In the service industry, definitions of service quality tend to focus on meeting customers needs and requirements and how well the service delivered meets their expectations (Lewis and Booms 1983). In order to deliver and maintain service quality, an organization must first identify what it is that constitutes quality to those whom it serves (Gronross 1984). Gronross (1984) classified service quality into two categories: technical quality, primarily focused on what consumers actually received from the service; and functional quality, focused on the process of service delivery.
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Perceptions of quality by those who provide services and those who consume them have been defined as the outcome of comparison between expectations of a service and what is perceived to be received (Czepiel et al.1985; Parasuraman et al 1985)
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Delivering quality service is one of the major challenges facing hospitality sector. It is an essential condition for success in the emerging keenly competitive and global hospitality markets. Quality is the key to achieving customer satisfaction. Quality is a dynamic state associated with products, services, people and environments that meets or exceeds expectations. Quality is also rapidly embracing the nature or degree of impact an organization has of its stakeholders, environment and society. Your customers of your business is based on the product or service you deliver and on the day-to-day contact they have with your staff. (Munro and Jones 1993)
The key to ensuring good service quality is meeting or exceeding what customers expect from the service. It was clear to us that judgements of low and high quality service depend on how customers expect from the service. It was clear to us that judgments of high and low service quality depend on how customers perceive the actual service performance in the context of what they expected. Service quality as perceived by customers can be defined as the extent of discrepancy between customer’s expectations or desires and their perceptions. Service delivery is concerned with where, when and how the service product is delivered to the customer.
Moreover, service quality is a perceived judgment resulting from an evaluation process where customers compare their expectations with the service they have received (Gronroos 1984 a). Bolton and Drew argued that while service quality is an overall attitude towards a service firm, customer satisfaction is specific to an individual service encounter.
Therefore, it is very difficult to come to a consensus as to a definition of service quality. We can however conclude the perspectives of different authors that is about providing something intangible in a way that pleases the consumer and that preferably gives some value to that consumer.
2.1 CHARACTERISTICS OF SERVICES
The services have unique characteristics which make them different from that of goods. The service literature highlights differences in the nature of services versus products which are believed to create special challenges for service marketers and for consumers buying services.
Although there has been debate on the effectiveness of the four characteristics in distinguishing between products and services (e.g Regan 1963) these are nevertheless widely accepted by scholars and marketers (e.g Zeithmal 1981 ,Levitt 1981) and used both as the basis for examining services buyer behaviour and developing services marketing strategies. It is therefore important to establish the extent to which these characteristics reflect the perspective of the consumer.
The literature highlights intangibility as one of the key characteristics of services. Regan (1963) introduces the idea of services being activities, benefits or satisfactions which are offered for sale, or are provided with the sale of goods. Services are activities provided performed physical by the provider, unlike physical products they cannot be seen,tasted,felt,heard or smelt before they are to that appeal to customer’s senses, their evaluation unlike goods, is not possible before actual purchase and consumption. The marketer of service cannot rely on product-based that the buyer generally employs in alternative evaluation prior to purchase. So, as a result of the services which are not known to the customer’s before they take them? For example: teaching, Consulting, legal advices, restaurants, fast food centres, hotels and hospitals.
Inseparability is taken to reflect the simultaneous delivery and consumption of services (Regan 1963) and is believed to enable consumers to affect or shape the performance and quality of service, (Gronroos, 1978; Zeithmal 1981). Services are typically produced and consumed simultaneously. In case of physical goods, they are manufactured into products, distributed through multiple resellers and consumed later. But, in case of services, it cannot be separated from the service provider. Thus, the service provider would become a part of a service. For example: taxi operator drives taxi, and the passenger uses it. The presence of taxi driver is essential to provide the service. The services cannot be produced now for consumption at a later stage/ time. This produces a new dimension to service marketing. The physical presence of consumer is essential in services. For example: to use the services of an airline, hotel, doctor a customer must be physically present. Inseparability of production and consumption increases the importance of the quality in services. Therefore, service marketers not only need to develop task-related, technical competence of service personnel, but also require a great input of skilled personnel to improve their marketing and inter personal skills.
