Service has now been shown to be an important part of customer's experience on the web (as it always has been in the offline world). In fact, various research firms are advising all companies to focus on making the most of their customer relationships and managing online and offline sales channels. This means, in short, making sure that customers are not only highly satisfied, but will stay with you for the long term.

To make this happen you're going to have to get sophisticated about understanding how customers perceive your "service quality".

Ok, maybe you're on top of this already and you've contracted with one of those firms on the Internet who will measure your service quality through internet surveys. Or maybe you're thinking about measuring your service quality by asking customers yourself.

In either case you want to be sure you have a clear idea of what "service quality" really means. Failure to understand the real meaning of service quality may result in you measuring the wrong thing!

THE TYPICAL WAY

Here's an example of one way that is often used to measure service quality:

You ask people to respond to a set of statements and ask them whether they agree or disagree. For example,

"When we promise to do something by a certain time, we do it."

Strongly Disagree
         
Strongly Agree
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or "Our company is dependable" or something similar.

It's not that this type of question is wrong, or doesn't get at one aspect of service quality, it's simply that it is incomplete. The reason is that service quality has many dimensions. In fact, the example we just showed you taps into only one dimension of service quality, namely how reliable the company is.

THE DIMENSIONS OF SERVICE QUALITY

So what are the different dimensions of service quality? In fact, research has demonstrated that there are at least 11 different dimensions. Let's first see what these dimensions are and then we'll talk about why you need to understand and measure all (or most) of these if you want to understand service quality.

  • Access: Is your service (employees, facilities, etc.) convenient and approachable?
  • Assurance: Does the knowledge and courtesy of your employees instill trust and confidence?
  • Empathy: Do your employees give attention to customers and understand their needs?
  • Reliability: Is your service consistent in terms of performance and dependability?
  • Responsiveness: Are employees willing and ready to provide service?
  • Competence: Do your employees have the required skills and knowledge to perform the service?
  • Communication: Do you keep customers informed in language they can understand and do you listen to them?
  • Credibility: Is your service trustworthy, believable and honest?
  • Security: Is you service free from danger, risk, or doubt?
  • Understanding/Knowing the customer: Has every effort been made to understand the customer's needs?
  • Tangibles: Is there physical evidence of the service, such as up-to-date facilities?

HOW DO I MEASURE THESE DIMENSIONS?

First let's think about how you measure each of these dimensions. You need to take each dimension and think about a number of statements that captures that dimension for your particular situation. For example, let's say you really want to put together a scale to measure the extent to which your customers think you are courteous and give them a sense of security of doing business with them (Assurance). You might then come up with a variety of statements that tap into this idea. Here are some:

"You feel safe in your transactions with us"
"Employees get adequate support from us to do their jobs well."
"The telephone manners of the staff are very good, etc. etc."

You would then do that for each of the dimensions listed above. Of course, this would be lot of statements you would need to ask customers, so you might want to just tap into 1 or two statements for each of the dimensions. You might think that is still a lot, but as you will see below, failure to capture a variety of these dimensions will result in you not understanding how customers perceive your service quality.

WHY SO MANY DIMENSIONS?

As with most psychological ideas, people don't evaluate experiences in a single dimension. Service quality is a perfect example. Our experiences with a company are multi-faceted, so we should expect that to tap into these experiences we can't rely on simplistic surveys.

To see this, think about what you miss when you measure just one dimension of service quality. For example, take our interactions with the previous service provider for this web site (Innerhost.com - please do not patronize that company!). Frankly their hosting service is pathetic, averaging multiple episodes of downtime every month.

If they asked us whether we perceive they are accessible, we would have answered yes. If they asked us whether they listened to us, again we would have answeedr yes. The same goes for empathy. But it is the dimension of credibility that is lacking, and for this reason we switched services.

The point, of course, is that you miss the reasons why people stay or leave if you measure service quality with only a few dimensions.

And remember, when you tap into all of these various dimensions of service quality, rather than just one or two, you are really tapping into a customer's long-term overall attitude toward your company rather than simply their satisfaction for a specific transaction.

NEXT STEPS

Now, you might be interested in putting together a questionnaire or survey to measure service quality. How do you construct a survey? You can read more about this in our tutorial on questionnaires.

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