Assume that you go to buy a computer. What is it that you look for? You took for tangible features like the memory, drive, expandability, software compatibility and may be other less important features like the monitor and the key board and certainly brand or vendor credibility. Over and above all this, you look for service support in the form of training and after sales service, which will help you to ensure zero down time. Now, you know that you can get all tangible features from any computer company. But are all suppliers the same service support? Your own experience or the experience of your peers will help shape your expectations and image of different suppliers-both the known ones like HCL, IBM etc. and the clones. If the performance of the product both the tangible and intangible aspects of it live up to your expectations, you will be satisfied and recommend it to your friends and peers. Thus, to begin with, customer satisfaction is a function of customer expectation from the firm and the actual performance by the firm. Expectations shape customer perception of product / firm’s performance. Thus,
Customer Satisfaction = Actual Performance by the firm / Customer Expectations
Another way to examine this is that when positive perceptions are not confirmed by the actual performance of the firm, a gap occurs, and this has been called the service quality gap.
As we mentioned above, customer perceptions of the firm and its offer are shaped by:
1.Word of mouth publicity—like recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors and peer group at work place.
2.Personal experience on the part of the customer.
3.Personal needs of individual customers.
4.External communications like the publicity of the firm in the media and its advertisement and other corporate communications.
A research study showed that customers assessed the service of a firm on the following five terms:
1.Tangibles, i.e. the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication material.
2.Reliability, i.e. the ability to perform the desired service dependably and accurately.
3.Responsiveness, i.e. the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
4.Assurance as measured by competence of the firm to deliver promised service, courtesy extended to customer, firm’s credibility(i.e. trustworthiness, believability and honesty of the service provider) and extent to which the customer feels secured.
5.Empathy—the caring, and individualized attention that the firm provides to its customers.
Research showed that Indian customers perceived reliability, assurance, tangibility, responsiveness and empathy—in that order—as determining the service quality of a firm. This is different from study made for other customers (of another country) showed that reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy were rated higher by customers than the tangible dimension of service. Perhaps the reason is that in India firms have yet to incorporate state-of-the-art technology in their products and services. They will have a long way to go in terms of improving their atmospherics and communications. Hence the customer believes that a service company should show higher priority in upgrading its facilities, equipment and communications. Once all firms are at par on this dimension, may be the Indian customer, too will be like his or her Western counterpart placing least weight age on the tangible factor.
One thing that stands out is that delivering service quality is a combination of people and technology strategy. The latter affects all factors of organization and service delivery points which can help the firm achieve 100% customer satisfaction.How to measure service quality?
The customers are going by the after sales service the firms are providing particularly in case of white goods and high price products before making a purchase decision. This is becoming an important criterion for the sale of goods and the firms are gearing up to satisfy the customers and potential buyers on this count by organizing an efficient network.
In order to measure service quality, one has to assess customer expectations and what his or her actual experience has been with the service provided by the firms on the five dimensions of service we spelled out earlier. The gap between the two will tell us whether the service quality is high or low on each of these variables. Equally important to access the service provider’s perception of the service quality they deliver to the customer. And what they think are the organizational factors that facilitate or hinder their ability to deliver service quality. Often one may find a gap between customers’ expected level of service and service providers’ perception of it. It is these gaps that need to be closed through appropriate organizational interventions in technology, systems, policies, human resources development and marketing.
We are giving here a methodology to measure customer perception about the service quality.In measuring customers’ perception, one may ask the customer to first rank the five dimensions of service quality in their order of importance to him or her. Subsequently, he or she may be asked the attributes that he or she expects in an ideal or the excellent similar product firm. This gives us customer perceptions. Then he or she may be asked to rank the firm’s service quality on the basis of his or her actual experience, on the basis what he or she thinks or on the basis of others experience and corporate communications. This gives us customer expectations from the firm or the perception of actual service delivered by the firm, Now, one can create a SERVQUAL score on each variable or the firm as a whole as given below.
The SERVQUAL= (Perception of an ideal company as measured by the rating given by the customer on the ten point scale for each variable)—(Expectation or actual service provided by the firm as measured by the rating given by the customer on the ten point scale for each variable in the firm)
After calculating this SERVQUAL score for the customer, one can calculate it through the same method for the service providers. By subtracting the customer’s average SERVQUAL score from that of the service provider’s one can determine the SERVQUAL gap for each variable or for the firm as a whole.
While assessing perceptions of the quality of service they think they deliver, it is important to study all employees across the organizational hierarchy. That is the study should measures these perceptions from the contact personnel like sales and service to the top management. Even an analysis of responses at different levels in the organization can lead to strategic options to help close the gap and also ensure a shared vision and values.
Here is an example of how even large firms loose business and customers if the service quality is poor. A lady has purchased a newly launched washing machine from a reputed white goods manufacturer titled GD. The machine started giving operating problems though they were minor in nature. A call was made to the dealer because there was no direct accessibility of company’s network. The machine was not attended even after a week. This has happened a few times. The dealer has expressed his helplessness mentioning that he has informed the firm. Firm’s sales person was non committal as to when the problem will be rectified saying it is the after sales service department’s job. The lady had to sell the machine to a second hand dealer disgusted with the service and interruption in her daily washing and gone for another brand. After that she kept telling her big circle of relatives and friends about the poor service of GD and also advised them not to purchase any white goods from the manufacturer. Poor service quality led to losing business though the washing machine had several latest features. In addition even other products of the firm also got affected by negative word of mouth communication from the lady.