Service Quality (Literature Review)
Service Quality (Literature Review)
In service industries, customer satisfaction is always influenced by the quality of interactions between customers and the personnel involved in the contact services (1994). In the last decade, the movement towards quality had started to spread from the manufacturing sector to the service sector. The shift of focus to quality is basic for the service business to survive the competition, get acceptance from society, and be able to achieve its missions.
In principle, the two main things closely related to services are expected quality and experienced or perceived quality. The first is the customers' expectations of service quality and the latter is the customers' perceptions of service quality. The customers will always assess the services they experienced by comparing them with whatever they expected or wished to receive.
Services are behavioral rather than physical entities and have been described as deeds, performances or effort (1966); deeds, acts or performances, (1980); activities or processes ( 1991). (1988) defined services as "that broad class of products characterized by intangibility, inseparability of production and consumption, difficulty of standardization and perishability".
As (1986) notes, there is fairly widespread agreement in the literature concerning the characteristics which tend to differentiate services from goods. These are intangibility, perishability, inseparability of production and consumption, and heterogeneity.
Intangibility refers to a lack of physical properties and the inability to touch, feel, store, readily display, or easily communicate services ( 1988; 1983). Heterogeneity refers to variability, inconsistent behavior and a lack of uniform quality in service delivery (1981). (1988) noted that "since most services are people-based, a major problem in the service sector is variation in the quality and content of services delivered by different employees, and by the same employee at different times" () and "what the firm intends to deliver may be entirely different from what the consumer receives" (1985). Inseparability of production and consumption refers to the fact that the consumer not only uses the services, but participates in various ways with the production of the service. There is a required interaction between the customer and service provider ( 1980), which in the case of some services may be "critical to the quality of service performance" (1985). Perishability refers to the inability to inventory services ( 1988).
(1997) states that the abstract nature of services causes problems for both providers and consumers. It is difficult for service providers to differentiate their offerings from those of competitors, while it is equally difficult for consumers to evaluate a service before it is acquired and consumed. In addition, unlike physical goods, services are ephemeral, to the extent that they can be consumed only as long as the activity or process continues. When the activity or process discontinues, the service ceases to exist. Moreover, services are also consumed at the same time as they are produced, but there is no transfer of ownership.
However, the consumer is an integral part of the service process. Because of the human interaction and labor intensity involved in the delivery of most services, they are heterogeneous, as each service act is unique. This leads to a lack of standardization, which means that service quality can vary considerably from one situation to the next within the same organization (1985). Clearly, these characteristics have implications for the delivery of service quality.
One distinctive aspect of services is that consumers are often part of the production and delivery processes. In many services, the consumer is required to contribute information and/or effort before the service transaction takes place (1990). The consumer's input constitutes the raw material that is transformed by the service organization's employees into a service product. Consequently, the consumer contributes directly to the quality of service delivered, and to his/her own satisfaction or dissatisfaction (1983). If the inputs provided by the consumer are inadequate and/or inappropriate, this may well lead to service problems and failures.
In terms of how consumers actually evaluate service quality, (1985) conclude that consumer perceptions of service quality result from comparing expectations prior to receiving the service and their actual experience of the service. Not surprisingly, if the consumer's expectations are met, service quality is perceived to be satisfactory; if they are not met, it is perceived to be less than satisfactory; and if they are exceeded, it is perceived to be more than satisfactory (delighting the customer).
Service quality can be broken down into two subcomponents, namely technical quality and functional quality. Technical quality relates to what is provided during the service process (knowledge, tangibles, technical solutions, etc.). Functional quality, on the other hand, refers to how the service is provided, the interpersonal behaviors contributed by service employees during the service encounters (1982).
Recognizing the role of the consumer in the service delivery process, (1990) add two further components to this service quality framework. These are customer technical quality and customer functional quality. The former refers to what the consumer contributes to the service encounter, while the latter refers to how the consumer behaves during the service performance such as being friendly, respectful, co-operative behaviors would be relevant in this regard, as would aggressive, abusive, disrespectful ones.
According to (1982), service quality is generally viewed as the output of the service delivery system, especially in the case of pure service systems. Moreover, service quality is linked to consumer satisfaction. Although there is no consensus in the research community about the direction of causality relating quality and satisfaction, the common assumption is that service quality leads to satisfied customers (1994; 1990, 1989).
For example, customers leaving a restaurant or hotel are asked if they were satisfied with the service they received. If they answer "no," we tend to assume service was poor. Direct service providers, such as waitresses, also note that at times the best service efforts are criticized because the customer's perceptions of the service are clouded by being in a bad mood or having a disagreement with someone just before arriving at the restaurant. These service providers recognize that in practice the influence of service quality on customer satisfaction is affected by other factors, one of which is the customers themselves.
In addition, (1989) and (1983) defined both service quality and customer satisfaction as matching the expectation of the service with that which is actually experienced by the customer. Therefore, when customers' experiences meet or exceed their expectations, the service is viewed as a quality service and the recipients are typically satisfied customers. On the other hand, when the service experienced by consumers is less than their expectations, the perception of service quality is diminished and customers are generally not satisfied.
