Service and methods of measuring service quality

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Many people think that service is something which is done to us or for us. Each one has their own way of defining a service. For example we go to bank to deposit or draw money at the cashier, the job what cashier there is doing for us is called as service. Likewise there are many ways is in which we receive or give service in our daily life, but we never notice that as a service, because one of the essential characteristic of service is Intangibility. Which means it cannot be seen, touch, hold or stored, but can only be felt. Shostack (1987) states it this way:

Services are not things, Mcluhan (1964), perhapes put it best and most succintly more than 20 years ago when he declared that the process is the product. We say "airlines" when we mean "air transportation". We say " movie" when we mean "entertainment services" . The use of nouns obsecure the fundamental nature of service , which are processes not objects. ( p.34).

According to Benjamin and Susan (2004), because of this intangible nature of a service, services are called processes that are experienced. This is further supported by Schneider & Bowen (1995, Pg. 19), who said that "services yield psychological experiences more than they yield physical possessions". An example of a pure service can be like when you go to a bank to deposit or withdraw money, you will be qued with a unique Id and your name or number will be announced when it is your turn. Here the announcement is the pure service which can only be experienced at that point of time and cannot be carried home.

However according to Benjamin and Susan (2004), not all services are pure services , many services also have a tangible component attached to them, for example when we go to a bank to draw money, cashier gives us the physical money ( tangible element) and he delivers the money to us (Intangible element). According to Benjamin and Susan (2004), we can say that most of the products are made up of both tangible goods and experience which is intangible. Hence every organisation to be competitive in the market should bother about both "service quality" along with product quality.

What is service Quality?

Just like products have quality to measure, services should also have quality to measure, but mainly because of the intangible nature of the service, it is difficult to measure its quality. To be simple we can define service quality as a service with zero defects. According to parasuram et. al vol 49 , pg 41-50 (1985), because of the intangible nature of the service it is very difficult for the firm to know how its costumers measure their services. But he further says that, most researchers and service firm managers now think that service quality can be measured by finding the gap between customer expectations and companies' performance. This is also supported by lewis and booms (1983), where he says that:

"Service quality is a measure of how well the service level delivered matches customer expectations. Delivering quality service means conforming to customers expectations on a consistent basis."

--- Lewis & Booms---

In accordance with all these authors Gronroos (1982) suggested a model in which he says that to evaluate service quality customers always compare the service they perceived with the service they expected. Smith and Houston (1982), claim that customer will be satisfied with the service only when his expectations are confirmed, then they rate that service with high quality, else if their expectations are disconfirmed, they rate that service as service with poor quality. In the service quality literature expectations are requirements of the customer's i.e. what they think that a service provider should give them rather than what they are offered. According to Parasuraman et. al (1985), it is far easier to satisfy a customer with lower expectations than an customer with higher expectations. Accordingly it is also very difficult to understand customer's expectations.

Lewison (1997), categorised service expectations into three types they are; essential, expected and optional. Zeithaml, Berry and Parasuraman (1993) added three similar categories in their conceptual model of customer service expectations: predicted, adequate and desired. Essential services are those which are the core business services, these are required to continue the operations. For examples banks, consultancy's etc should provide reasonable working hours. Customers believe that this service will perform. Second types of services are those services which customer assumes that these services will be performed to provide high quality. Services such as flexible operating hours, realistic information about the service etc.. are generally expected by the customers. Companies should go beyond the customer expectations to be competitive in the market place. Over the years these expected services will become the essential services. Optional services are those which the guest thinks that these services are added bonus to the essential service. For example in a bank ambiance, air conditionings etc. are all optional. These services don't affect much on the business performance.

On the other hand, Cronin and Taylor (1992, 1994) gave a different opinion on the importance level of customer satisfaction. They found that customer expectations do not have any effect on the service quality and their finding ware supported by Lee and Yoo (2000).

