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ABOUT THE SERVQUAL (OR RATER) MODEL

(Note: This model is also referred to as the RATER model, which stands for the five
service factors it measures, namely: reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and
responsiveness.)
As is indicated by the name of this model, SERVQUAL is a measure of service
quality. Essentially it is a form of structured market research that splits overall service
into five areas or components.

The SERVQUAL model features in many services marketing textbooks, usually when
discussing customer satisfaction and service quality. It was developed in the mid
1980s by well-known academic researchers in the field of services marketing,
namely Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry. Note one of their original journal papers
has been uploaded by a university.
Designed for Service Firms
The SERVQUAL model was initially designed for use for service firms and retailers.
In reality, while most organizations will provide some form of customer service, it is
really only service industries that are interested in understanding and measuring
service quality. Therefore, SERVQUAL takes a broader perspective of service; far
beyond simple customer service.

One of the drivers for the development of the SERVQUAL model was the unique
characteristics of services (as compared to physical products). These unique
characteristics, such as intangibility and heterogeneity, make it much harder for a
firm to objectively assess its quality level (as opposed to a manufacturer who can
inspect and test physical goods). The development of this model provided service
firms and retailers with a structured approach to assess the set of factors that
influence consumers perception of the firms overall service quality.

Service quality, while being interrelated with customer


satisfaction, is actually a distinct concept.
Please see the discussion of the difference between service quality and customer
satisfaction.
Service quality is the consumers assessment of overall delivery and value of the
firm, which the SERVQUAL model splits into five main categories as discussed in the
next section.

SERVQUALS FIVE DIMENSIONS


As later suggested by the original developers of the SERVQUAL model, the easy
way to recall the five dimensions are by using the letters of RATER, as follows:

R = Reliability
A= Assurance
T = Tangibles
E = Empathy
R = Responsiveness
According to the original academic journal article:

Tangibles refers to physical facilities, equipment and appearance of


personnel
Reliability is the firms ability to perform the promise service accurately and
dependably
Responsiveness is the firms willingness to help customer and provide
prompt service
Assurance is knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to
inspire trust and confidence
Empathy is caring and individualized attention paid to customers

The five dimensions of SERVQUAL


(Click to enlarge)

SERVQUALS 22 QUESTIONS
When the SERVQUAL model was originally developed and researched it consisted
of 22 questions (as also discussed on this website) under the five RATER
dimensions. Like any piece of academic research, there is always debate and
modifications over time of the appropriate factors/questions to use. Please keep in
mind that 97 factors were originally considered and only the ones that were helpful
(able to discriminate between firms) remained in the model.
This study initially looked at four different service industries, namely, banking, credit
cards, repairs and maintenance, and telephone companies.

SERVQUALs Two Parts of the Questionnaire


The SERVQUAL questionnaire is split into two main sections:

1. Respondents are asked about their expectations of the ideal service firm in that
service category.
In this case, the questions would be reworded to state a particular industry, such as
banking, or hotels, or education. There is no reference to a specific firm at this stage;
instead respondents are asked about the ideal firm to deal with.
This is done to frame expectations for that service category and to establish a
benchmark for comparison. By working through the RATER elements, it can be seen
that there would be significant differences in expectations across service industries.
For example, for banking firms, assurance would be important, for medical firms,
empathy would be important, and for hotels, tangibles would be important.

2. Respondents are then asked about the service quality delivery of specific firms in
that industry.
This approach provides the researcher with:

A comparison of perceived service quality levels between competing firms,


The difference between expected and delivered service quality for each firm,
and
The ability to drill down to the 22 questions to determine where a specific firm
is performing above/below expectations or competitor quality levels.

Role of customers in service delivery


Service delivery for customers can be seen in a factory. The place the service is
produced and is consumed interacting with the employees and other
customers. E.g in a classroom or in a training situation, students (customers) are
sitting in the factory interacting with the instructor and other students as they
consume the educational services.
Since these customers are present during the service production, customers can
contribute to or detract from the successful delivery of the service and to their own
satisfaction.

Importance of customers in service delivery


Customer participation at some level is inevitable in service delivery. Services are
actions or performances, typically produced and consumed simultaneously. In
many situations employees, customers and even others in the service environment
interact to produce the ultimate service outcome. As the customers receiving the
service participates in the service delivery process. He or she can contribute to the
gap through appropriate or inappropriate, effective or ineffective, productive or
unproductive behaviors.

Customers who are unprepared in terms of what they want to order can soak up the
customer service representatives time as they seek advice. Similarly, shoppers who
are not prepared with their credit cards can put the representative on hold. While
they search for their credit cards or go to another room or even out of their cars to
get them. Meanwhile, other customers and calls are left unattended, causing longer
wait times and potential dissatisfaction.

Participation in service delivery


The level of participation low, medium, high varies across different services. In
some cases, all that is required is the customers physical presence (low level of
participation), with the employees of the firm doing all of the service production
work, as in case of a Ghazal/ musical concert. The listeners must be present to
receive the entertainment service. In other cases, consumer inputs are required to
aid the service organization in creating the service delivery (moderate level of
participation).

Inputs can include information, effort or physical possessions. All three of these
are required in case of accounting services who prepares a clients income tax
return effectively. Information in the form of tax history, marital status, and number
of dependents. Effort in putting the information together in a useful
fashion. Physical Possessions such as receipts and past tax returns. In case of long
term consulting engagements involvement of the customers high as they co create
the service.

Customers roles
Customers as a productive process
Service customers are referred to as partial employees of the organization. They
are human resources who contribute to the organizations productive capacity. In
other words, if customers contribute effort, time or other resources to the service
production process, they should be considered as part of the organization.

