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Parasuraman et al. (1988) defined perceived quality as “global judgement, or attitude, relating to the superiority of the service” (p.16). Hence service quality is very difficult to measure and certainly more difficult than goods quality. Parasuraman et al. (1988) stated that “service quality perceptions result from a comparison of consumer expectations with actual service performance, and quality evaluations are not made solely on the outcome of service; they also involve evaluations of the process of service delivery” (p.42). Furthermore, there are several opinions of the definition of service quality. Swartz and Brown (1989) stated that “what service delivers is evaluated after performance” and moreover “how the service is delivered is evaluated during delivery” (p.190). Zeithaml and Bitner (2000) implied that customer expectations are beliefs regarding a service that serve as standards against which service performance is judged.
Oliver's (1980) service quality theory predicts that clients will judge that quality is low if performance does not comply with their expectations. Hence, quality increases as performance surpasses expectations. Thus, customers' expectations operate as the base on which they evaluate service quality. Additionally, at the same time as service quality improves, pleasure with the service and intent to use the service again, rises.
According to Zeithaml et al. (1990), SERVQUAL “provides a structure for understanding service quality, measuring service quality, diagnosing service quality problems, and deriving solutions to problems using a model that focuses on the gaps between customers' expectations and perceptions”(p.1868).
The SERVQUAL scale was produced following procedures recommended for developing valid and reliable measurements of marketing constructs (Peter et al., 1993). Parasuraman et al. (1985) revealed that consumers evaluated service quality by comparing expectations to performance on ten basic dimensions. They developed the scale, firstly, by asking consumers a range of 100 questions concerning expectations and performance based on each of the ten dimensions (Parasuraman et al., 1988). Next, the data were analyzed by grouping together sets of questions that all appeared to measure the same basic dimension. Thus, SERVQUAL is presented as a multi dimensional model. In their original SERVQUAL model Parasuraman et al. (1985) came up with the 10 dimensions below: “Reliability, Responsiveness, Competence, Access, Courtesy, Communication, Credibility, Security, Understanding/Knowing the customer, Tangibles” (p.48)
Later on, in 1988, Parasuraman et al. (1988) reviewed their work and broke these down into five dimensions which are also known as the RATER Model. They include firstly reliability. This is defined by the “ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately” (Buttle, 1996, p.9); Secondly, assurance, which means the “knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence” (Buttle, 1996, p.9); Thirdly, tangibles, said to be the “appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials”(Buttle, 1996, p.9); Forthly, empathy, defined as “provision of caring, individualized attention to customers” (Buttle, 1996, p.9) and finally, responsiveness, which expresses the “willingness to help customers and to provide prompt service” (Buttle, 1996, p.9).
Zeithaml et al. (1988) pointed out that SERVQUAL is intended for senior and middle managers in all types of service organisations, they add that the model infers that consumer' quality perceptions are influenced by a series of four distinct gaps occurring in organisations which need a further description. Hence, Parasuraman et al. (1985) conducted a research study through executive interviews with both customers and managers to find the gaps between perception and actual service. The first gap describes the “difference between consumer expectations and management perceptions of consumer expectations” (Zeithaml et al., 1988, p.35). The second gap illustrates the “difference between management perceptions of consumer expectations and service quality specifications” (Zeithaml et al.1988, p.36). The third gap identifies the “difference between service quality specifications and the service actually delivered” (Zeithaml et al. 1988, p.36). The fourth gap portrays the “difference between service delivery and what is communicated about the service to customers” (Zeithaml et al.1988, p.36).
Parasuraman et al. (1985) proposed, summarizing in Proposition 5 from all the gaps discussed earlier, that “the quality that a customer perceives in a service is a function of the magnitude and direction of the gap between expected service and perceived service” (p.46) which again leads into Proposition 6 respectively Gap 5= f (Gap1, Gap2, Gap3, Gap4). Since only some search properties exist with services and as the credibility property was too complicated to evaluate, Parasuraman et al. (1985) proposed in Proposition 7: “consumers typically rely on experience properties when evaluating service quality”(p.48). In a deductive approach, Parasuraman et al (1985) found that the position of a consumer's perception of service quality on the continuum depends on the nature of the discrepancy between the expected service (ES) and perceived service (PS) as in Proposition 8 outlined below.
”When ES > PS, perceived quality is less than satisfactory and will tend toward totally unacceptable quality, with increased discrepancy between ES and PS; When ES=PS, perceived quality is satisfactory; When ES<PS= perceived quality is more than satisfactory and will tend towards ideal quality, with increased discrepancy between ES and PS” (Parasuraman et al., 1985, p.49).
Using Proposition 8 allows service managers to review whether they need to re-deploy resources to areas of underperformance (Wisniewski, 2001).
Parasuraman et al. (1988) also tested their SERVQUAL scale for reliability which was basically the coefficient alpha. That outlines a measure of the extent of internal consistency between the set of the 5 reliability questions making up each of the five dimensions. In terms of convergent validity, Parasuraman et al. (1988) presented evidence as they measured agreement between the SERVQUAL score and a question asking customers to rate the overall quality of the firm being judged; regarding concurrent validity, they were asked if they would recommend the firm to a friend.
Ramseook-Munhurrun et al. (2010) inferred the lesser the mean score, the greater the gap in service quality; conversely the greater the mean score, the lesser the gap in service quality. Gaps 1 to 4 are within the control of an organisation and need to be analyzed to determine the causes and changes to be implemented which can decrease or even remove Gap 5. This is the gap reflecting the difference between customers perceptions and expectations of the firm's level of service. According to Zeithaml et al. (1990) the survey of employees possibly will help to measure the extent of Gaps 2 to 4. Thus, it can reveal a difference in perception as to what creates possible gaps.