However, (1996b) in their book Services Marketing stated that the concept of service quality is different from the concept of customer satisfaction. According to, service quality is only one of the variables determining customer satisfaction. Besides service quality, there are other variables affecting the level of customer satisfaction, namely: price, situation, and personal factors.
Service quality refers to customers' appraisals of the service core, the provider, or the entire service organization. According to and (1985), perceived quality is a global judgment relating to the superiority of a product. However, defining service quality as a measure of excellence in terms of perceptions is not sufficient according to (1988). He states that "it is obvious that understanding customer expectations and meeting customer needs is the single most critical issue and determinant of service quality" ( 1988).
(1988) agree that expectations are important but add that it is actually the difference between perceptions of a service and expectations for that service which should be used as the measure of service quality. This line of reasoning follows the disconfirmation of expectation paradigm proposed by (1980). (1988) developed the SERVQUAL instrument to measure perceived service quality in terms of the gaps between customer expectations and actual judgment of performance.
According to the model of customers' satisfaction quality service is the focus of assessments reflecting the customers' perceptions on the five specific dimensions of services, namely: 1) empathy, 2) reliability, 3) responsiveness, 4) tangibility, and 5) assurance.
1) Tangibility - physical facilities, equipment, and appearance of employees.
2) Reliability - ability to perform the required service dependably and accurately.
3) Responsiveness - willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
4) Assurance - knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.
5) Empathy - caring and individual attention provided by the staff.
On the other hand, the concept of satisfaction is more inclusive than the concept of quality service. Customer satisfaction is influenced by five variables, namely: 1) service quality, 2) product quality, 3) price, 4) situation, and 5) personality.
There are criticisms of the SERVQUAL instrument that have centered on its use of expectations and on its dimensions. They are outlined and countered in (1994). It should be noted that even critics of SERVQUAL acknowledge the scale is "currently the most popular measure of service quality" (1993).
Customer satisfaction refers to either a discrete, time-limited event or the entire time the service is experienced. Service-encounter satisfaction is how much a customer likes or dislikes an actual service encounter. Overall service satisfaction is the customer's feeling of satisfaction/dissatisfaction based on all the customer's experiences with the service organization. (1994) found the two satisfaction constructs differed from each other and from service quality.
There has been considerable debate in the literature (1992, 1994; 1994; 1993, 1994) with regards to how to best conceptualize and operationalize the service quality construct, and about the relationship between, and the relative importance of, the key variables that relate to it.
It is most important to have some understanding of consumer expectations, how such expectations develop, and their significance in relation to service quality. As what (1990) states that "Knowing what customers expect is the first, and possibly most critical, step in delivering service quality." However, (1994) points out that expectations have been variously defined as desires; wants; normative expectations; ideal standards; what the service provider should offer; and a pair of normative standards comprising what the consumer hopes to receive and adequate service.
Moreover, these expectations are likely to be based, in total or in part, on past relevant experiences, including those gathered vicariously (1989). (1990) identify some specific factors which can influence the consumer's expectations. These are: word of mouth communications (what consumers hear from other consumers); personal needs (determined by individual characteristics and circumstances); past experience of a service (or a related service); external communications from the service provider (for example, printed advertisements, television commercials, brochures, and oral promises from service provider employees); and price.
(1990) also identify some factors which can influence the consumer's perception of service performance. These include tangibles; the perceived competence and credibility of service providers, and their responsiveness, reliability, and courtesy. These writers offer the following advice to service providers based on their own research findings: "appear neat and organized, be responsive, be reassuring, be empathetic, and most of all, be reliable - do what you say you are going to do" (1990).
Another important variable with regard to perceived service quality is disconfirmation, that is, the disparity between a consumer's expectations and perceived service performance, referred to as disconfirmation. However, as (1993) highlights, there is some dispute in the literature as to whether the disconfirmed expectations variable is a predictor of perceived service quality, or whether it is a predictor of consumer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. This to some extent results from an unresolved issue in the literature concerning the nature of the relationship between service quality, and consumer satisfaction.
(1994) for example, take the view that perceived service quality leads to consumer satisfaction, while others such as (1988) have concluded that consumer satisfaction leads to perceived service quality. One attempt at resolving this issue is made by (1990). She suggests that the consumer's satisfaction assessments relate to specific service transactions, while service quality is a general attitude relating to the service provider's overall excellence or superiority. Thus perceived service quality could be the product of the evaluations of a number of service encounters.
The most prominent researchers in the service quality field are during the late 1980s, primarily in which since then, their conceptualization of service quality, as already intimated, has come under increasing challenge in the literature particularly with regard to the measurement of expectations. For instance, (1990) has questioned the validity of measuring the expectations of consumers who have no prior experience of a service, and also the validity of measuring expectations contemporaneously with perceptions.
In addition, (1994) challenge the validity of measuring expectations at all, arguing that an unweighted performance-based measure of service quality is more valid than the P-E approach. Further, challenge the view, initially insinuated that consumers use the same evaluative criteria in assessing service quality which is irrespective of the nature of the service being provided.suggest that the criteria used to define quality in one service sector, may be different in another.
Unfortunately for service providers, these issues largely remain unresolved in the literature. There is agreement though, on the need for further research. It should be added, that the P-E conceptualization proposed by and SERVQUAL, the instrument they have developed to measure service quality, probably remains the most widely used in practice.