Providing high-quality service to your customers is necessary for today’s competitive business landscape. Your customers will return to you over and over again if your business can do this well.
Of course, you’re always aiming to deliver excellent service. But how can you determine if you’re living up to your customer’s standards? Since service quality is a qualitative measurement, not a quantitative one, it can be challenging to determine where you truly stand.
Uncover how your customer experience measures up or risk losing customers to the competition. Using the five dimensions of service quality and knowing how to measure them accurately can help you find actionable ways to improve your customer experience and delight your customers.
What is service quality? Simply put, it’s how your business’s customer service measures up to your customers’ expectations.
People enter a store or purchase with an expectation of service in mind, though it varies by industry and other factors. Expectations for service from a high-end furniture store, for example, differ significantly from what customers expect from shopping at IKEA.
Suppose your marketing or brand positioning promises excellent customer service, but your business typically delivers below-par service quality. In that case, your customers will feel disappointed that their expectations have not been met. And that’s bad news for your company.
Providing a customer experience that meets or exceeds expectations increases customer loyalty and satisfaction. Service quality is an essential component of the overall customer experience, and so it’s vital to know how to measure your service quality.
Why measuring service quality is important
Measuring service quality is essential because otherwise, you won’t have a clear grasp of the service you’re currently providing to customers. You may assume that you know your service quality is excellent because your business is profitable. Even if you have plenty of customers, that’s not always a good indicator of service quality.
After all, you could be showing profits because you currently offer the only option in your price range, geographical area, or industry. But when a competitor finally comes along, if your customers find your service quality lacking, they’re likely to take the other option and leave your business in the lurch.
To know where your service quality stands, you need to measure it by asking customers for their feedback and opinions.
Once you know how your service quality is living up to customer expectations, you’ll better understand your customers’ needs and what they value from your business. Measuring service quality will also help you find gaps or pain points that can improve your customer experience.
Additionally, measuring service quality will highlight the areas where your business is performing well so you can capitalize on those strengths in your marketing and sales. Suppose your research uncovers that your customers love a particular aspect of your service, like fast shipping. In that case, you can add that into your next ad campaign to entice new customers with a service you feel confident delivering.
Five dimensions of service quality
Every industry has different service quality standards. After all, you don’t expect the same type of service from a hotel and a retail store. And service quality also varies by brand promise, as a five-star resort has very different expectations than a roadside motel.
Despite these variations, there is a popular and standard way to measure service quality: SERVQUAL. Coined by Valerie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman, and Leonard Berry in the book Delivering Quality Service, SERVQUAL is a widely-used metric based on a set of five dimensions that customers have consistently ranked as the most important for service quality in any industry.
The five service quality dimensions are tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy.
Tangibility is the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials.
Customers tend to expect clean and professional facilities and shops, employees who look groomed and neat, and well-written and designed materials such as menus, websites, and signs. Attention to appearance can indicate that your company takes customer comfort seriously.
While appearance is not the most critical aspect of service, it does make a difference in how customers perceive your business, especially if your brand promises a premium or luxury experience.
Reliability is the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately.
Doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it is essential to pleasing your customers. They want to rely on your business to deliver a working product or effective service, to get help when they need it, and for all of this to happen in a timely fashion.
Customers want to count on the businesses they buy from - that’s at the heart of this dimension.
Responsiveness is the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
Responding quickly to customer questions and concerns is vital, especially in today’s fast-paced world. Responsiveness even applies when customers are slow in responding to you. Answer swiftly to, at the very least, let customers know that you’re working on their request.
Responsiveness lets your customers know that you’re listening to them and working actively to solve their problems.
Assurance is the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence.
Customers expect businesses to be the experts in the service they deliver. Communicating that expertise to customers helps reassure them that they can trust you, whether you accomplish this by displaying credentials and industry certifications or customer testimonials.
Assurance is significant when customers have many options but aren’t sure who to trust when purchasing. Suppose you run an ecommerce store, for example. In that case, customers are bombarded regularly with ads from potentially untrustworthy online shops all day, so you need to determine how to set yourself apart and gain consumer trust.
Empathy is the caring, individualized attention the firm provides its customers.
Customers want to feel like they’re more than a transaction; they want to build a relationship with your business. Even if you have the best product or services on the market, you can still fall short of their expectations.
Showing empathy to customers means ensuring your company showcases your care. Training employees on how to provide excellent and empathetic service—where smiles and engaging conversation occur regularly—can help you exceed expectations.
How to measure the five dimensions of service quality
The 5 service quality dimensions are used to measure your customers’ expectations versus how the service was actually delivered.
Measuring these dimensions regularly over time can help your business understand customer expectations, perceptions, and areas for improvement, as well as track your progress in increasing your service quality.
There are many ways you can measure the SERVQUAL dimensions.
Service quality questionnaires
To improve your business’s service, you need to understand how satisfied customers are and if their expectations are fulfilled. One of the best ways to do this is by asking customers for their feedback using service quality questionnaires.