Heterogeneity reflects the potential for high variability in service delivery (zeithmal et al 1985). This is a particular problem for services with a high labour content, as the service performance is delivered by different people and the performance of people can vary from day to day (Zeithmal 1985). Since services are performed by human beings, they have different performances at different times of the day unlike tangible goods are standardized. Hence service offered vary accordingly to performances or change in humour by those providing them. The idea of heterogeneity arises from the assumption that no two customers are alike, hence their demands are unique and the way they will experience the service will differ from another person. So, the service firms should make an effort to deliver high and consistent quality in their service; and this is attained by selecting good and qualified personnel for rendering the service.
The fourth characteristic of services highlighted in the literature is perish -ability. In general, services cannot be stored and carried forward to a future time period (Rathmell 1966). Onkvisit suggest that services are time dependent and time important which make them very perishable. Services are deeds, performance or act whose consumption take place simultaneously; they tend to perish on the absence of consumption. Hence, services cannot be stored. The services go waste if they are not consumed simultaneously i.e value of service exists at the point when it is required. The perishable character of services adds to the service marketer’s problems. The inability of service sector to regulate supply with the changes in demand; poses many quality management problems. Hence, service quality level deteriorates during peak hours in restaurants, banks, transportation. This is a challenge for a service marketer. Therefore, a marketer should effectively utilize the capacity without deteriorating the quality to meet the demand.
2.2 Service Quality Dimensions
Gronroos (1984b) identified two service quality dimensions the technical aspect that is “what” service is provided and functional aspect and “how” the service is provided. The customers perceive what he/she receives as the outcome of the process in which the resources are used that is the technical quality. But he also and more often importantly, perceives how the process itself functions that is the functions quality.
The SERVQUAL Instrument
The SERVQUAL instrument developed by Parasuraman et al (1991) has proved popular, being used in many studies of service quality. This is because it has a generic application and is a practical approach to any area. A number of researchers have applied the SERVQUAL model to measure service quality in the hospitality industry with modified constructs to suit specific hospitality situations.
Parasuraman et al (1985) developed the gap model and the subsequent SERQUAL instrument designed to identify and measure the gaps between customers’ expectations and perceptions of the service received. Service quality from the consumer’s perspective depends on the direction and degree of difference between the expected service and the perceived service. Thus by comparing customer’s expected service with customer’s perceived service, hotels, for example can determine whether its service standard is appropriate. The gap between expectations and perceptions of performance determines the level of service quality from a customer’s perspective.
The servqual instrument consists of 22 statements for assessing consumer perceptions and expectations regarding the quality of a service. Respondent are asked to rate their level of agreement or disagreement with the given statements. Consumer’s perceptions are based on the actual service they receive while consumer’s expectations are based on past experiences and information received. The statements represent the determinants or dimensions of service quality.
The five dimensions of service quality measured by the SERVQUAL Instrument
The SERVQUAL Instrument measures the five dimensions of Service Quality. These five dimensions are: tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy.
Since services are tangible, customers derive their perception of service quality by comparing the tangible associated with these services provided. It is the appearance of the physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials. In this survey, on the questionnaire designed, the customers respond to the questions about the physical layout and the facilities that FFR offers to its customers.
It is the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately. Reliability means that the company delivers on its promises-promises about delivery,sevice provision, problem resolutions and pricing. Customers want to do business with companies that keep their promises, particularly their promises about the service outcomes and core service attributes. All companies need to be aware of customer expectation of reliability. Firms that do not provide the core service that customers think they are buying fail their customers in the most direct way.
It is the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service. This dimension emphasizes attentiveness and promptness in dealing with customer’s requests, questions, complaints and problems. Responsiveness is communicated to customers by length of time they have to wait for assistance, answers to questions or attention to problems. Responsiveness also captures the notion of flexibility and ability to customize the service to customer needs.
It means to inspire trust and confidence. Assurance is defined as employees’ knowledge of courtesy and the ability of the firm and its employees to inspire trust and confidence. This dimension is likely to be particularly important for the services that the customers perceives as involving high rising and/or about which they feel uncertain about the ability to evaluate. Trust and confidence may be embodied in the person who links the customer to the company, for example, the marketing department. Thus, employees are aware of the importance to create trust and confidence from the customers to gain competitive advantage and for customers’ loyalty.
