Gap 5 & Roswell

by Chris Arlen on October 29, 2008

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RoswellsmallThe secret hidden in Roswell’s hangar is not an alien body or spaceship. It’s Gap 5.

Gap 5 is the reason services fail. The bigger the gap, the harder to satisfy customers (aka end-users). And for service providers, shrinking Gap 5 means fewer stomach ulcers.

Gap 5 is the difference between customers’ service expectations and their perceptions. As you can guess, there are four other gaps before Gap 5. But they only contribute to Gap 5. Gap 5 is the big enchilada. It’s why customers complain over and over again, and why they don’t do it very nicely.

Why is Gap 5 in Roswell?

Because it’s a secret. Customers don’t tell providers what they expect or how they’ll perceive service. Not explicitly. Not in ways providers can work with. Also, customers aren’t being asked, or providers don’t know how to ask.

Specifications aren’t in Roswell

Don’t get fooled into thinking specifications tell providers what customers expect. Specs only tell the “what”, and sometimes the “where” and “when”. Rarely, if ever, do specs spell out the “how”, “who”, or “why” services should be performed.

When a specific task hasn’t been performed, customers call you up and rave that “you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to be doing”. However, you can bet the large majority of flame-mails are much more subtle. This is Gap 5 in the flesh, in action.ServQual

KPIs aren’t in Roswell

Key Performance Indicators are like odometers and speedometers. They show customers how far or fast service has been performing. However, they don’t state what customers are looking for, especially before service is performed.

The Importance of Gap 5

That brings us to Gap 5. It was published back in the mid 1980s in Delivering Quality Service” by Valerie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman and Leonard Berry. It’s the core of their ServQual model for assessing service quality. And although ServQual isn’t perfect, its Gap 5 provides a spotlight on customers’ satisfaction, before the ranting begins.

Gap 5 Exposed: EXPECTATIONS

Gap 5 in the ServQual model shows customers’ expectations are driven from four places:

  • Customers’ personal needs
  • Customers’ past experiences
  • Word of mouth
  • Marketing communications from providers

KEY TAKEAWAY: Only one of these factors is controlled by the service provider, marketing communications. The majority of customers’ information is outside providers’ direct control.

This means providers must deliver lots of value to customers, resolve issues quickly and to customers’ satisfaction, and treat everyone as if they’re customers for life. Because they are.

Gap 5 Exposed: PERCEPTIONS

Customers’ service is driven by two areas:

  • Delivery of Service
  • External Communications to Customers

KEY TAKEAWAY: Although providers believe they’re in control of delivery and marketing, they’re not entirely. Perception is everything.

Providers deliver service and believe customers have seen it. Not always the case. Services by nature are invisible. Customers can’t and don’t see everything providers do for them. Think about the day porter or guard helping an elderly visitor through the revolving doors into the building.

Service providers must tangibilize services. That’s what KPIs and Business Review Meetings help to do. But providers must also seek ways of making their services more visible in ways that customers allow and appreciate. For example, a leave behind note on customers’ desks when a special service has been done (washing a coffee cup?). Not always an easy task when customers want their outsourced services to be seen as in-house by their customers.

The Roswell Conclusion

Service providers need to take actions to shrink Gap 5, or suffer customer anger and dissatisfaction as the consequence. They must define customers’ expectations in ways the service provider can fully understand. Ideally, during the transition before the start of service. And in doing so, they’ll help make customers’ aware of their own expectations.

Also, providers must make their service delivery as visible and tangible as possible, within the realms of customers’ approval. Then they must communicate their performance regularly (KPIs and Business Review Meetings).

How do you determine customers’ expectations?

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