These differences in author's conclusions have a significant impact on service industry managers. According to Cater and Robert .E (2009), In particular, if expectations have a significant impact on the relationship between customer satisfaction and service quality, then mangers need to work towards the expectations only, even though they are low. On the other hand if the expectations do not have any impact on the relationship between customer satisfaction and service quality, managers have to deliver standardized level of service quality irrespective of customer expectations.

Student Satisfaction and service quality

In today's globalised environment students have many options available, so there is a need for the overseas consultancies to study the factors which attract and retain students. Consultancies should start creating new ways to attract, retain students and maintain strong relationship with students. Alridge and Rowley (2001) stated that "an expectation that cannot be fulfilled by the institutions is the key factors for students' withdrawal".

Rinehart (1993), states that students are customers for the any educational service company. This view is further supported by Joseph (1998), who states that "students have been categorized as the primary beneficiaries of education and hence should be treated as customers". According to him this view stems from the perceptive that "educational institutions are highly competitive on the market with strategies being aggressively developed to satisfy students' needs in order to attract a sustainable market share".

According to Azleen Ilias(2008), Service Quality is generally famous as a important requirement for establishing and sustaining satisfying relationship with esteemed customers. Thus, according to Cronin and Taylor,(1992), the relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction has emerged as a topic of significant and strategic concern. In general, Spreng and Mckoy, (1996), say that "perceived service quality is an antecedent to satisfaction". Thus, Lassar, Manolis and Winsor, (2000) say that "A proper understanding of the antecedents and determinants of customer satisfaction can be seen as to have an extraordinarily high monetary value for service organization in a competitive environment".

Ham and Hayduk (2003) have confirmed that, in an educational setting, there is a positive relationship between perception of service quality and student satisfaction, and analyzing upon the relationship based on each of the dimension of service quality they found that, reliability (R=0.547; sig. = 0.000) has the strongest relationship followed by responsiveness and empathy (R=0.5431; sig. = 0.000), assurance (R=0.492; sig. = 0.000) and tangibility (R=0.423; sig. = 0.000).

Ghobadian, Speller and Jones (1997) stated that "companies with higher perceived quality goods and services will enjoy higher long term economic benefits". The relationship between the quality of goods and services and customer satisfaction, has led organizations to constantly improve their quality and measure their clients' satisfaction. Satisfaction measurement, according to Attiyaman (1997),is a difficult task to achieve as customer satisfaction is similar to attitude, Quality too, according to Sureshchandar et al. (2002) is a form of attitude.

Measuring service Quality

According to Ramprasad (2001), information regarding customer opinion about the product and service is very important and the customer feedback can be obtained in several ways such as customer surveys, phone interviews etc. He further explains that "What the company thinks its customer wants Is not necessarily the same as What the company thinks it has to offer is not necessarily the same as What the company actually offers is not necessarily the same as How the customer experiences this is not necessarily the same as What the customer really wants".

In order to be competent in the market, companies should improve their customer satisfaction level by periodically measuring their service quality to meet the expectations of its customers.

Mohamed Zairi(2000), developed a model on how to improve the customer satisfaction in which he says that to make continuous improvements in customers satisfactions companies should follow a cycle which start with listening to customer voice, analyzing their comments, developing actions and implementing them. Figure 1.1 illustrates this cycle:

Figure 1.1 Zairi (2000)

Source :

According to Werth (2002), companies can understand the satisfaction of its clients through problem calls, phones, surveys etc. companies should gather suitable feedback which is relevant to real customer satisfaction i.e. it is important to measure the right things which are important to customers. This is further explained by Kelsey (2001), who says that there is always possibilities of misinterpretation of what customers really want i.e. the gap between the customer wants and companies opinion of what customers want. So factors for measurement should be defined by customers themselves. According to Hill (1996), many companies set the measurement criteria internally, but suppliers really have a perceptive of customer priorities. So to avoid such misinterpretations companies should filter irrelevant information and concentrate on factors which really matter. Efforts to understand the measurement criteria to identify service quality are been taken place from the past three decades. And the topic of particular interest in the service quality research is the issue of measurement.