It means to provide caring individualized attention the firm provide its customers. In some countries, it is essential to provide individual attention to show to the customer that the company does best to satisfy his needs. Empathy is an additional plus that the trust and confidence of the customers and at the same time increase the loyalty. In this competitive world, the customer’s requirements are rising day after day and it is the companies’ duties to their maximum to meet the demands of customers, else customers who do not receive individual attention will search elsewhere.
2.3 CUSTOMER HAS NEEDS AND EXPECTATIONS
Customers buy goods and services to meet specific needs. Needs are often deeply rooted in people’s unconscious minds and may concern long-term existence and identify issues. When people feel a need, they are motivated to take action to fulfil it. In many instances, purchase of a good or service may be seen as offering the best solution to meeting a particular need. Subsequently, consumers may compare what they received against what they expected, especially if it cost them money, time, effort that could have been devoted to obtaining an alternative solution.
Customer expectations embrace several elements, including desired service, adequate service, predicted service and a zone of tolerance that falls between the desired and adequate service levels
Desired and Adequate Service Levels
The type of service customers hope to receive is termed as desired service. It is a wished-for level: a combination of what customers believe can and should be delivered in the context of their personal needs. However, most customers are realistic and understand that companies can’t always deliver the desired level of service; which is defined as the minimum level of service customers will accept without being dissatisfied. Among the factors that set this expectation are situational factors affecting service performance and the level of service that might be anticipated from alternative suppliers? The levels of both desired and adequate service expectations may reflect explicit and implicit promises by the provider, word-of-mouth comments, and the customer’s past experience,
Predicted Service Level
The level of service that customers anticipate receiving is known as predicted service, which directly affects how they define “adequate service” on that occasion. If good service is predicted the adequate level will be higher than if poorer service is predicted. Customer predictions of service may be situation specific.
Zone of Tolerance
The inherent nature of services makes consistent service delivery difficult across employees in the same company and even by the same service employee from one day to another. The extent to which customers are willing to accept this variation is called the zone of tolerance. A performance that falls below the adequate service level will cause frustration and dissatisfaction, where as one that exceeds the desired service level will both please and surprise customers. Another way of looking at the zone of tolerance is to think of it as the range of service within which customers don’t pay explicit attention to service performance. When service falls outside the range, customers will react either positively or negatively. The zone of tolerance can increase or decrease for individual customers depending on such factors as competition, price or importance of specific service attributes. These factors most often affect adequate service levels which may move up or down in response to situational factors where as desired service levels tend to move up very slowly in response to accumulated customer experiences.
It is known that expectations are not stable in the sense that they may change over time due to changes in aspiration levels or need at a particular moment in time. Customers’ expectations about what constitutes good service vary from one business to another. Expectations are not determined by individuals themselves but also by reference groups, external situations, norms, values, time and service provider. Generally speaking, expectations can be formulated in terms of “what should be done” and in terms of what should be done” Expectations change over time influenced by both supplier-controlled factors such as advertising, pricing, new technologies and service innovation as well as social trends advocacy by consumer organization and increased access to information through the media and the internet.
According to Berry and Parasuraman (1991) discuss two levels of expectations and concluded: “Our finding indicates that customer’s service expectations exist at two different levels; a desired level and an adequate level. The service level reflects the service the customer hopes to receive. It is blend of what the customer finds acceptable. It is part, a function of the customer’s assessment of what service will be i.e. the customers predicted service level. The difference between the desired service; level and the adequate service level can be called zone of tolerance, the extent to which customers recognize and are willing to accept heterogeneity.
2.4 CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
According to Evans and Dean (2003), the customer is the judge of quality. Understanding customer needs, both current and future and keeping pace with changing market require effective strategies for listening to and learning from customers, measuring their satisfaction relative to competitors and building relationships. Satisfaction and dissatisfactions information are important because understanding them leads to the right improvements that can create satisfied customers who reward the company with loyalty.
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Satisfaction can be expressed in many ways, like positive word-of-mouth, giving compliments to the service provider and brand loyalty to the service organization. Quite often it is assumed that satisfied consumers will be brand loyal. That needs not be the case, especially even now entrants have come to the satisfied customers will show a higher repurchase rate than dissatisfactions of customers is an important one. Customer satisfaction leads to repeat purchases and repeat purchases lead to loyal customers. In turn, customer’s loyalty leads to enhanced brand equity and higher profits.
