Service Quality Meaning, Elements, Categories and Perspectives

Table of contents:-

  1. Meaning of Service Quality
  2. Elements of Service Quality
  3. Categories of Service Quality
  4. Perspectives of Quality
  5. Improving Service Quality
  6. Maintenance of Service Quality

Meaning of Service Quality

High service quality is imperative for the competitiveness of the service industry. Many service quality models enable managers and practitioners to identify quality issues and improve the efficiency and profitability of overall performance. Service quality gaps are one of the most influential and contributing models in the service quality literature. There are several models which try to capture and define “Service Quality” which are used in service industries about quality and customer satisfaction.

Considering the complex nature of how customers judge service quality, several researches have been done in the area and models have been developed to explain the nature of service quality evaluation. However, two major works have received extensive widespread attention and acceptance.

The first is the ‘GAPS model’ which defines the dimensions of service quality in four potential gaps within the service organisation that may lead to a final and most serious gap. The second model is the SERVQUAL Model, which is based on The American perspective (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry), and uses five service quality dimensions.

Elements of Service Quality

The evaluation process used by consumers for services differs from that used for goods. Services are characterized by their high experience and credence qualities while goods are known for their high search qualities. Search qualities are attributes that consumers can evaluate before purchasing a service or product. Experience qualities are attributes that consumers can evaluate only during or after the process of consumption. Credence qualities refer to attributes that consumers find difficult to evaluate even after the consumption is complete.

Given below are the elements of service quality:

  1. Search Attributes
  2. Experience Attributes
  3. Credence Attributes

Elements of Service Quality

1) Search Attributes

Attributes refer to an individual’s qualities, characteristics, or traits that a consumer can determine before the purchase. Physical goods tend to emphasise those attributes that enable customers to evaluate a product before purchasing.

Style, colour, texture, taste, and sound are features that enable potential consumers to experience, sample, or test-drive a product before making a purchase. These tangible attributes help customers understand and evaluate the value they will receive in return for their monetary investment.

This, in turn, reduces the sense of uncertainty or risk associated with the act of making a purchase. Goods such as clothing, furniture, cars, electronic equipment, and foods are examples of products that possess significant search attributes.

For example, search attributes include price, colour, size, shape, miles per gallon, and energy efficiency ratings. Many such features of this nature serve utilitarian purposes and can be quantitatively measured. Gathering information before making a purchase is the easiest, most cost-effective and often the least risky approach to familiarize oneself with various products.

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2) Experience Attributes

Experience attributes are those that a consumer can determine only after the purchase. When attributes cannot be evaluated before purchases, customers must experience the service to know what they are getting.

For example, Holidays, live entertainment performances, sporting events, and restaurants fall into this category. Although they can examine brochures, scroll through websites describing the holiday destination, view travel films, or read reviews by travel experts, people cannot evaluate or feel the dramatic beauty associated with hiking or the magic of scuba diving until they experience these activities.

Customers cannot always rely solely on information from friends, family, or other personal sources when evaluating these services and others alike. This is because people may interpret or respond to the same stimuli in different ways. Experience goods are composed of experience attributes, which are primarily intangible and subjectively evaluated. For example, describing tasty food is very subjective.

Experience goods tend to be moderate or low involvement, frequently purchased, and hedonic non-durables.

Most are rich in sensory experiences such as taste, smell, touch, aural and visual experiences. Marketers of experience goods should provide consumers with the personal experiences of potential buyers before making a purchase. This can be achieved through various means, including providing free samples and trial offers or test runs of durable goods such as appliances and consumer electronics.

3) Credence Attributes

Attributes that consumers may find impossible to evaluate even after they have made a purchase and consumed a product. Product characteristics that customers find impossible to evaluate confidently even after purchase and consumption are known as credence attributes because they are forced to trust that certain benefits have been delivered, even though it may be difficult to document them.

For example, patients can not usually evaluate how well their dentists have performed complex dental procedures. Credence goods tend to be items that are complex or require special expertise to evaluate, such as fine wine, professional services such as knee surgery, legal advice, a brake job and products with less discernable results, such as engine coolant.

Categories of Service Quality

Service quality is a term used in business administration to measure the level of achievement in delivering a requested service. Within this context, objective and subjective service quality can be distinguished:

1) Objective Service Quality

It is the concrete measurable conformity of a working result with the previously defined benefit. The degree of measurability is greatly dependent on the accuracy of the defined parameters, a measurable quality criterion easily.