Gavin ( 1983), Brown and Swartz ( 1989), say that to define and measure the actual customer expectations and service quality is difficult. However many researchers have come to an opinion that service quality should be defined and measured from customers perspective only. Lewis and Booms (1983), defined perceived service quality as the one which "represents the discrepancy between customers expectations and their perceptions of the service performance". Teas ( 1993) and Taylor (1994), debated on this opinion of inclusion of expectations in the measurement of service quality, but Parasuraman et al ( 1994), emphasize that measuring customer expectations can support organizations in identifying those areas which need immediate action. Gronroos (1993) and Dabholkar (1993), say that there is a rising approval among the researchers that service quality can be coupled to perception of service performance. In accordance with this opinion many researchers developed various methods for the measurement of service quality.

Dimension of service quality

Because of the intangible nature of the service, it is very difficult to identify the dimensions of service quality. But it will be impossible to measure the service quality without determining the service quality dimensions. To overcome this difficulty many researchers have made some attempts to capture the true meaning of service quality. Sasser et al (1979), listed seven dimensions of service quality, which they thought will be adequate to measure the whole service quality of the firm, which include 1. Security (confidence, physical safety etc.) ; 2. Consistency (delivering same service each time) ; 3. Attitude (politeness, social manners etc); 4. Completeness; 5. Condition(facilities etc.); 6. Availability ( easy of access, locations etc) and finally 7. Training.

On the other hand, Gronroos ( 1998, 1991), thinks that service quality can be measured with only three dimensions, that is " technical quality of outcome", the "functional quality of the encounter", and finally the " company corporate image". This opinion was also supported by Lehtinen and Lehtinen (1991), who defined them as physical quality (products or services); Corporate quality (company image etc) and Interactive quality - these dimensions come from the interaction between the customer and the service organisation. They further argues that, to evaluate the dimensions of service quality it is needed to make a distinction between quality related with the process of service delivery and the quality related with the result of service, judged by the customer after the service is delivered.

Parasuramam et al (1985), recommended mostly accepted service quality dimensions, they described it that criteria used by the customers in evaluating the expectations and perceptions to service quality can be distributed into 10 dimensions basically they are:1.Tangibility, 2. Reliability, 3.Responsiveness , 4.Communication, 5.Credibility , 6.Security , 7. Competence, 8.Courtesy, 9.Understanding customers and finally 10. Access

These ware further reduced into only five dimensions of service quality which is famously known as SERVQUAL. These dimensions include:




Assurance; and


Gronroos( 1988), added a sixth dimension them i.e. Recovery.

Rust and Oliver(1994), recently proposed three dimensions for the overall view of service quality in which they say that customers evaluate service quality on three dimensions of service encounter, they are

The customer - employee interaction

The service environment

The outcome of the service

While researchers like Spangenberg et al (1996) , support this view that it is hard to separate the concept service environment from the concept of functional quality. With this difficulty in defining service quality dimensions Boller (1992), was correct in saying that " service quality is like an umbrella construct with distinct dimensions" although there is not yet a real consensus as what these dimensions might be.

Various Service Quality Models

From the past few decades there has been a major research going on in the field of service quality. There is a continued research going on the definition, modelling, measurement procedure, and data collection methods and data analysis techniques. Some of the models in brief are discussed below:

SQM 1: Technical and functional quality model (Gronroos, 1984)

An organization to be competent in the market place should have a thorough understanding of the influence of service quality and customer perceived service quality. Managing customer perception of service quality means matching customer expected service to customer perceived service so that customer is satisfied with the service. To identify these service quality measures, according to Premvrat and Nitin Seth (2004), Gronroos identified three dimensions of service quality they are see fig 2:

Technical quality: According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), Technical quality is what customer receives with the interaction of him with the service firm and it is important for him to evaluate the quality of service.

Functional quality: According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), Functional quality is how the customer receives the technical outcome. It is all about the customer views of how he received the service.

