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
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.
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 You’re 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?
President, Service Performance
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