What is SERVQUAL? RATER Framework, Five Service Quality Dimensions

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What is SERVQUAL?


SERVQUAL is a widely used framework for measuring and assessing service quality in various industries, including healthcare, hospitality, retail, and more. It was developed by A. Parasuraman, Valarie Zeithaml, and Leonard Berry in the late 1980s. The name SERVQUAL is derived from “SERVice QUALity.”

SERVQUAL is based on the premise that service quality can be assessed by comparing customers’ expectations (what they believe a service should provide) with their perceptions (what they believe the service actually provides).

The quality of services provided by service organisations to their customers can be measured by a frequently used framework called SERVQUAL. This framework was introduced by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry in the 1980s.

RATER Framework

SERVQUAL is a diagnostic tool that uncovers a service organisation’s weaknesses and strengths in the area of service quality. The SERVQUAL instrument is based on five service quality dimensions obtained through extensive focus group interviews with consumers. The five dimensions – together known as the RATER framework – form the basic skeleton of service quality.

Reliability

A service is said to be reliable if it meets the expectations of customers consistently. A service organisation can provide reliable services if it tests the services for consistency before they are launched. Services should be monitored closely after their launch and the management should take immediate steps if any unexpected service failures are observed. In addition, the organisation should have a suitable infrastructure in place for error-free services.

For example, if Domino’s Pizza fails to deliver pizzas to customers within 30minutes, as promised bythe company, it would be a case of unreliable service delivery. Similarly, IndiGo Airlines, a domestic and international Indian airline, offers reliability to its customers by being on time and providing affordable, on-time and hassle-free operations excluding exceptional cases.

Assurance

Service personnel should have a thorough knowledge of the service they are providing to customers. For example, sales executives selling mutual funds should have complete information regarding the expected returns and the tax implications of the investment they are offering.

They should be able to provide useful and timely advice to customers. Their knowledge and confidence should also assure customers that the company’s service is dependable and trustworthy.

Thus, assurance specifies the knowledge and friendliness of employees and how they convey competence, courtesy, credibility and security to customers. For example, 1,423 cities covered by Maruti Suzuki service centres assure a hassle-free service anywhere in India.

Tangibles

While the nature of services is intangible, there are certain tangible aspects of services that customers can measure. For example, customers may assess a service by the equipment used to provide the service, the premises within which the service is offered and the employees who provide the service.

Therefore, service providers need to ensure a pleasant ambience and appro-priate infrastructure for customers. Moreover, employees should be polite and humble while dealing with customers, which not only make a positive impression on existing customers, but also on prospective and first-time customers.

For example, Barista Lavazza, a coffee cafe chain and restaurant, manages its tangibles by maintaining a clean and hygienic floor, having an attractive decor, premium quality cutlery, soothing music, comfortable seating arrangements and friendly staff.

Empathy

The service personnel of an organisation should be accessible and open to communication. They should empathise with customers who report problems and work quickly to resolve them.

For example, when a customer calls up a bank complaining that he has a problem with the balance amount and needs to get it resolved immediately, the customer care executive on the phone should understand the problem, ask relevant questions and assure the customer of immediate action.

He/she should also ensure that the problem is resolved at the earliest. Service personnel should consider customer complaints as an opportunity to interact with the customers, understand their needs and improve the service offering. Empathy includes criteria like access, communication and knowing customers.

For example, Jabong.com, an Indian fashion and lifestyle e-commerce portal, has a well-structured 24/7 customer care department that customers can contact regarding their order status or if they have any queries related to a product, lodge a complaint or provide feedback to the company. Today, in terms of customer satisfaction, Jabong is among top three e-commerce companies in India.

Responsiveness

Service personnel should be prompt in attending customers and serving them as per their requirements. Customers should perceive them as enthusiastic and responsive while serving them. The personnel should be especially attentive during problem situations where the customer has complaints with the service.

Employees should be empowered by the management to do all that they can to help a customer in trouble. Employees who work with commitment and customer orientation should be rewarded to encourage similar behaviour among all employees.

The claim that a service personnel of LG will attend to a complaint within 24 hours of the complaint lodged by a customer is a good example of responsiveness of the LG customer care department.

The SERVQUAL instrument consists of two sections, which are:

  • A 22-item section that records customers’ expectations of excellent organisations in the specific service industry.

  • Another 22-item section that measures consumer perceptions of a particular organisation in that service industry.

Results from the two sections are then compared, to arrive at “gap scores” for each of the five dimensions. The larger the gap, the farther consumer perceptions are from expectations, and the lower the service quality evaluation. The smaller is the gap, the higher is the service quality evaluation.

Customer expectations are measured on a 7-point scale with anchor labels ranging from ‘not at all essential’ to ‘absolutely essential.’ Similarly, customer perceptions are measured on another 7-point scale with anchor labels ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree.’

Five Service Quality Dimensions

Hence, SERVQUAL is a 44-item scale that measures customer expectations and perceptions based on five service quality dimensions, which are discussed as follows:

Reliability Dimension

Reliability reflects the consistency and dependability of an organisation’s performance. Does the firm provide the same level of service time after time, or does quality dramatically vary with each encounter?

Does the organisation keep its promises, bill its customers accurately, keep accurate records, and perform a service correctly the first time? Nothing can be more frustrating for customers than unreliable service providers.

A constantly amazing observation is the number of businesses that fail to keep their promises. In many instances, the customer is ready to spend money if only the service provider would show up and conduct the transaction as promised. Consumers perceive the reliability dimension to be the most important of the five SERVQUAL dimensions. Consequently, failure to provide reliable service generally translates into an unsuccessful organisation.

The questions used to assess the reliability gap are as follows:

  • Reliability expectations

    • When excellent companies promise to do something by a certain time, they will do so.

    • When customers have an issue, excellent companies will show a sincere interest in resolving it.

    • Excellent companies will perform the service right the first time

    • Excellent companies will provide their service at the time they promise to do so.

    • Excellent companies will insist on error-free records.

  • Reliability perceptions

    • When XYZpromises to do something by a certain time, it does so.

    • When you have a problem, XYZshows a sincere interest in solving it.

    • XYZperforms the service right from the first time.

    • XYZprovides its services at the time it promises to do so.

    • XYZinsists on error-free records.

Assurance Dimension

Assurance reflects the competence of the organisation, the courtesy it extends to its customers and the security of its operations. Competence pertains to the organisation’s knowledge and skill in performing a service.

Courtesy reflects whether personnel exhibit politeness, friendliness and consideration while dealing with customers. Security reflects a customer’s feeling that he or she is free from danger, risk and doubt.

The SERVQUAL items utilised to address the assurance gap are as follows:

  • Assurance expectations

    • The behaviour of employees of excellent organisations will instil confidence in customers.

    • Customers of excellent organisations will feel safe in their transactions.

    • Employees ofexcellent organisations will be consistently courteous with customers.

    • Employees of excellent organisations will have knowledge to answer customer questions.

  • Assurance perceptions

    • The behaviour of employees of XYZinstils confidence in customers.

    • Customers feel safe in transactions with XYZ.

    • Employees of XYZare consistently courteous with customers.

    • Employees of XYZhave knowledge to answer customer questions.

Tangibles Dimension

Due to the absence of a physical product, consumers often rely on the tangible evidence that surrounds a service to evaluate it. The tangibles dimensions of SERVQUAL compare consumers’ expectations and the organisation’s performance regarding the organisation’s ability to manage its tangibles.

A firm’s tangibles consist of a wide variety of objects, such as carpeting, desks, lighting, wall colours, brochures, daily correspondence and the appearance of the organisation’s personnel. Consequently, the tangible component in SERVQUAL is two dimensional – one focusing on equipment and facilities, the other focusing on personnel and communicational material.

The tangible components of SERVQUAL are obtained through four expectation questions (E10-E13) and four perception questions (P10-P13). Comparing the perception scores to the expectation scores provides a numerical variable that indicates the tangibles gap. The smaller the number, the smaller the gap, and the closer consumer perceptions are to their expectations.

The questions that pertain to the tangibles are as follows:

  • Tangibles expectations

    • Excellent organisations will have modern equipment

    • Employees of excellent organisations will be neat in appearance.

    • Materials associated with the service (such as pamphlets or statements) will be visually appealing in an excellent organisation.

  • Tangibles perceptions

    • XYZhas modern equipment.

    • XYZ’s physical facilities are visually appealing

    • XYZ’s employees are neat in appearance.

    • Materials associated with the service (such as pamphlets or statements) are visually appealing at XYZ.

Empathy Dimension

Empathy is the ability to experience another’s feeling as one’s own. Empathetic organisations have not lost touch with what it is like to be a customer of their own organisation. As such, empathetic organisations understand their customers’ needs and make their services accessible to their customers.

In contrast, organisations that do not provide their customers individualised attention when requested and those that offer operating hours convenient to the organisation and not its customers, fail to demonstrate empathetic behaviours.

  • Empathy expectations

    • Excellent organisations will give customers individual attention.

    • Excellent organisations will have operating hours convenient to all their customers.

    • The employees ofexcellent organisations give customers personal attention.

    • Excellent organisations will have the customer’s best interest at heart.

    • The employees of excellent organisations will understand the specific needs of their customers.

  • Empathy perceptions

    • XYZgives you individual attention.

    • XYZ has operating hours convenient to all its customers.

    • XYZ employees givepersonal attention to all its customers.

    • XYZ has customer’s best interests at heart.

    • Employees of XYZ understand customer’sspecific needs.

Responsiveness Dimension

Responsiveness reflects a service organisation’s commitment to provide its services in a timely manner. As such, the responsiveness dimension of SERVQUAL is concerned with the willingness and/or readiness of employees to provide a service.

Occasionally, customers may encounter a situation in which employees are engaged in their own conversations with one another while ignoring the needs of the customers. Obviously, this is an example of unresponsiveness.

Responsiveness also reflects the preparedness ofan organisation to provide a service. Typically, new restaurants do not advertise their ‘opening night’, so that the service delivery system can be fine-tuned and prepared to handle larger crowds, thereby minimising service failures and subsequent customer complaints.

The SERVQUAL expectation and perception items that address the responsiveness gap are as follows:

  • Responsiveness expectations

    • Employees of excellent organisations will tell customers exactly when services will be performed.

    • . Employees of excellent organisations will give prompt service to customers.

    • Employees of excellent organisations will always be willing to help customers.

    • Employees of excellent organisations will never be too busy to respond to customer requests.

  • Responsiveness perceptions

    • Employees of XYZ tell the customers when services will be performed exactly.

    • Employees of XYZgive a prompt service to customers.

    • Employees of XYZare always willing to help customers.

    • Employees of XYZ are never too busy to respond to customer requests.

To summarise, SERVQUAL is a framework that measures the service quality provided by a service organisation to its customers. SERVQUAL measures customer expectations and perceptions regarding five service quality dimensions, which are reliability, assurance, tangible, empathy and responsiveness.

These five dimensions are together known as the RATER framework and design the basic structure for maintaining high service quality.

Article Source
  • Fitzsimmons, J., Bordoloi, S., & Fitzsimmons, M. (2014). Service Management Operations, Strategy, and Information Technology (7th ed.). New Delhi: Mc Graw Hill Education (India) Private Limited.


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