Image: Image of the company is very important to the organisation and this can be built from technical and functional quality of the firm while including other factors like tradition, word of mouth, pricing , ideology etc

Source :

SQM2: GAP model (Parasuraman et al., 1985)

This service quality model was proposed by Parasuraman et al. (1985) who said that "service quality is a function of the differences between expectation and performance along the quality dimensions". According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), They designed a service quality model (Figure 3) in which they identified five gaps based on various stages of service delivery, the Gaps they identified are:


Gap 1: Gap between consumers' expectation of services and the organisations perceptions of those

expectations, i.e. a gap exists when the organisation don't have the knowledge of what customers are


Gap 2: Gap between the management's service quality standards and managements perceptions of

consumer's expectations i.e. inappropriate service-quality standards.

Gap 3: Gap between the quality standards and service delivered by the company. i.e. performance gap.

Gap 4: The communication gap between the customers and the organization about the service delivered.

Gap 5: The gap between the customers' expectations and their perceived quality. According to Prem vrat and

Nitin Seth (2004),this gap depends on the gaps between the delivery of the service quality of above

four gaps.

According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), this model is a function of the perception and expectation which can be formulated as

Service Quality =

Where = perception of the customer and = expectation of the customer.

Later this model was designed to measure the customers' perception of service quality and was famously known as SERVQUAL. According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), in the latest model parasuraman et al reduced the actual 10 dimensions of service quality into 5 dimensions, they are: reliability, responsiveness, tangibles, assurance and empathy.

SQM3. Attribute service quality model (Haywood-Farmer, 1988)

According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), Haywood model shown in fig 4 says that service organisation states that a service organization is said to have "high quality" if it can consistently meet customer expectations. According to According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), separation of various attributes into various groups is the first step to design this model and they say that services have three basic attributes they are: processes; behaviour of the people and professional judgement. Again each attribute is divided into several factors. According to According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), this model says that too much attention on one of these attributes through elimination of other will lead to failure to achieve service quality for e.g. too much concentration on procedures may give a feeling to the consumer that he will be processed as per his order. According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), Haywood tried to identify different type of service settings as per level of contact and interaction, level of labour strength and level of service customization. See fig 5.


SQM4: Synthesised model of service quality (Brogowicz et al., 1990)

According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), service quality gap not only exits when the customer experiences the service but also it may exits even when the customer do not experience the service i.e. through word of mouth, advertisements and other sources. Thus the authors Brogowicz et al (1990), in their study identified that there is a need to understand the potential customer perception about service quality along with the perception of service quality of the actual customer. Synthesised model of service quality attempts to include traditional managerial framework, service design, operations and marketing activities for the purpose to discover the factors associated with service quality for all the above. This model see fig 5 considers mainly three factors company image, external influences and traditional marketing activities as the factors which influence technical and functional quality expectations.

Source :

SQM5. Performance only model (Cronin and Taylor, 1992)

According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), these authors studied the concepts and the service quality measurement relationship with customer satisfaction and purchase intentions and concluded that only consumer perceptions are better variables to measure service quality. They developed performance only measurement of service quality framework called SERVPREF which contradicts the idea of Parasuraman et al (1985) framework SERVQUAL. In which they illustrated that service quality is identified by consumer's attitude and only performance measure of service quality is the improved means of measuring service quality. In this model they argued that SERVQUAL confuses between satisfaction and attitude and stated that service quality can be conceptualized as "similar to an attitude". In brief, they stated that performance alone instead of "performance-expectation" can identify service quality. For this they gave a formula:

Service Quality =

Where = perception of the customer

SQM6. Evaluated performance and normed quality model (Teas, 1993)

According to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), the author Teas (1993), states that the conventional SERVQUAL model has theoretical and measurement problems i.e. like theoretical definition ambiguity; theoretical validation of expectations in the measurement of

Service quality and the relation between the customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction and the service quality.

To support this argument he designed two service quality frameworks:

Evaluated Performance (EP) framework: In this model according to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), the author states that a "customer evaluates object "i" with perceived certainty and that the object "i" has a constant amount of each attribute also with Minkowski space parameter equals to unity". The author stated that perceived quality is modelled as:


Qi = The individual's perceived quality of object i.

wj = Importance of attribute j as a determinant of perceived quality.

