parallel investment in equipment. Service quality outcomes In the opinion of its champion. which is hard to explain. Bank 1 customers appear considerably more committed to their bank than the customers of rivals A-E. on the quality of the bank's services and more significantly . saying ``please'' and ``thank you'' and providing customers with undivided attention. contrary to popular and academic received wisdom. letters. the customer's. In 1998 staff were empowered to spend up to £500 in service recovery. after considerable benchmarking the Bank adopted the housestyle of a well-known retailer for its product literature. personnel and the brand marketing department provide a mixed view on the role and contribution of this service quality improvement initiative. Bank 1 made considerable inroads in the most seriously weak elements of the reliability and empathy dimensions from the third year. Tactical human resource strategies included encouraging staff to behave more responsively by using customer names more often. Process and systems re-design and IT investments formed the heart of the organisational hard quality improvements. the appearance of branches in terms of appeal. human resources. The organisational response included the adoption of a ``plain English'' policy for all correspondence and. Table II shows the most severe gaps under each dimension and records the company's success in tackling individual problems. These results are mirrored in an increase in customers' word-of-mouth recommendation scores. statements and communications in general. As can be seen from Tables III and IV above. Overall. Bank 1's scores on customer commitment and service quality are high and rise to a peak in 1997 reflecting the bank's multifaceted actions at national and local level to improve service quality. SERVQUAL as a diagnostic tool The elements that make up the SERVQUAL dimensions can also be displayed for diagnostic purposes. Table I reveals a considerable diminution of the gap scores owing to a marked improvement in performance on all three dimensions. G = gap between P and E Tangibles Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) In the ``tangible'' dimension Bank 1 exceeded its customer expectations. In 1995 SERVQUAL performance scores were being incorporated into the branch managers' variable pay. Customers' perceptions improved. These scores also reflect well on Bank 1 when compared with its seven main rivals. ``would not hesitate to recommend'' displayed in Table III rise to a peak of 88 out of 100 points in 1997 thereafter falling to 83 points in 1998 perhaps mirroring the expansion of its banking operations through supermarkets.

However. SERVQUAL provided the means to introduce an element of devolution and self-autonomy to bank branches in an organisation whose management style was Table II Using SERVQUAL as a diagnostic tool: Bank 1 gaps on selected constituents Dimension 1995 1996 1997 Reliability Does not make mistakes Promise by certain time Cash machines are operating when needed ±16 ±12 ±15 ±12 ±7 ±2 ±5 ±4 2 Responsiveness Staff willingness Prompt service Staff can tell me when things will be done Tried to speed up service ±6 ±8 ±14 ±11 ±2 ±9 ±4 ±8 ±2 ±8 ±2 ±7 Assurance Staff authority to make decisions on the spot Knowledge to answer questions Privacy Staff are competent ±7 ±9 ±12 ±11 ±5 ±5 ±4 ±5 ±3 ±3 ±3 ±4 3 ±2 ±10 6 3 ±2 7 4 ±1 Empathy Call me by my name Trust staff Staff understand special needs Staff concerned and understanding of problems Convenient opening hours ±7 ±11 ±13 ±13 ±8 5 ±6 ±4 ±4 ±5 6 ±4 ±2 ±3 ±3 Table III ``Would not hesitate to recommend'': Bank 1 v. cross-fertilisation and co-operation between departments and reducing the possibility of concerted and combined action to create and deliver service quality. competitors A B ±7 ±13 ±10 ±3 ±4 ±2 ±2 ±5 C D E F G ±7 ±2 ±1 ±5 ±7 ±3 0 ±5 ±7 ±3 0 ±2 1 2 4 ±5 ±4 4 4 1 Note: Bank 1 score out of 100 The potential impact of service quality measurement was reduced by the existence of information silos.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 responding to the customers' verdict. by its management and staff alike. not only internally between branches but externally relative to competitors. ``flavour-of-the-month'' reaction to past quality and customer service initiatives and paved the way for the acceptance of a more intrusive check on branches such as the ``mystery shopper'' programme. sponsored. as bureaucratic. thus providing management with a detailed. competitors 1995 1996 1997 1998 84 87 88 83 1995 1996 1997 1998 Bank 1 A B C D E F G 86 87 88 82 ±9 ±7 0 ±1 ±11 ±1 2 ±2 ±6 ±2 2 ±1 ±6 ±2 0 0 ±7 ±3 4 2 ±2 2 6 0 ±4 5 6 3 Note: Bank 1 score out of 100 variously described. financed and owned by Human Resources! These potentially valuable sources of information ± on customers' perceptions and judgements. In the opinion of its sponsor. SERVQUAL and ``mystery shopper'' measures were selected. financed and ``owned'' by the retail sales division at head office: the customer satisfaction surveys were sponsored and financed by the marketing department and the employee opinion surveys were sponsored. it is arguable that SERVQUAL's greatest contribution was to raise the profile of service quality. Information silos Tangibles Professional appearance of staff Up-to-date equipment Easy to read leaflets. comparative overview. These tracking surveys also revealed a major divide between customers' expectations and perceptions in the North and South and exposed differences in performance. letters and statements Bank 1 Table IV ``Quality of service is excellent'': Bank 1 v. the adoption and implementation of SERVQUAL also raised a number of issues internally and these may limit some of the potential benefits discussed above. Customer perceived quality was the preserve of retail sales rather than of [ 133 ] . bringing it to the attention of senior management and on to the board agenda. Hard quality operational performance targets were set for every department in the retail bank. adoption of this quality initiative marks the bank's conversion from introspection to customer responsiveness and an external orientation (director of branch network). In 1995 a quality steering group chaired by the chief executive was formed to consider and select corporate-wide actions necessary to underpin customer service improvements. autocratic and hierarchical. introduced. However. SERVQUAL had the merit of being equally well understood by staff and managers and among staff in particular it escaped the cynical. employee performance and company operations ± were neither co-ordinated nor integrated. thus losing the benefits of synthesis.