These questionnaires are typically sent after a customer interaction, like a store visit or an online help form submission. They aren’t meant for merely gathering data. If your customer reports a negative experience or interaction, you should follow up with them right away to resolve it and report on the action taken.
Advantages of service quality questionnaires
Service quality questionnaires have several advantages. Since they’re sent immediately after an interaction, the details are still relatively fresh in the customer’s mind and thus more accurate. They also offer information quickly so you can take swift action on the most pressing issues.
The service rep helped to solve my issue (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
Which of the qualities of the service rep did you like? (patient, friendly, responsive, willing to help, empathetic, etc.)
Was there anything about our service that stood out to you?
Over the next year, how likely are you to use our product or service again? (strongly agree to strongly disagree)
In-app surveys are another effective mechanism for gathering customer feedback directly. Instead of sending a survey via email or paper format, in-app surveys pop up while the customer uses your mobile app.
You can use these surveys to ask customers one or two quick questions about an in-store experience they just had, or about the app itself, or another aspect of your service quality.
Advantages of in-app surveys
In-app surveys offer a quick and easy way for customers to give their feedback. Since the experience doesn’t take them out of the app, they can give a quick rating. They also allow you to hone in closely on the app experience itself, which can be useful if that’s one of the primary ways your customers interact with your business.
It’s best not to ask for long open-ended answers through in-app surveys because typing detailed responses on a mobile phone can require too much effort for respondents.
Qualitative analysis: documentation
You can also check the data and information you’re already collecting to develop a deeper understanding of your service. Qualitatively analyzing written and recorded customer service records, like chat transcripts and call records, can yield insights about the customer experience you may have missed otherwise.
To perform this qualitative analysis, you can go through low-rated recorded interactions to examine what went wrong and use the insights to adjust rep behavior or solve systemic issues.
You can also examine highly-rated interactions to see what separates the best customer service agents from their lower-performing peers and use those insights to train reps as well.
Advantages of documentation analysis
Documentation analysis can be an effective companion to customer surveys. It allows you to determine how effective your customer service team is at providing high-quality service. And with the issues identified, you can provide further training for reps to improve future interactions or identify pain points in your system.
Customer Effort Score (CES)
The CES system is a popular customer loyalty metric. It measures how easy you make it for customers to do business with your company, whether that’s making a purchase, setting up a service, or solving a problem.
CES is measured by asking customers to agree or disagree with the following statement: “[Company] made it easy for me to handle my issue.” The respondents can choose from seven answers ranging from strongly disagree (score 1) to strongly agree (score 7).
Calculate CES score by finding the average of all responses:
(Total sum of responses) ÷ (Number of responses) = CES score.
Advantages of CES
While ease isn’t everything, it’s undoubtedly a vital part of the customer experience. If you make it overly challenging for customers to get help with a problem or buy something, they’re bound to be frustrated. CES is a metric you can use to discover issues and come up with actionable solutions.
And CES is a good predictor of customer loyalty. CEB research found that 96% of customers with a high effort score were less loyal in the future, compared to just 9% of those with low effort scores.
First contact resolution ratio
First contact resolution happens when a customer reaches out to your business with a problem, and that problem resolves during the first session; no follow-up or back-and-forth is happening.
Calculate the first contact resolution ratio by dividing the number of issues resolved through a single response by the number that required more responses.
Advantages of first contact resolution ratio
Avoiding the frustrating and time-consuming back-and-forth that can happen when a customer encounters an issue is very satisfying. They get their problem solved faster, and they don’t need to explain their issue repeatedly.
Having a higher first-contact resolution ratio indicates that your customer service team is skilled at resolving issues and using the proper channels. For example, it’s often hard to fix a problem at first contact in email, but a phone call or chat option can improve that ratio.
Leading metrics analysis
The surveys and methods described above focus on the outcome of the interaction, the customer’s subjective experience. But there’s also value in investigating the inputs, which are the elements that make for a quality service delivery.
These inputs are called leading metrics.
Examples of input metrics
First response time: How quickly a customer receives a response to their question or issue.
Response time: The average time in between responses. For example, if an issue takes 3 email responses to solve, and the time between each message is 3 and then 5 hours, your average response time is 4 hours.
Backlog inflow/outflow: The number of cases submitted as compared to the number of cases closed. A backlog of open cases might indicate it’s time to hire more employees.
Customer success ratio: The number of customers who found what they were looking for compared to those who didn’t.
Average queueing wait time: The average time customers need to wait for service.
Problem resolution time: The average time it takes for an issue to be resolved.
Minutes per call: How much time customers spend on the phone with a representative. This metric can help identify your most effective representatives.
These are only a few examples of potential input metrics. There may be others more relevant to your industry or customer service model. Finding the inputs that have the most significant impact on your service quality can take some research and experimentation, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
Advantages of leading metrics analysis
Input metrics can help you set targets for your service team in areas that are under their control. While customer satisfaction depends on many subjective and out-of-control factors of your team and your business, focus on improving actions you can control.
Determining how effective your business is at delivering high-quality service to your customers can seem challenging. First, focus on the right way to measure the five most important dimensions of customer service. After that, you’ll be on your way to making the most effective improvements to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.
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