The SERVQUAL Model is an empiric model by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry to compare service quality performance with customer service quality needs. It is used to do a gap analysis of an organization’s service quality performance against the service quality needs of its customers. That’s why it’s also called the GAP model.
It takes into account the perceptions of customers of the relative importance of service attributes. This allows an organization to prioritize.
There are five core components of service quality:
- Tangibles: physical facilities, equipment, staff appearance, etc.
- Reliability: ability to perform service dependably and accurately.
- Responsiveness: willingness to help and respond to customer need.
- Assurance: ability of staff to inspire confidence and trust.
- Empathy: the extent to which caring individualized service is given.
The four themes that were identified by the SERVQUAL developers were numbered and labelled as:
Consumer expectation – Management Perception Gap (Gap 1):
Management may have inaccurate perceptions of what consumers (actually) expect. The reason for this gap is lack of proper market/customer focus. The presence of a marketing department does not automatically guarantee market focus. It requires the appropriate management processes, market analysis tools and attitude.
Service Quality Specification Gap (Gap 2):
There may be an inability on the part of the management to translate customer expectations into service quality specifications. This gap relates to aspects of service design.
Service Delivery Gap (Gap 3):
Guidelines for service delivery do not guarantee high-quality service delivery or performance. There are several reasons for this. These include: lack of sufficient support for the frontline staff, process problems, or frontline/contact staff performance variability.
External Communication Gap (Gap 4):
Consumer expectations are fashioned by the external communications of an organization. A realistic expectation will normally promote a more positive perception of service quality. A service organization must ensure that its marketing and promotion material accurately describes the service offering and the way it is delivered
- These four gaps cause a fifth gap (Gap 5)
Which is the difference between customer expectations and perceptions of the service actually received Perceived quality of service depends on the size and direction of Gap 5, which in turn depends on the nature of the gaps associated with marketing, design and delivery of services. So, Gap 5 is the product of gaps 1, 2, 3 and 4. If these four gaps, all of which are located below the line that separates the customer from the company, are closed then gap 5 will close.
How to measure Service Quality?
- Mystery Shopping
This is a popular technique used for retail stores, hotels, and restaurants, but works for any other service as well. It consists out of hiring an ‘undercover customer’ to test your service quality – or putting on a fake moustache and going yourself, of course.
The undercover agent then assesses the service based on a number of criteria, for example those provided by SERVQUAL. This offers more insights than simply observing how your employees work. Which will probably be outstanding — as long as their boss is around.
- Post Service Rating
This is the practice of asking customers to rate the service right after it’s been delivered.
With Userlike’s live chat, for example, you can set the chat window to change into a service rating view once it closes. The customers make their rating, perhaps share some explanatory feedback, and close the chat.
Something similar is done with ticket systems like Help Scout, where you can rate the service response from your email inbox.
It’s also done in phone support. The service rep asks whether you’re satisfied with her service delivery, or you’re asked to stay on the line to complete an automatic survey. The latter version is so annoying, though, that it kind of destroys the entire service experience.
Different scales can be used for the post service rating. Many make use of a number-rating from 1 – 10. There’s possible ambiguity here, though, because cultures differ in how they rate their experiences.
- Follow-Up Survey
With this method you ask your customers to rate your service quality through an email survey – for example via Google Forms. It has a couple advantages over the post-service rating.
For one, it gives your customer the time and space for more detailed responses. You can send a SERVQUAL type of survey, with multiple questions instead of one. That’d be terribly annoying in a post-service rating.
It also provides a more holistic overview of your service. Instead of a case-by-case assessment, the follow-up survey measures your customers’ overall opinion of your service.
It’s also a useful technique if you didn’t have the post service rating in place yet and want a quick overview of the state of your service quality.
- In-App Survey
With an in-app survey, the questions are asked while the visitor is on the website or in the app, instead of after the service or via email. It can be one simple question – e.g. ‘how would you rate our service’ – or it could be a couple of questions.
Convenience and relevance are the main advantages. SurveyMonkey offers some great tools for implementing something like this on your website.
- Customer Effort Score (CES)
This metric was proposed in an influential Harvard Business Review article. In it, they argue that while many companies aim to ‘delight’ the customer – to exceed service expectations – it’s more likely for a customer to punish companies for bad service than it is for them to reward companies for good service.