Customer inputs can affect the organizations productivity through both quality and
quantity of output. E.g. research suggest that in an IT consulting context:

Clients who clearly articulate the solution they desire.


Provide needed information in a timely manner.
Communicate openly.
Gain the commitment of key internal stakeholders.
And raise the issues during the process before it is too late will get better
service.

Customers as quality contributors to service delivery and


satisfaction
Another role customers play in service delivery is that of the contributor to their
own satisfaction and the ultimate quality of the services they receive. Customers
may care little that they have increased the productivity of the organization through
their participation. But they likely care a great deal about whether their needs are
fulfilled. Effective customer participation can increase the likelihood of service
delivery that their needs are met and that benefits the customer seeks are attained.
Services such as health care, education, personal fitness, and weight loss, where the
service outcome is highly dependent on the customers participation. In such
services unless the customers perform their roles effectively, the desired service
outcomes cannot be achieved.

Research has shown that in education, active participation by students as opposed


to passive listening increases learning the desired service output significantly.

Customers as competitors
A final role played by service customers is that of a potential competitor. If self-
service customers can be viewed as resources of the firm, or as partial
employees, self-service customers in some cases. They can partially perform the
service or the entire service for themselves and may not need the provider at all.

Customers thus in that sense are competitors of the companies that supply the
service. Whether to produce a service for themselves (internal exchange). E.g.
child care, home maintenance i.e. have someone else provide home services for
them (external exchange) is a common dilemma for consumers.

Similar internal versus external exchange decisions are made by organizations.


Firms frequently choose to outsource service activities such as payroll, data
processing, research, accounting, maintenance, and facilities management. They
find that it is advantageous to focus on their core businesses and leave these
essential support services to others with greater expertise. Alternatively, a firm may
decide to stop purchasing services externally and bring the service production
process in-house
The service marketing triangle or the Service triangle as it is commonly called,
underlines the relationships between the various providers of services, and the
customers who consume these services.

As we know, relationships are most important in the services sector. The


service triangle outlines all the relationships that exist between the company,
the employees and the customers. Furthermore, it also outlines the
importance of systems in a services industry and how these systems help
achieve customer satisfaction.

As the name suggests, the service marketing triangle can also be used to
market the service to consumers. The marketing completely depends on the
interaction going on between the customer and the service provider. We will
look at each of these interactions in detail, and also read on how to market to
your customer based on the interaction.
There are 6 main relationships in the Service triangle. And based on these
relationships, there are three ways to apply marketing tactics.

Let us first go through the 6 relationships in the Service marketing triangle

a) Company to Customers One of the critical thing is to communicate the


service strategy to the customers. Most of the E-commerce companies are
nowadays employed in convincing the customers to buy from their portal only.
For this buying, they are communicating various service advantages which the
customers have.

Communication of the service strategy to customers is important to build the


trust of customers and hence to convert the customers to be loyal to the
company.

b) Company to employees Another important relationship in the service


triangle is that between the company and the employees. Imagine an Airline
where the flight attendants themselves are frustrated with the company. You,
as a customer, will land up with the poorest services.

Hence, training employees, building value and trust, and empowering


employees are some of the ways that the company can make their employees
a positive influencing force for the customers.

c) Company to systems To keep customers happy, efficient and productive


systems need to be developed. Imagine your bank in the 1960s where
everything was done by paper. If you wanted to transfer money, you will have
to fill many forms, and the recipient had to fill many forms. Ultimately it was a
tedious process.

However, due to advanced systems, nowadays you can not only transfer
money to others sitting at home, you can practically do 80% of
the bankingwork sitting at home from your laptop. Thats the importance of
systems in a service marketing triangle.

d) Customers to systems Although building systems are important, these


systems should be most useful to customers. Taking the same example of
banking systems above, it is surprising that even today when you go to a bank,
there is a queue. Look at retail stores. Theres always a big line to check out.
The interaction between customer and system is critical to build the
service brand. Taking the example of E-commerce systems, when the
customer is promised various service advantages, and when he fails to return
a productdue to system errors or logistics errors, he becomes dissatisfied
with the service.

For a company, it is important not only to build systems, but ensure that the
systems comply to the customers and give excellent experience to customers.

e) Employees to system Not only do systems leave customers frustrated,


they also leave the employees frustrated. Imagine a McDonalds where orders
taken at the front desk are not reaching the kitchen. Or imagine a service
center, where although you have entered a grievance, the employee is not
getting your complaint and hence not calling you. Ultimately it is the employee
on whom you are going to get angry!!

In one of the consumer durable companies i know, the systems were top of
the line, but they had so many processes with regards to outstanding and
inventory, that a simple order processing took 20 minutes. This same
company had at least 1 lakh dealers and distributors. So imagine the
continuous delay in order processing and the pressure on employees due to
this system issue. The system was working excellently, but it was creating
friction between the employees and the system.

Both, Employee motivation, and the empowerment of employees depends on


the type of system you hand over to your employees. If the systems are very
good and your employees are able to make good use of it, you will get very
happy and satisfied customers.

f) The most important relationship in the service triangle Employee to


Customers The employee to customer interaction is also known as the
moment of truth or critical incidents. A single customer can become
dissatisfied with the way the employee treated him. Or that single customer
can buy a lot of material from the same store, because the employee treated
him or her like a king or queen.

Thats the difference your employees can create when they interact with
customers. There are companies which are high in the customer satisfaction
index, just because their employees are well-trained and are empowered to
take their own decisions. More importantly, these employees are ingrained
with the habit that Customer is king.

Once your employees starts treating the customer as if they are really king, the
whole service triangle gets completed, and you will get the best results from
all processes employed.