2) Subjective Service Quality

It is the customer’s perceived conformity of the working result with the expected benefit, this perception is overlayed with the customer’s original imagination of the service and the service provider’s ability to present his performance as a good one.

Moreover, a defined result can turn out unreachable. Then the best possible achievable result would be the objective ideal result, but subjective still be an unsatisfactory result of service. Service quality can be related to service potential, process, or result. For example, potential quality can be understood as the co-worker’s qualification, process quality as the speed of the generated service and res quality as how much the performance matched the customers’ wishes.

Perspectives of Quality

The term “quality” means different things to people, depending on the given context. The five key perspectives’ quality is as follows:

1) Value-Based Approach

Value-based definitions define quality in terms of price and value. Quality is ultimately defined as the achievement of affordable excellence, taking into account the trade-off between performance (or conformance) and price.

2) Manufacturing-Based Approach

The manufacturing-based approach is supply-based and primarily concerned with engineering and manufacturing practices. In services, quality is driven by operations. It focuses on conformance to internally developed specifications, which companies often drive by productivity and cost-containment goals.

3) Product-Based Approach

The product-based approach sees quality as a precise and measurable variable Differences in quality, it argues, reflect differences in the amount of an ingredient or attribute possessed by the product. Because this view is objective, it fails to account for differences in individual customers’ tastes, needs, and preferences (or even entire market segments).

4) User-Based Approach

The user-based definitions start with the premise that quality is subjective and depends on the individual’s perspective. These definitions equate quality with maximum satisfaction. This subjective, demand-oriented perspective recognises that customers have different wants and needs.

5) Transcendent Approach

The transcendent view of quality is synonymous with innate excellence: an individual of unwavering standards and high achievement. Artists often apply this viewpoint to the performing and visual arts. It argues that people learn to recognise quality only through the accumulation of experience gained from repeated exposure. From a practical standpoint, however, suggesting that managers or customers will recognize quality merely by sight is not particularly beneficial.

Improving Service Quality

Five key/vital factors enable service organisations to improve the quality of performance:

1) Assess the Effectiveness and Influence of Operating Practices

Organisations must first understand employees’ perceptions of improving service quality at various levels. Their support and confidence in the company’s efforts for improvement should be analysed. This helps to identify steps to be taken by the organisation to move forward in its improvement initiatives. The feedback is an invaluable source of information on the general expectations and impetus for changes.

2) Teamwork and Management Support

Management support is vital for any quality initiative. But what is not always evident is the necessity of its continued involvement and support to sustain the efforts. Top management should ensure that continuous improvement and cooperation are ongoing priorities for all employees. The roles and duties of managers must be specified with continuous improvement as a vital target.

Managers in the service industry should play a crucial role in critical practices like defining and refining quality standards, developing and implementing feedback mechanisms, involvement in corrective action teams and coaching. They must be selected, trained, promoted, appraised and rewarded based on their ability to foster continuous improvement. Without such a focus, the enthusiasm and support to improve quality will diminish with time.

3) People Drive Service Quality

Employees are the key ingredients in any long-term quality improvement initiative and they respond positively when given appropriate support and leadership. Long-term improvements in service quality can be achieved by systematically managing the “human side of quality”.

Employees must be trained to achieve optimal performance and develop effective conflict resolution skills, communication skills and teamwork. Employee feedback on issues that impact both continuous improvement and the workplace should be taken. The human element has to be given prime importance to avoid negative consequences.

4) Quality Efforts should Continuously Improve

Service quality will be enhanced when an organisation evolves and matures along with the dynamics of changing needs. Systematic approaches to long-term quality improvements should be scrutinised periodically. Corrective action procedures must be modified and streamlined, feedback mechanisms continually evaluated and improved and quality standards evolved. Without these adjustments, service quality will stagnate, leading to negative consequences.

5) There is no Substitute for Leadership in Service Quality

Managers of service organizations must address several important questions, such as:

  1. Do I practice continuous improvement on an ongoing basis?
  2. Do I motivate my employees to practice the same?
  3. Am I providing leadership in addressing ongoing quality problems?
  4. Am I delivering leadership to improve existing quality improvement processes?
  5. Are the corrective action processes and follow-ups being done efficiently?

Answers to these questions are necessary to represent an organisation’s leadership commitment to long-term continuous improvements.

Maintenance of Service Quality

To assess and evaluate the level to which a service or the company, in general, is meeting customer expectations and conclude about the service quality, the first step in this process is to define a standard against which service performance can be evaluated. The initial step in establishing standards can begin with goal setting.