While the costs of exceeding service expectations are high, they show that the payoffs are marginal. Instead of delighting our customers, so the authors argue, we should make it as easy as possible for them to have their problems solved.
That’s what they found had the biggest positive impact on the customer experience, and what they propose measuring.
- Social Media Monitoring
This method has been gaining momentum with the rise of social media. For many people, social media serve as an outlet. A place where they can unleash their frustrations and be heard.
And because of that, they are the perfect place to hear the unfiltered opinions of your customers – if you have the right tools. Facebook and Twitter are obvious choices, but also review platforms like TripAdvisor or Yelp can be very relevant. Buffer suggests to ask your social media followers for feedback on your service quality.
Two great tools to track who’s talking about you are Mention and Google Alerts.
- Documentation Analysis
With this qualitative approach you read or listen to your respectively written or recorded service records. You’ll definitely want to go through the documentation of low-rated service deliveries, but it can also be interesting to read through the documentation of service agents that always rank high. What are they doing better than the rest?
The hurdle with the method isn’t in the analysis, but in the documentation. For live chat and email support it’s rather easy, but for phone support it requires an annoying voice at the start of the call: “This call could be recorded for quality measurement”.
- Objective Service Metrics
These stats deliver the objective, quantitative analysis of your service. These metrics aren’t enough to judge the quality of your service by themselves, but they play a crucial role in showing you the areas you should improve in.
- Volume per channel. This tracks the amount of inquiries per channel. When combined with other metrics, like those covering efficiency or customer satisfaction, it allows you to decide which channels to promote or cut down.
- First response time. This metric tracks how quickly a customer receives a response on her inquiry. This doesn’t mean their issue is solved, but it’s the first sign of life – notifying them that they’ve been heard.
- Response time. This is the total average of time between responses. So let’s say your email ticket was resolved with 4 responses, with respective response times of 10, 20, 5, and 7 minutes. Your response time is 10.5 minutes. Concerning reply times, most people reaching out via email expect a response within 24 hours; for social channels it’s 60 minutes. Phone and live chat require an immediate response, under 2 minutes.
- First contact resolution ratio. Divide the number of issues that’s resolved through a single response by the number that required more responses. Forrester research showed that first contact resolutions are an important customer satisfaction factor for 73% of customers.
- Replies per ticket. This shows how many replies your service team needs on average to close a ticket. It’s a measure of efficiency and customer effort.
- Backlog Inflow/Outflow. This is the number of cases submitted compared to the number of cases closed. A growing number indicates that you’ll have to expand your service team.
- Customer Success Ratio. A good service doesn’t mean your customers always finds what they want. But keeping track of the number that found what they looked for versus those that didn’t, can show whether your customers have the right ideas about your offerings.
- ‘Handovers’ per issue. This tracks how many different service reps are involved per issue. Especially in phone support, where repeating the issue is necessary, customers hate HBR identified it as one of the four most common service complaints.
- Things Gone Wrong. The number of complaints/failures per customer inquiry. It helps you identify products, departments, or service agents that need some ‘fixing’.
- Instant Service / Queuing Ratio. Nobody likes to wait. Instant service is the best service. This metric keeps track of the ratio of customers that were served instantly versus those that had to wait. The higher the ratio, the better your service.
- Average Queueing Waiting Time. The average time that queued customers have to wait to be served.
- Queueing Hang-ups. How many customers quit the queueing process. These count as a lost service opportunity.
- Problem Resolution Time. The average time before an issue is resolved.
- Minutes Spent Per Call. This can give you insight on who are your most efficient operators.
Some of these measures are also financial metrics, such as the minutes spent per call and number of handovers. You can use them to calculate your service costs per service contact. Winning the award for the world’s best service won’t get you anywhere if the costs eat up your profits.
Some service tools keep track of these sort of metrics automatically, like Talkdesk for phone and User like for live chat support. If you make use of communication tools that aren’t dedicated to service, tracking them will be a bit more work.
One word of caution for all above mentioned methods and metrics: beware of averages, they will deceive you. If your dentist delivers a great service 90% of the time, but has a habit of binge drinking and pulling out the wrong teeth the rest of the time, you won’t stick around long.
A more realistic image shapes up if you keep track of the outliers and standard deviation as well. Measure your service, aim for a high average, and improve by diminishing the outliers.