SERVQUAL is a simply a system for rating a service biased organization. It’s one of those handy MBA terms you learn and one of those things that is so simple it doesn’t deserve much thought. However, I feel, it is to quickly dismissed as a tool for improvement in a service organization.
I was explaining it once to a friend who owns a small service biz. I told him the five points of it, and he responded: “We exceed at all five of those” “So, you have no room to improve your business at all?” “No, we don’t” “So, why aren’t you world renown for what you do?” “Well, because not enough people know we do it as well as we do.” “Well, perhaps that means you have room to improve, and then people will rave about you.”
He won’t return my calls anymore.
Here are the five macro classifications of the original tool developed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman & Berry in the mid 80’s. This is called the simplified “RATER” system:
- Reliability – The ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately (aka: Show up on time)
- Responsiveness – The willingness to help customers (aka: pay attention to your customer, it’s why you’re here)
- Assurance – The knowledge and courtesy of employees as well as their ability to convey trust and confidence (aka: Be the expert they hired)
- Empathy – The provision of caring, individualized attention to customers (aka: The relationship matters; being good while being a dick doesn’t get you far)
- Tangibles – The appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials (aka: Dress for the job you want, not the one you got)
The original model had 22 questions, each ranked on a scale between one and seven. I think the seven point scale is wrong, because it implies that some day you’ll reach “100% perfect company”, as my friend felt he had already reached. Why not index the numbers in comparison to each other? This creates an internal comparison that promotes continuous improvement in all aspects of the organization. A conversation between two caring employees might sound like this:
“Tim, Our TANGIBLES are good: Our crews are in uniform looking sharp, and every proposal we send out is on nice letter head with proper spelling and well formatted. We look like the professionals strive to be. However, I wish our EMPATHY was as good as our tangibles; we just don’t seem to care about people.”
“I hate you Bob, I really do.”
Even without getting overly quantitative, I personally believe that everyone and every firm can spend a moment to ask themselves truly where the stand on this simple system. Take 5 minutes alone and rate yourself and think of an example how you do one area well and how you could do one area better in the next week. If working with a group, you might have to spend 30 minutes talking about it. Take notes, and repeat it every quarter, making sure that your strengths stay strong and your weaknesses improve.
How does your organization do? Do you think you can ever reach the ‘perfect’ organization? What would it be like if you did? Is this model to simple for a ‘real’ business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Credit given where it is due: Zeithaml, Parasuraman & Berry, SERVQUAL: A Multi-item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 64, no. 1, Spring 1988 pp 38-40