the scores at the end of the programme reflect the reluctant conclusion of one of SERVQUAL's admirers that ``Five years of measuring service quality has not changed very much the way we deliver the service to customers'' (Senior Manager. as one senior management put it. There were no special training programmes to indicate to employees what they had to do in order to provide a quality service and SERVQUAL itself offers no practical guidance for behaviour. Indeed less than 45 per cent of staff believed that senior management demonstrated that customer satisfaction was an important goal and only 56 per cent of staff expressed themselves as satisfied with quality and customer service issues this was due largely to insufficient staff numbers to ``provide the high standards we want to offer our customers'' (Employee Opinion Survey. when combined with the organisational barriers. It was not until 1998 that a branch manager's variable pay became sensitive to customer satisfaction scores while the remuneration of top management remained firmly locked to the profit and loss account. these high SERVQUAL scores may encourage a false sense of security and feed . practice or employee behaviour. As one employee put it ``Commitment and service do not seem to count for much.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 marketing. business culture and performance have emerged. 1989) yet the connection between employee recruitment and training and the needs of service quality and marketing is severed. Similarly. Consequently. From the experience of administering SERVQUAL over a five-year period a number of questions and issues centring on administration and measurement. Thus. 1999). pervaded the organisation. In any quality improvement programme top management has to be seen to believe in customer service and demonstrate that customer service and quality really matter before a service culture becomes embedded and a significant and sustained improvement in service quality and customer satisfaction occurs. Indeed. but at the end of the day they are more interested in profit'' and another observed ``I have no job satisfaction anymore. We just have to get sales''. Service climate and service orientation The impact of the service quality drive and the employment of a ``people'' sensitive quality measure such as SERVQUAL were hardly discernible on HR strategy. limited Bank 1's ability to be market oriented and reduced the potential effectiveness of both marketing and service quality strategies. Consequently the failure to link service quality. employees are both internal customers as well as part time marketeers (Berry et al. 1997). As one employee observed ``I think the management would like staff to think they are committed to customer service. customer satisfaction and employee reward and appraisal limited the penetration and impact of SERVQUAL for. This. rather than a service culture. Retail Support 1999). Reflections on the limitations of SERVQUAL. sales are the most important aspect now'' and ``you could lose points on service quality but you can't gain points'' (Employee Survey. It is suspected that the branch survey involving interviews with over 100. While 65 per cent believed the company was committed to customer satisfaction this is significantly below the 73 per cent norm for the financial services sector and 93 per cent achieved by the best company (Bank 1 [ 134 ] Staff Opinion Survey. Similarly. Marketing. The placing of quality with and under the umbrella of retail sales rather than the marketing department suggests a sales rather than a customer focus and suggests a subordinate importance of both service quality and marketing within the organisation.000 customers a year in branches might be capturing disproportionate numbers of the ``wrong customers'' ± those regular low-value branch visitors who appear easily satisfied ± rather than the profitable high-net-worth customers who are reluctant to visit branches and are more discerning and harder to please. 1997). staff appraisal seemed to favour sales at the expense of service. Absence of top management commitment Top management support for customer service must be seen to be total (Schneider and Bowen. 1993). 1985) but Bank 1 employees seemed less than convinced that this was the case. Setting aside the practical difficulties the lack of top management commitment and the dominance of a sales climate together suggest that senior management may have been merely paying lip service to service quality improvement. ``Unless such measures are directly linked to pay nothing really happens'' (Senior Manager.. It is these organisational barriers that limited the impact of this service quality improvement initiative. concern for sales. HR practices. Respondents' suitability A fundamental issue on the composition of the branch sample has emerged.