Aij = Individual's perceived amount of attribute j possessed by object i.

Ij = The ideal amount of attribute j as conceptualized in classical ideal point

attitudinal models.

m = Number of attributes.

With thinking that actual ability of the service to deliver satisfaction can be identified as the service resemblance with the customer's ideal service features.

Normed quality model: In this framework according to Prem vrat and Nitin Seth (2004), the author Tees (1993), states that "if the object "i" is defined as the excellence norm that is the focus of revised SERVQUAL concept, the above equations can be used to define the perceived quality of excellence norm Qe in terms of the similarity between the excellence norm and the ideal object with respect to "m" attributes. The quality of another object "i", Qi relative to the quality of excellence norm then Normed quality (NQ) is:

NQ = [Qi - Qe]

Where NQ = Normed quality index for object i.

Qe = the individual's perceived quality of the excellence norm object.

For infinite ideal points, Normed quality is:

Aej = individual's perceived amount of attribute "j" possessed by the excellence

norm "e".


According to Harvis et al (2000); Athiyaman (2000) and Guolla (1999), in the present services marketing constant consumer satisfaction is considered as the most important result of marketing activity and serves to link processes, starting in the buying and spending with post-purchase behaviour like change in customer thoughts, customer retention, repeated purchase behaviour, brand reliability, positive word-of-mouth advertisement and complaining behaviour". According to Arambewela (2003), expectancy- disconfirmation framework and its variants was the most widely used approaches in measuring customer satisfaction. According to Tse et al (1990), the expectancy- disconfirmation framework advocates that customer satisfaction is associated with size and course of disconfirmation, which is defined as "the difference between an individual's pre-purchase (pre-choice) expectations (or some other comparison standard) and post-purchase (post-choice) performance of the product as perceived by the customer". Furrer et al (2000), stated that from past two decades there is significant growth of interest among the researchers to study the measurement of service quality. As a result many researchers have developed many service quality measurement tools/frameworks. But the SERVQUAL framework instrumented by Parasuraman et al (1985) is most widely accepted and used for measuring service quality.

According to Furrer et al (2000), since SERVQUAL is introduced, it has contributed as the most important part to many academic literature and mainly for marketing literatures. According to parasuraman et al (1988), SERVQUAL is originally designed to measure the customer perception of service quality in retailing and service organisations. It offers as a virtual scale with exact level of reliability and validity useful for many service situations to measure service quality. According to Bearden and Netemeyer (1999), SERVQUAL instrument consists of two sets of 22 items, in which first set describes the expectations for a particular service sector and the second set consists of matching questions related to perception of customers of the service provided by the firm in that particular service sector.

According to Bearden and Netemeyer (1999), here in SERVQUAL the expectations are not predicted but are derived from the desires and wants of the customers. In both the sets the results are measured using a 7-point bi-polar scale where point (1) is Strongly disagree and point (7) is strongly agree. The scale produces a score ranging between -6 and + 7 for each item, where if the score is positive it indicates that the customers perceptions are more than expectations and the negative score indicates the vice versa. Thus the service quality is measured through the SERVQUAL score, which is also called the gap score calculated by taking the difference for 1 to -7 scales and averaged by the total number of items in the scale. According to the author service quality is considered as the difference between the customer's perceptions and expectations, where the positive result meaning the company is providing good service quality and the negative result meaning the company needs to improve its service. This is given by the following equation:

Service Quality =

Where N = number of items in the scale;

P = perceptions of Customer and

E = expectations of the customers.