On the other hand the only measure of acceptable quality is customers satisfaction, which takes into account both objective and subjective interpretations of the needs and expectations of customers. If the customers are satisfied with the products and services offered, the organization has not only correctly interpreted customer needs and expectations but it is also providing products and services of acceptable quality.
Loyalty is an old-fashioned word that has traditionally been used to describe fidelity and enthusiastic devotion to something. More recently, it has been used in a business context to describe a customer’s willingness to continue patronizing a firm over the long-term purchasing and using its goods and services on a repeated and exclusive basis and recommending the firm’s products to friends and relatives. However, brand loyalty extends beyond behaviour to include preference liking and future intentions. What a loyal customer can mean to a firm: a consistent source of revenue over a period of many years. However, this loyalty cannot be taken for granted. It will continue as long as the consumers feels that he or she is receiving better value including superior or quality relative to price.
2.5 SERVICE ENCOUNTER
For service science to be a complete discipline it must address how customers experience services with the same depth of analysis as it studies the analytics of information and physical flow processes that deliver the service. The heart of a service is the encounter between the server and the customer. It is here where emotions meet economics in real time and where most people judge the quality of the service. As currently conceived, service science treats satisfaction with an encounter predominantly as a function of engineering measures of throughout and output quality. Thus, if a service is performed efficiently and process output variability is low, it is assumed that the service process has been optimised. Our view is that this misses critical psychological variables that lie at the subconscious level, and which if understood by management could be managed in such a way to enhance customer satisfaction.
The most immediate evidence of service quality occurs during the service encounter or “moment of truth” (Gronroos, 1990) where the customer and service provider interacted with one another. Memorable incidents that occur during this encounter whether can determine whether a customer leaves satisfied or dissatisfied and ultimately whether he or she returns. Besides, the service encounter involves at least two people, it is important to understand the encounter from multiple perspectives in or to uncover some of the underlying reasons for poor service quality.
Understanding customer behaviour lies at the heart of marketing. High contact service encounters between customers and service organizations differ sharply from low-contact ones. Some services, such as restaurants, hospitals and airlines require customers to have active contact with the organization including visits to its facilities and face-to-face interactions with employees. By contrast, customers of service industries such as insurance and cable TV companies
2.6 CUSTOMERS EXPRESSING DISSATISFACTION
When customers are dissatisfied, they can undertake different kind of action as well. One can express dissatisfaction in many ways, for example by complaining to the service provider or to a customer union. Another action can be to never visit the service provider again, Two models exist in explaining the ways to express dissatisfaction, the economic model and behavioural model. The economic model, basically the perceived cost, the perceived benefits and the probability of success determine whether consumers will express their dissatisfaction. In the behavioural model, this is determined basically by ability and motivation to do so.
2.7 MODEL OF SERVICE QUALITY GAPS
There are five major gaps in the service quality concept, which are shown in Figure 1. The model is from Parasuraman et al (1985). For this survey, we are only studying the gap between the customer expectation and customer perception of service quality at the FFR. The starting premise for the model is that “perceived service quality (or satisfaction with service) is a function of the difference between expected service levels and delivered (perceived) service. The following diagram which summarises how perceived service can diverge from expected service, constitutes the essence of the possible contributing factors of the following gaps listed.
The challenge to the organization is to isolate which variables are influencing service quality perception negatively and how to eliminate them. Of key importance to the organization is Gap 1. Gap 5 relates to the overall perception the client-base has of the unit’s ability (for this survey, the FFR’S unit ability) to deliver on service commitments made
SERVQUAL OR GAP MODEL
WORD OF MOUTH
SERVICE DELIVERY (PRE &POST CONTACTS )
EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION TO CUSTOMERS
TRANSLATION OF PERCEPTION INTO SERVICE QUALITY SPECIMENS
MANAGEMENT PERCEPTION OF CUSTOMERS EXPEDCTETIONS
Figure 1: The Gap Analysis Model of Service Quality
Source: Parasuraman et al (1985).
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