by its very nature. What is clear is the widespread belief that it is pointless to switch banks because all banks are the same (Abbey National Survey. the visual selection of customers by independent market researchers may not be sufficiently sensitive to either customer or product ownership segments or the purpose of the service encounter. there remains the question ``what is SERVQUAL measuring?'' where the corporate image and reputation is highly favourable. 1997). diagnostics and retrospection The employment of unweighted SERVQUAL measures fails to gauge customers' priorities across the five quality dimensions and their constituent elements and so may mislead. where. It is therefore an undifferentiated measure unsuited to a situation in which ± as research has shown ± perceptions and expectations vary across customer segments. Similarly research by Bloemer et al. product ownership and purpose of service encounter (Kangis. would you'' .Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 complacency. The crux of the service is the customer experience in which staff involvement ± their willingness and ability to serve ± determines customers' perceptions of [ 135 ] . Quality and service excellence fosters reputation (Brown and Kleiner. analysis and report-back of one year's duration is further exacerbated by the contemporaneous nature of the questions. are widely regarded as critical in service marketing. In the UK the success of new entrants with powerful brand names in life assurance. Further support is provided from the finding that the biggest recorded change in SERVQUAL scores ± of three points ± coincided with the relaunch of the corporate brand in a substantial television and press campaign in 1998. priorities and performance levels. responsiveness. when. Support for this view originates from the finding that only five points separate the best and worst performing branches of a network totalling over 850. Doubt also exists on the value of SERVQUAL as a diagnostic and prescriptive tool. Prioritisation. Support for a link between corporate image or reputation and quality is seen across the Atlantic in America where Fortune's corporate reputations survey concludes that quality of management and the quality of products and services that a company delivers are its most important attributes. mediator or influencer of service quality (cited in Le Blanc and Nguyen. remains hidden and has to be discovered by other means. However the direction of the linkage is not yet clear and requires further research. ``Using customer names'' became de rigueur in branches yet this was subsequently found not to be important to branch customers and may have diverted attention and resources from a more relevant element. the who. empathy and assurance. ``Soft'' quality is no compensation for inadequate ``hard'' quality The three soft quality ``people'' dimensions.? The influence of corporate image and reputation on SERVQUAL scores Finally. retailing and even airlines suggest that company image or reputation override considerations of service quality perceptions. The SERVQUAL instrument is no substitute for customer relevant operational standards and requires supplementation by other performance measures. . 1998). . it tends to be retrospective. Managers operating in a turbulent marketplace require real-time as well as forward-looking information as a basis for anticipating or responding fast to shifts in expectations. Furthermore. 1997). Such weaknesses assume great importance in a bank where less than 20 per cent of customers provide 80 per cent of profits (Director of Retail Branch Network. There is a case for rephrasing the SERVQUAL questions to make them more managerially valuable along the following lines ± ``if we did this . the symptom or effect ± ``my mortgage didn't arrive in time'' ± is captured by SERVQUAL but the causation. For example. collection. A more significant limitation of SERVQUAL in this case is that. That there is a connection is evident. 1998). . where another 15-20 per cent cost the bank money and the remainder might be made profitable only with the abandonment of free banking. The cycle of administration. (1998) on banks in The Netherlands has shown that corporate image affects customer perceived service quality. To what extent does SERVQUAL measure perceptions and expectations engendered by corporate brand and reputation? How far do the corporate brand and image influence customers' expectations and perceptions of the local branch service encounter? Recent experience by Bank 1 is suggestive that the branch SERVQUAL survey scores reflect more on corporate brand and reputation than on branch performance. what. . a 5 score gives a false picture of importance. Gronroos (1984) and Lehtinen and Lehtinen both recognise the power of corporate image as a filter. Similarly in a mortgage situation. 1988). For example SERVQUAL failed to reveal the extent of the lunchtime queues problem in branches.