The various methods are as follows:

  • Customer-Defined Standards
  • Benchmarking
  • Complaints Solicitation and Analysis
  • Lost Customer Analysis
  • Critical Incident Study

1) Customer-Defined Standards

It is necessary to establish standards that meet the customers’ expectations. To establish standards, it is imperative to conduct a survey of existing and potential customers about their expectations.

The measurement of customer expectations is the most significant factor that provides the service provider with the requisite platform on which to base quality standards. Quality standards can be of two types hard type and soft type. For example, a courier company, which has consistently advertised promised overnight delivery within India, would find that customers have a ‘hard’ standard in their midst. 

For example, customers expect that the delivery will be completed by the afternoon and no later than 3 pm the following day. The day and time of delivery adhere to strict standards, leaving no room for flexibility or negotiation. If the delivery is not made within this specified period, customers may consider the service substandard and could potentially request a refund or compensation.

In contrast, the Post and Telegraph Department does not establish any standards for the delivery of ordinary mail. Thus, if there is any standard of service delivery, it could be as unclear as ‘as early as possible’ or at most within a week, etc. The customer’s expectations are flexible and ambiguous. It is a benchmark for service quality excellence.

Dissatisfaction level naturally increases when there is a failure to meet high standards. Conversely, the satisfaction levels are also perceptibly higher if the service delivery meets rigorous standards, as opposed to meeting more lenient standards.

2) Benchmarking

The term “benchmark” has its roots in the practice of land surveyors’ policy of taking measurements of the surrounding land from a local reference or standard. Therefore, when there are no absolute standards for quality measurement or intense competition between various service providers that conform to the industry or competition norms for survival, benchmarking becomes highly desirable.

To thrive in the industry, standards must be established that meet and exceed the benchmarks set by industry leaders and competitors. It is useless to compare ourselves to those who lag or struggle in the industry. Then, we would only deceive ourselves by being competitive. In addition, continuity of the benchmarking process is also essential as quality standards in products and services are dynamic.

3) Complaints Solicitation and Analysis

The customer’s perception of service failure and the company’s perception of service failure may be completely different from each other. Therefore, complaints solicitation and analysis on an ongoing basis will enable the company to understand frequent service failures better.

4) Lost Customer Analysis

A customer who has previously used the service but has already shifted or decided to shift to another service provider instead of the original one is referred to as a lost customer. Thus, customers may be lost either temporarily or permanently. Several factors can contribute to customer attrition, which is given as follows:

  1. The geographic movement away from the service provision location,
  2. Persistent inferior service quality consistently fails to meet the expected level of service,
  3. Poor value proposition,
  4. Inadequate features of the service.

Service providers face dual challenges regarding lost customer analysis:

i) Most customers prefer not to disclose that they plan to leave before discontinuing service. Some may decide to switch suddenly. Such the absence of the customer is not immediately felt, by the time an attempt is made to contact the lost customer, it may be too late to do anything about bringing him back.

ii) The reality and seriousness of the lost customer’s feedback are open to different interpretations. Customers who have discontinued using our service may provide feedback that may not include the main reason for quitting the service in the first place.

Despite these limitations, this technique offers valuable data and insights that shed light on the quality standards and service delivery process, by the intended standards of delivery.

5) Critical Incident Study

The critical incident study technique is employed to improve customer care thoroughly. It offers a relatively straightforward and cost-effective implementation approach. A critical incident is a defining, special, problematic unpleasant, or even delicate incident, which affects the customer’s perception of the quality of a service. A major advantage of this technology is that it allows both customers and service providers to understand something concrete.

It enables customers to better understand and evaluate the quality of service they receive, by providing a concrete representation of the service. In an otherwise ordinary service delivery scenario, critical incidents serve as the defining moments that contain both the high and low points of service delivery straddled by essential happenings. A critical incident may be the final trigger that crystallises the customer’s perception of service.

Service providers may actively encourage customers to provide details of critical events. For example,  many hotels offer additional space in their routine feedback or guest satisfaction forms and urge customers to report noteworthy incidents. 

The critical incident study can also provide insights and guidance for subsequent actions:

i) Recovery: It is the process through which any omission or impropriety that may have occurred the first time can be rectified in the second attempt, thereby ultimately regaining the trust of the customers.

ii) Reconciliation with the Customers: Several times, customers remain annoyed despite being offered recovery services. In such instances, it may be essential to provide some conciliatory offering as compensation for the hardship suffered by the customer as a result of the critical incident. This may include a discount offer, for a free repeat service, membership in a loyalty programme, or even financial compensation.

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