Measuring customer satisfaction with SERVQUAL for quality service

Measuring Customer Satisfaction by applying the approach of SERVQUAL for Quality Service Improvement preferably in the non for profit-sector

Can SERVQUAL as a gap analysis be applied in the non-for-profit sector?


Since market competition grow to be more intense than ever before and all environmental factors surrounding a company develop more and more antagonistic, the consciousness for service quality raises. The last two decades show that quality of service ought to be the key of success of marketing strategy. Therefore, the vendor should get a chance to measure him in order to rate his competitiveness. According to Zeithaml et al. (1988), research and company experience reveals that utter superior service quality generates calculable gains in return, cost savings and market share. Thus, it was the motivation for them to develop a service quality model.

Recently, the mainly established and well-known method of measurement model of quality of service is SERVQUAL. Basically, it outlines a tool established by Parasuraman et al. (1985; 1988). Furthermore, it has been widely used since the mid-eighties in several case studies. Obviously, Parasuraman et al. (1985) are the pioneers of service quality measurement and thus they developed it further over the years through a series of academic papers as shown some of them 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 definition and model of SEREVQUAL, criticism and SERVQUAL in the public sector which is followed by the conclusion and implications for the future research.

Conceptual Background

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 the measurement of service quality is very difficult to measure and certainly more difficult to measure as 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 surpass expectations. Thus, customers' expectations provide as the base on which service quality is evaluated by customers. Additionally, at the same time as service quality raises, 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 measures 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, in the first instance, by writing of about 100 questions asking consumers to rate a service regarding both of expectations and performance on specific attributes that were thought to mirror 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, such as reliability. As mentioned, SERVQUAL is presented as a multi dimensional model. In their original SERVQUAL model Parasuraman et al. (1985) came up with 10 dimensions as shown: "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 them down into five dimensions which are also known as the RATER Model including:

1. Reliability, what is defined by the "ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately" (Buttle, 1996, p.9).

2. Assurance, which means the "knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence" (Buttle, 1996, p.9).

3. Tangibles, what contains the "appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials"(Buttle, 1996, p.9)

4. Empathy, what is the "provision of caring, individualized attention to customers" (Buttle, 1996, p.9).

5. 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 organizations.

Moreover, the model points out that consumer' quality perceptions are influenced by a series of four distinct gaps occurring in organizations which need a further a description according to Zeithaml et al. (1988). Hence, Parasuraman et al. (1985) conducted a research through executive interviews with both customers and managers to find the gaps between perception and actual service. Gap 1 describes the "difference between consumer expectations and management perceptions of consumer expectations" (Zeithaml et al., 1988, p.35). Gap 2 illustrates the "difference between management perceptions of consumer expectations and service quality specifications" (Zeithaml et al.1988, p.36). Gap 3 means the "difference between service quality specifications and the service actually delivered" (Zeithaml et al. 1988, p.36). Gap 4 portraits 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 the 6th proposition what is the following: Gap 5= f (Gap1, Gap2, Gap3, Gap4). Since only some search properties exist with services and as credence properties were too complicated to evaluate, Parasuraman et al. (1985) proposed in the 7th proposition: "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) in preposition 8:

a) "When ES > PS, perceived quality is less than satisfactory and will tend toward totally unacceptable quality, with increased discrepancy between ES and PS;"(Parasuraman et al., 1985, p.49)

b) "When ES=PS, perceived quality is satisfactory;" (Parasuraman et al., 1985, p.49)

c) 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).

This 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 larger the gap in service quality; conversely the upper the mean score, the smaller the gap in service quality. Gaps 1 to 4 are within the control of an organization and need to be analyzed to determine the causes and changes to be implemented which can decrease or even remove Gap 5, which 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.

Several prove and evidence for the applicability of the model is given by Asubonteng et al. (1996)at 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. The author will provide further details 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 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 park" (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) . There has also been diverse other research questioning SERVQUAL and new measurements e.g. by Cronin and Taylor (1992) developed 1992.

Buttle (1996) principally observed that the five dimensions of SERVQUAL are based on a disconfirmation paradigm and that the model does not pass to depict on reputable economic as well as statistical and psychological theory.

Lages & Fernandes (2005) advised that customer ultimate decisions are seized at an upper intensity of abstraction. In terms of comparison, Service Personal Values (SERPVAL) scale however presents three dimensions of service value (peaceful life, social recognition, and social integration) which are related with 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).

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 further 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 latest professional dares which comes up from the implementation of novel rules and instruments encouraged by the change 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 whereat 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) studied basically management and customer perceptions of service quality practices in the Malaysian Public sector with solely focus on perceptions of actual service delivery. Furthermore, Donnelly et al. (2006) applied the SERVQUAL approach to access the quality of service of Strathclyde Police in Scotland ending up 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 a major impact on the business and academic associations. However this literature review has identified some critic of the measurement which should address users of the instrument either. SERVQUAL is one of a number of apparently interrelated constructs whose precise alignment has yet to be explored. Despite these critics, SERVQUAL seems to be moving rapidly in the direction of institutionalized status. Rust and Zahorik (1993) believed that "the general SERVQUAL dimensions ... should probably be put on any first pass as a list of attributes of service" (from Buttle, 1996, p. 25).

These criticisms indicate that there is still a need for fundamental research.

Future research

A suggested fertile and crucial area for future research in the field discussed above is the measurement of expectations. Carman (1990) and Babakus and Boller (1992) discussed the computing perception-minus expectation gap scores and presented numerous useful suggestions that are worthy of further research which includes theoretical facets regarding the pros and cons of measuring expectations and perceptions separately.

The 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 fruitful 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.

Reference List

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