the principles of measurement or issues in administration. This unification of customer data within the marketing department not only reduces the information silo structure but is significant for locating service quality firmly within the orbit of marketing ± a responsibility which all too often has been placed in operations. A major issue for financial services. is the profitability profile of bank customers. Beginning with the most important practical issues associated with this programme. product ownership and service encounter. especially reliability of service delivery. a move that now places the results of the customer satisfaction surveys. A recent survey reports that the percentage of profitable customers is around 42 per cent with some banks reporting a low of 20 per cent. which fails to gauge customers' priorities across the five quality dimensions let alone their associated elements. In addition. and retail banking in particular. was not effectively disseminated. it is apparent that other concerns affected the value of SERVQUAL and these included the presence of information silos which meant that important information from a range of sources. A total of 31.5 per cent of customers are described as profit neutral and 26. The evidence from the case has highlighted a number of practical lessons and theoretical issues and questions which overall cast further doubt on the value of SERVQUAL as a measure of service quality. which has raised fundamental questions about the composition of the sample.5 per cent are deemed to be non-profitable (King.Karin Newman Interrogating SERVQUAL: a critical assessment of service quality measurement in a high street retail bank International Journal of Bank Marketing 19/3 [2001] 126±139 quality. It is at this point of the service profit chain that the quality of internal processes. This may in part reflect a problem relating to the integration of aspects of the service quality improvement programme across the organisation as is evidenced by the lank of any clear linkages between SERVQUAL and the bank's HR strategy. The third practical issue is that of retrospection caused by both the construction of the questions and the length of time it takes to collect. What is SERVQUAL measuring? The finding that only five points (out of 100) separate the best and worst performing branches of a network of over 850 branches and the finding that the largest recorded change in SERVQUAL scores ± of three points ± coincided with the relaunch of the corporate brand in a substantial television and press campaign in 1998 suggest the need for further empirical and conceptual work on the role and significance of corporate image and reputation on service quality. training and corporate leadership are fused. An inescapable conclusion is that. These concerns are currently being addressed by Bank 1. The case also raises a theoretical concern. [ 136 ] while it may be easy to adopt SERVQUAL and implement large scale surveys and continue to measure outcomes. This paper reports on a case analysis of a pioneering service quality improvement programme which used SERVQUAL as the main driver of organisational quality improvement initiatives. The second stems from the use of an unweighted SERVQUAL measure. ``mystery shoppers'' and SERVQUAL in the hands of a single department. survey sponsorship has been transferred from the retail sales department to the marketing department. the telephone. Such a profile raises fundamental issues for banks' strategies ± from elimination of free banking to customer migration to low cost delivery channels such as ATMs. One stems from the mode of SERVQUAL's administration. adopting and implementing SERVQUAL in a business context may raise other issues about the value of this approach to monitoring and measuring service quality. However. This case study also raises questions about the link between service quality and business performance in the UK. to . Conclusions Downloaded by Indian Institute of Technology at Madras At 04:09 23 April 2016 (PT) Much of the existing literature which critically evaluates SERVQUAL has focused attention on either the coverage of the items. Starting in 1999 the bank replaced the face-to-face annual administration of SERVQUAL in branches with a twice-yearly postal questionnaire to a representative sample of its customer base thereby improving the respondent profile and timeliness of the information. The experience of Bank 1 demonstrates that where hard quality. SERVQUAL has been widely used. 1999). is low then ``soft'' quality cannot compensate. process and analyse the data and disseminate the information. customer care or isolated quality departments. several areas of concern have arisen. In this case the recognition that service quality belongs to marketing represents a major step forward towards the acceptance in practice of marketing as a strategic department within retail banking. Internally. Despite these concerns. and the Internet. staff empowerment. including SERVQUAL. and its insensitivity to customer. it becomes a futile exercise if they are not acted upon and are not seen as an integral part of the organisation's activities as a whole. not least in the financial services sector.

de Ruyter. (1992). Avkiran. The International Journal of Bank Marketing. However. despite a number of quality improvement initiatives in retail banking over the last decade. 1997-1998). Babakus. Annual Reports. leaving some 84 per cent who could only partially use the information they stored. is the commodification of service in which price is the key to acquisition and retention of financially aware and ``high net worth'' individuals. Albrecht. ``A reliable and valid measurement scale for the perceived service quality of banks''. (The) Banking Ombudsman (1996-1998).K. current. New York. Internet and interactive TV will end the phoney war and introduce severe competition for the acquisition and retention of existing and potential ``profitable'' customers.500 (The Banking Ombudsman. p. pp. 2. A recent survey by King (1999) of KPMG reports that only 6 per cent of bankers believe their organisations have been successful at integrating all the different customer information streams while 67 per cent said that it was not possible to analyse customer contacts across delivery channels and it is this which makes successful customer targeting for service excellence. W.W. C.. and Peeters. London. The Office of the Banking Ombudsman. (1985). people and service recovery. a commensurate level of service excellence. Furthermore. (The) Banking Ombudsman (1993-1994). and Boller. Bennett. (1999). P. to be truly customer focused requires holistic information in real time on the whole customer ± not the account. 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