Parasuraman et al (1985) have divided all these 22 items in each into five dimensions which are termed as SERVQUAL dimensions of service quality namely tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy. Where, the items in tangibility dimension will be related to physically appealing things like facilities, equipment and infrastructure etc; reliability dimension includes questions related to the capability of the organisation to perform the promised service perfectly and consistently; responsiveness dimension include questions related to the companies readiness to assist customers while providing quick service; assurance dimension include questions related to knowledge of the employees and their capability to bring confidence in customers and empathy dimension will include questions related to caring , individual attention given to each customer etc. The author further states that these dimensions can be tailored to any service situation depending on the nature of the service organisation. The practicality of the SERVQUAL is considered as its major strength over other service quality measurement frameworks.

According to Furrer et al (2000), other strengths of the SERVQUAL are:

The reliability and validity of the scale in comparing customers' expectations and perceptions over time;

The ability to compare own SERVQUAL scores against competitors;

The relative importance of the five dimensions in influencing service quality perceptions;

The potential use of measure in segmenting customers into several perceived quality segments (eg. High, Medium and Low, and the ability to analyse on the basis of (a) demographic (b) psychographic, and (c) other profiles; and

The practical implications for companies to improve the global perception of its service quality.

Furrer et al (2000), further stated that there is an increasing demand for SERVQUAL instrument among the marketing practitioners and researchers, due to the flexibility of if its application in competitor analysis, customer profiling, segmentation, manufacturing industries etc. Fyrrer et al (2000), also gave some of the examples of the leading researches using SERVQUAL, these are presented in Table 1.

Areas of Application



Lassar et al 2000; Marshall and Smith, 1999; Angur et al, 1999

Brokerage services

Lin and Wei, 1999

Building Maintenance

Siu et al 2001

Higher education

England et al 2001 and 2000; Comm et al, 2000; Houston and Rees 1999; Kwan and Ng, 1999; Hampton, 1993; Davis and Allen, 1990.

Local Authority service

Wisniewski, 2001; McFadyen et al, 2001; Donnelly

and Shiu, 1999.

Market research

Donnely et al, 2000

Medical and health care


Dean, 1999; Curry et al, 1999; Llosa et al, 1998;

O'Connor and Bowers, 1990.

Restaurant service

Heung et al, 2000


Metha et al, 2000a, 2000b


Durvasula et al, 1999

Travel services

Kayanama and Black, 2000

However, SERVQUAL also have some operational and measurement problems which have been identified by many researchers, some of the criticisms of SERVQUAL are: Carman (1990), Taylor (1994), identified that P-E score will measure perceived quality of customer instead of measuring the performance of the company. Further Swan and Tranwick (1981), mentioned that, the measurement of the expectations/ desires of the customers will provide different satisfaction responses which will lead to ambiguous results. Teas (1993), Llosa et al (1998), recognized that the relation between service quality and satisfaction and the nature of dimensions included in SERVQUAL are inappropriate for the service companies which provide product related service and pure services.

However, Parasuraman et al (1994), made some modifications to their SERVQUAL tool to avoid these criticisms. Further he argued with the criticism of Carman (1990) and Taylor (1994), saying that although determining service quality by measuring only customers perception is widely used, such a practice essentially will not support the superiority of performance based measure, because Parasuraman et al (1994) supported saying that incorporating measurement of customer expectations will give more information which will add value for measuring service quality. Accepting that there is confusion with the relation between customer satisfaction and service quality, Parasuraman et al (1994), acknowledged some of his recent research evidences which supported the view the "service quality is an antecedent of customer satisfaction". However this type of contrasting views about measuring service quality and comparison norms remain standards unanswered and many researchers are still examining this issue.

The questionnaire used in the present study is an adaptation of the latest SERVQUAL questionnaire which is an improvement addressing the above mentioned criticisms. Though the interest in student satisfaction by overseas consultancies has contributed to this research, the work on student satisfaction on overseas consultancies is limited. Another reason for focusing on the overseas consultancy students is the continuous growth of this industry from the past five to ten years. The methodology section of this research will address these issues and makes use of the modified SERVQUAL instrument to identify the existence and extent of service gap at Impel Overseas consultancy. Finally the report will also give recommendations for the Impel to improve its service performance. As such it is relevant to look at the literature regarding improving service quality and about the different methods to use by researchers to measure service quality.


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