Evidence for the applicability of the model is given by Asubonteng et al. (1996) to a wide range of businesses, which includes diverse health care centres, a business school, a hospital, large retail chains and banking, pest control, dry cleaning, and fast-food restaurants. These examples are discussed in the chapter “SERVQUAL in the public sector”.
However, SERVQUAL has its critics and is regarded as having problems with its scale since it mirrors the objectives of psychological research, “to evaluate stimulus-response regularities in which behaviour is considered as the direct result of a specific consumption setting, e.g. amusement parks” (McCabe et al., 2007, p.4). Hence, the fundamental constraint of this standpoint is that a “customer's perception of perceived quality is viewed as essentially reactive and entirely dependent upon the unique characteristics found in a consumption setting, as opposed to elements within the customer”(McCabe et al., 2007, p.4) . Diverse other research questioned SERVQUAL and new measurements have been developed e.g. by Cronin and Taylor (1992).
Buttle (1996) principally observed that the five dimensions of SERVQUAL are based on a disconfirmation paradigm and that the model does not relate to reputable economic, statistical or psychological theory.
Lages & Fernandes (2005) advised that a customers' ultimate decisions are defined by an upper intensity of abstraction. In terms of comparison, their Service Personal Values (SERPVAL) scale however presents three dimensions of service value; peaceful life, social recognition, and social integration. These are related to consumer satisfaction. Whilst “service value to social integration is related only with loyalty, service value to peaceful life is associated with both loyalty and repurchase intent” (Lages & Fernandes, p.1568).
However, the pioneers Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry have consistently answered to progressing criticism since 1985 in academic journals. For example in 1991 Parasuraman et al. (1991) wrote a paper in which they refined and reassessed ongoing criticism concerning their model. They discussed findings from a follow up study, refined these and replicated it in five different customer samples to prove it. Additionally, they compared their results with ones from other researchers in this topic. Thus, they promoted and defended SERVQUAL through a series of publications. Another example is Parasuram et al. (1993), who replied to the criticism from Brown et al. (1993) concerning the different score conceptualization in SERVQUAL. They defended the model by validating greater diagnostic opportunities.
SERVQUAL in the public sector
Brysland and Curry (2001) emphasized that the literature obviously supported the use of SERVQUAL in the public sector. Gowan et al.(2001) inferred that service provision is more complex in the public sector due to a matter of meeting expressed needs or rather of finding out unexpressed needs, allocating resources and publicly justifying, setting priorities and accounting for deeds. Moreover, Caron and Giauque (2006) noted that public sector employees are presently faced with ongoing professional uncertainties and risks which are caused by innovations encouraged by changes to new public management. Wisniewski (2001) used SERVQUAL to assess customer satisfaction in the public sector by studying several Scottish Councils services working out library services, where customer expectations were not met in tangibles and reliability whereas assurance and responsiveness were considered as positive. Anderson (1995) examined the quality of service supplied by a public university health clinic by applying 15 reports representing the five-dimensions of SERVQUAL (Parasuraman et al.,1988) where patients were perceived mainly to be dissatisfied with the five dimensions of SERVQUAL. The result was the highest dissatisfaction with assurance and the lowest in tangibles and empathy. Agus et al. (2007) basically studied management and customer perceptions of service quality practices in the Malaysian Public sector with a single focus on perceptions of actual service delivery. Additionally, Donnelly et al.(2006) applied the SERVQUAL approach to assess the quality of service of Strathclyde Police in Scotland finding that, generally, there is still scope for improvement in service quality performance to comply with service quality standards.
According to Agus et al. (2007), most of the existing studies to date have concentrated on service quality in US and European public service sector, while some more recent studies have looked at service quality in developing countries.
SERVQUAL has certainly had a major impact on business and academic associations. Moreover, there is existing established and permanent refined theory out in the academic world. It has been shown that there is a good basis with existing knowledge and evidence to measure service quality particularly in the public sector. This justifies a dissertation to follow up on the ongoing scope for improvement in this area, as well as to contribute to the body of knowledge which is still meant to be enlarged.
However this literature review has identified some criticism of the measurement model which current users of the instrument need to address. SERVQUAL is one of a quantity of seemingly interconnected concepts whose accurate alignment has yet to be explored. Despite these critics, SERVQUAL seems to be moving rapidly in the direction of institutionalized status. Rust and Zahorik (as cited in Buttle, 1996) believed that “the general SERVQUAL dimensions … should probably be put on any first pass as a list of attributes of service” (p. 25).
These criticisms indicate that there is still a need for fundamental research.
3. Future research
Suggested future research is in the area of measurement of expectations. Carman (1990) and Babakus and Boller (1992) discussed the computing perception-minus expectation gap scores and presented useful suggestions worthy of further research which include theoretical facets regarding the pros and cons of measuring expectations and perceptions separately.
SERVQUAL dimensions symbolize five theoretically distinct features of service quality which are correlated. As evidenced by the need for oblique rotations in the various studies to obtain the most interpretable factor patterns (Peter et al., 1993), another area for future research is to explore the nature and causes of these interrelationships. Research directed at questions focussing on the nature of the interrelationships among the dimensions can potentially contribute to our understanding of service quality. (1991 words)