The 5 Service Dimensions All Customers Care About

by Chris Arlen on October 24, 2008

Print Friendly and PDF

Service providers want to know what customers (internal or external) care about. Service quality is a good guess. Price, and to a minor degree product quality, also count.

But for service providers, customers care most about service quality. Check the research. Statistically valid research. Of course, providers can always ask customers. But lacking the money, time and skills, why not look to the leading research for that understanding?

That would be “Delivering Quality Service “, by Valerie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman and Leonard Berry.

Even though service quality research has progressed since 1990 when first published, this book is still the fountainhead. I referred to it in Gap 5 & Roswell, and I’m using it here again.

The 5 Dimensions Defined

After extensive research, Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry found five dimensions customers use when evaluating service quality. They named their survey instrument SERVQUAL.

In other words, if providers get these dimensions right, customers will hand over the keys to their loyalty. Because they’ll have received service excellence. According to what’s important to them.

The five SERVQUAL dimensions are:

  • TANGIBLES-Appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials
  • RELIABILITY-Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately
  • RESPONSIVENESS-Willingness to help customers and provide prompt service
  • ASSURANCE-Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence
  • EMPATHY-Caring, individualized attention the firm provides its customers

Not All Dimensions Are Equal

All dimensions are important to customers, but some more than others.

Service providers need to know which are which to avoid majoring in minors. At the same time they can’t focus on only one dimension and let the others suffer.

SERVQUAL research showed dimensions’ importance to each other by asking customers to assign 100 points across all five dimensions.

Here’s their importance to customers.

The 5 Service Dimensions Customers Care About

The 5 Service Dimensions relative to each other

What’s this mean for service providers?


#1 Just Do It

RELIABILITY: Do what you say you’re going to do when you said you were going to do it.

Customers want to count on their providers. They value that reliability. Don’t providers yearn to find out what customers value? This is it.It’s three times more important to be reliable than have shiny new equipment or flashy uniforms.

Doesn’t mean you can have ragged uniforms and only be reliable. Service providers have to do both. But providers first and best efforts are better spent making service reliable.

Whether it’s periodics on schedule, on-site response within Service Level Agreements (SLAs), or Work Orders completed on time.


#2 Do It Now

RESPONSIVENESS: Respond quickly, promptly, rapidly, immediately, instantly.

Waiting a day to return a call or email doesn’t make it. Even if customers are chronically slow in getting back to providers, responsiveness is more than 1/5th of their service quality assessment.

Service providers benefit by establishing internal SLAs for things like returning phone calls, emails and responding on-site. Whether it’s 30 minutes, 4 hours, or 24 hours, it’s important customers feel providers are responsive to their requests. Not just emergencies, but everyday responses too.

REPORTING RESPONSIVENESS

Call centers typically track caller wait times. Service providers can track response times. And their attainment of SLAs or other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of responsiveness. This is great performance data to present to customers in Departmental Performance Reviews.


#3 Know What Your Doing

ASSURANCE: Service providers are expected to be the experts of the service they’re delivering. It’s a given.

SERVQUAL research showed it’s important to communicate that expertise to customers. If a service provider is highly skilled, but customers don’t see that, their confidence in that provider will be lower. And their assessment of that provider’s service quality will be lower.

RAISE CUSTOMER AWARENESS OF YOUR COMPETENCIES

Service providers must communicate their expertise and competencies – before they do the work. This can be done in many ways that are repeatedly seen by customers, such as:

  • Display industry certifications on patches, badges or buttons worn by employees
  • Include certification logos on emails, letters & reports
  • Put certifications into posters, newsletters & handouts

By communicating competencies, providers can help manage customer expectations. And influence their service quality assessment in advance.


#4 Care about Customers as much as the Service

EMPATHY: Services can be performed completely to specifications. Yet customers may not feel provider employees care about them during delivery. And this hurts customers’ assessments of providers’ service quality.

For example, a day porter efficiently cleans up a spill in a lobby. However, during the clean up doesn’t smile, make eye contact, or ask the customer if there is anything else they could do for them. In this hypothetical the provider’s service was performed fully. But the customer didn’t feel the provider employee cared. And it’s not necessarily the employees fault. They may not know how they’re being judged. They may be overwhelmed, inadequately trained, or disinterested.

SERVICE DELIVERY MATTERS

Providers’ service delivery can be as important as how it was done. Provider employees should be trained how to interact with customers and their end-users. Even a brief session during initial orientation helps. Anything to help them understand their impact on customers’ assessment of service quality.


#5 Look Sharp

TANGIBLES: Even though this is the least important dimension, appearance matters. Just not as much as the other dimensions.

Service providers will still want to make certain their employees appearance, uniforms, equipment, and work areas on-site (closets, service offices, etc.) look good. The danger is for providers to make everything look sharp, and then fall short on RELIABILITY or RESPONSIVENESS.


At the End of the Day

Customers’ assessments include expectations and perceptions across all five SERVQUAL dimensions. Service providers need to work on all five, but emphasize them in order of importance. If sacrifices must be made, use these dimensions as a guide for which ones to rework.

Also, providers can use SERVQUAL dimensions in determining specific customer and site needs. By asking questions around these dimensions, providers can learn how they play out at a particular location/bid opportunity. What dimensions are you in?

Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Permission to reprint or distribute: email [email protected]

If you enjoyed this article, get email updates (it's free).


(We respect your privacy.)

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Rugumayo December 28, 2012 at 12:42 am

thanks i liked the article on dimensions of service quality,i need more information on quqlity of service easpecially in the mobile telecom sector mand the strategies organisations can design to improve it.

Thilak December 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Nice explanations

Siddartha Pathak January 15, 2013 at 2:15 am

Article is really good and worthy to read

IftikharAhmad February 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

Good article, very nice explanations

lwera joshua March 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

good research

lwera joshua March 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

how can i impart my workers with these service quality dimensions

Chris Arlen March 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

Changing behaviors is always the challenge. Typically this is done through training, awareness, recognition and incentive programs. Many different approaches, and all service companies struggle with this, even the successful ones.

waji May 23, 2013 at 10:05 am

please can you briefly explain the critique of using SERVQUAL

MUSA BAHATI June 5, 2013 at 2:05 am

Thanks for your article, i like it! would you mind if these dimensions could be explained in context of a firm that provides business in bank, to carpenter or hotels in details?

Chris Arlen June 5, 2013 at 8:11 am

Waji,

As with any model, there are shortcomings.
Here are a few I’ve come across for ServQual:

  • Doesn’t include price in its overall assessment
  • Is time consuming and very in depth for researcher (surveys & analysis)
  • Can seem repetitive for participants as they’re asked both what are their expectations – then their perceptions

    Let me know if you come up with anymore.
    Regards,
    Chris Arlen

    Chris Arlen June 5, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Musa,

    The research was done over multiple service industries. The ServQual model works across them all.

    Good luck,
    Chris Arlen

    festus December 16, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Thank you my assignment is done

    Charles Watiki April 10, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Babakus and Boller (1992) argued that the most critical dimension is dependent on the industry in which service quality is being measured. Is that true?

    eddy April 26, 2014 at 7:09 am

    well explained thanks

    GOODLUCK MIKE AILARAOJE May 6, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Great article. Concise.

    george May 14, 2014 at 4:17 am

    do all dimensions depends to each other?

    walterson June 11, 2014 at 2:50 am

    good one keep it up

    Leave a Comment

    { 1 trackback }

    Previous post:

    Next post: