Delivering Service Quality - Quality Management

Systems and Processes

The SERVQUAL model shows the differences between manufacturing and service from a Quality Management perspective, indicating the added complexity of dealing with the human element of customer interaction. The ‘Gap’ model, however, points us to pretty similar approaches in terms of organizing to deliver value to the customer:

  • Create a system for capturing customer expectations:It is necessary to understand clearly what it is that the customer requires from the service.This understanding will need to be refreshed frequently as their requirements evolve. Translate expectations into specifications: The ‘Voice of the Customer’ needs to be translated into a clear understanding of what the service needs to achieve. So that ‘fast check-out’ at a supermarket might translate into ‘a wait of no more than 4 minutes in check-out lines’. This will also need to apply to more emotional components, such as the need to feel important when dining out in a restaurant.

  • Design and operate processes to meet specifications: A clear understanding of the standards which need to be met needs to be allied to the development of processes capable of delivering it.

  • Develop appropriate behaviors in staff: Processes are important for the more direct requirements (Kano’s‘Spoken Performance’) but the feel of the service is defined by the people who deliver it, and how they behave (‘Basic Quality’ or ‘Excitement Quality’). this will be dealt with in more detail in but selection, training and support of staff would be important here.

  • Measure performance and take action to improve: We need to understand how well we are doing from the customer’s perspective, and what particular aspects of the service need our attention. This is where the gap analysis can be useful.

Challenge analysis matrix

Challenge analysis matrix

A challenge analysis matrix (Capon and Mills, 2002) is one way of prioritising the areas for improvement. In essence, it is a four quadrant model where the axes are importance to the customer of a particular dimension (vertical) and performance, as defined by E –P (horizontal). High importance items with good performance are areas for maintaining the standard; high importance areas with poor performance indicate a need to improve, with secondary emphasis on lower importance items where performance is poor. Areas of high performance which are of low customer priority may represent an area where effort or expenditure might usefully be transferred to higher priority areas.An example is shown in Figure

In the example we can see that the most important things to the customer are reliability and responsiveness while tangibles are not really important. This pattern might, perhaps, reflect customers of a budget airline. The minor axis of each ellipse recognises that there will be a range of opinions amongst customers even in a relatively homogeneous group. The major axis of the ellipses represent the range of expectation to performance gaps reported by the customers; since both expectations and experience will vary for each customer it is reasonable to assume that there will be a wider range of variation along this axis.

Challenge analysis matrix example

Challenge analysis matrix example

In the example it would seem that tangibles are performing close to expectations despite not being seen as important the customer base. This might indicate that some money or effort might be saved in this area without significant detrimental effect on customer value. This is especially true if the effort or money can be re-directed to responsiveness (probably top priority for improvement due to the poor performance despite a marginally lower importance rating) or reliability. Empathy is not a particularly high priority for improvement, but if a cheap intervention is available to improve performance this would be sensible. Assurance seems to be firmly in the maintain zone.


The approach to delivering service quality value can be seen to be similar to that for delivering manufacturing quality value, as noted above. However, there is a significant additional element in the delivery of a service activity which is the human element. Gap analysis is a little prosaic and reductive to address how we inspire confidence, or delight our customers with our interactions.

One way of looking at this is epitomised by Jan Carlzon (1987) who coined the term ‘moment of truth. Carlzon, who was Chief Executive of SAS Swedish Airlines from 1981 to 1994 and presided over a transformation of business focus and performance (Customer think, 2006) suggested that every time a customer has a contact with an organization - on the phone, face to face or, these days, on the web - there is an opportunity to make an impression. If the customer’s expectation is surpassed then a positive impression is created, if the customer feels their expectation has not been met then a negative impression is given. Carlzon advocated an active management of such moments’ within a framework of understanding your customers (Customer think, 2006). The management of ‘moments of truth implies a number of things which are about creating an environment for employees to deliver customer value:

  • Create an obsession with customers: This involves a strategic focus on customers with constant engagement to understand their needs and levels of satisfaction and designing processes to respond to these. This needs to be reinforced by management behaviors in focusing meetings on customer outcomes.

  • Select for, and develop empathy skills:Staff need to be able to put themselves in the place of the customer to be able to respond quickly and effectively in the ‘moment of truth’.

  • Empower staff to respond to customer needs: Staff need to be free to decide what response is appropriate in a given situation. Managers need to defer to the instincts and expertise of front-line staff in doing what is right for the customer, and allow them access to appropriate resources to deliver.The key principles are:
    1. Speed - A solution delayed creates irritation and a sense that the problem is not regarded as a priority.
    2. Proactively - offer, do not wait to be asked, a customer requires much more to be satisfied if they have to ask for it. A pro-active response generates a much stronger positive effect, and shows that you care enough to notice they need something rather than waiting to be told. A recent trend in ‘customer service’ is to ask a customer ‘what they need to make them happy’ over a problem; this may be designed to ensure that a response is appropriate, but has the effect of putting the emphasis back on the customer and increasing their stress. Applied thoughtlessly it can even seem passive aggressive to the customer. If this approach is taken it is necessary to consider in advance how to respond if you feel the customer’s request is unreasonable; asking what is required to put something right and then refusing to do what you are asked for in response clearly creates an issue.
    3. Over reaction - always do more than is reasonable to address a customer issue.The emotional state of a customer with a problem heightens their sensitivity to being taken seriously; for most people the act of raising an issue is highly stressful. If you do more than they might fairly expect you reassure them that you understand how they feel and actually are giving even more weight to their concerns than they do.
  • Feedback and systemic improvement: Encourage staff to seek feedback from customers and to ensure this reaches the right people in the organization. Always seek to uncover root causes for problems, whilst it important to ix things for the person in front of you it is more important to ensure issues do not arise again. Telling those who experienced a problem how you will ensure it doesn’t happen again is also a good way of building assurance and making them feel important.

Although Carlzon’s approach has elements of systematisation, it is much more about empathetic responses to customers and empowering the front line to do what is necessary to enhance customer value. As noted earlier, systems and processes are necessary to achieve quality, but in themselves they are not spiciest; without individuals taking responsibility and behaving appropriately the effect of good processes will be limited. This approach also allows for more readily exceeding customer expectations rather than just minimizing gaps.

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Quality Management Topics