2. Conceptual Background
2.1. Definition and model
2.3. SERVQUAL in the public sector
4. Future research
Since market competition has become more antagonistic, the awareness of customer service has risen. The last two decades show that quality of service ought to be the key of success of the marketing strategy. Therefore, the vendor should get a chance to measure it in order to rate his competitiveness. According to Zeithaml et al. (1988), research and company experience reveals that advanced service quality generates calculable gains in returns, cost savings and market share. Thus, there was the motivation to develop a service quality model.
Recently, the established and well-known model of measurement of service quality is SERVQUAL, established as a tool by Parasuraman et al . (1985; 1988). Furthermore, it has been widely used since the mid-eighties in several case studies. Parasuraman et al. (1985) are the pioneers of service quality measurement, and they developed it further over the years through a series of academic papers to be selectively considered in the following literature review. Nyeck et al. (2002) stated that several researchers in this area emphasize the explanation of the perceived quality by using SERVQUAL approach due to its popularity caused “by its ease of use and by adaptability to diverse service sectors” (p.102).
This literature review contains the conceptual background including a definition and model of SERVQUAL, a critique followed by a review of SERVQUAL in the public sector. Conclusion and implications for future research follow.
2. Conceptual Background
2.1. Definition and model
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”.