When it comes to customer satisfaction, it all comes down to perception: How the customer sees and experiences the product and service provided by your business. It’s not what you believe or think, not what your studies or focus groups tell you, but what your actual customers feel, experience, and say. So your bottom-line, financial results are tied to customer satisfaction and quality. In turn, quality is measured along two dimensions, the physical and the performance.
Customer Requirements: Objective and Challenge
The product works and the service doesn’t. The service works and the product doesn’t. (If neither works, then you really have issues!) The customer has expectations and requirements; meeting and exceeding them is the objective, and defining them and understanding them is the challenge. The composition of customer requirements is neither static nor uniform. What works for one group will not work for another. What meets the needs during one period and with one product line or competitive market won’t work in another. So it is critical for every business to be able to segregate or stratify its customer base to identify various groups and their specific needs.
Keeping in mind that quality is multidimensional—both about a physical product and the performance of any physical product, as well as the service of providing it—to satisfy the customer you must consider all aspects of each dimension. If you are dealing with the physical dimensions of a product’s quality, then you need to deal with all aspects of the tangible product. It isn’t enough to get the size and shape right if you use inferior materials. On the performance dimension, it isn’t enough for the product to be fast if the customer wants the product to be fast and have multiple functions. If the customer is looking for a product that is made of superior materials with great form and function that operates at a high speed and has all the “bells and whistles,” then having three out of four product dimensions won’t get you 100% satisfaction.
Missing parts of the physical aspects of a product can also carry over to the performance aspects of service. These dimensions are much more difficult to get insights into and to quantify. Because performance dimensions are more about emotional responses to product usage (e.g., satisfaction and failures) and to interactions with your business for little things and big things (e.g., from “how to” questions to things gone wrong) they are often even more important to the profitability of the company. Customers may in fact accept a defective product much more readily than defective service.
Characteristics of Service as a Product: Quality and Performance
Product-oriented organizations tend to think of customer service as a process customer service simply in terms of providing “friendly employees.” Customers think of the customer service, and really all services, from a different perspective. Customers perceive service as a product and have expectations as to whether its features meet or exceed expectations—or completely fail to live up to their needs. If you call a customer service call center and can’t get to a “real person” and you expect to get one, then your expectations haven’t been met. If you call for technical assistance and can’t get an answer to your question, again expectations aren’t met and “quality” ratings decline.
Based upon the nature of customer viewpoints and behaviors, quality of service is typically measured by the customer in terms of the “products” the customer expects to receive. Thus it is important for every organization, especially service organizations, to determine what customers expect and then develop service products that meet or exceed those expectations.
Five Dimensions of Product and Service Quality
The quality of tangible products is usually a straight-forward determination; for customers, making a comparison between physical products is a matter of feature-to-feature analysis. The challenge for customers, and thus for organizations, lies in evaluating service quality, which may be the only way customers truly differentiate between one complete “product offering” and another. For this reason, organizations and their marketers live or die by understanding how consumers judge service quality.
The five dimensions of product service quality are:
- Physical ability and capability to provide service
- Consistency and reliability of service
- Responsiveness and willingness to provide service
- Knowledge and competence of employees providing service
- Empathetic concern for the customer
The majority of customer criteria are intangible. Regardless of whether the dimensions are tangible or intangible, the customer has two levels of expectations: desired and acceptable levels. The desired level is what the customer really wants. The acceptable level is what the customer finds to be the “reasonable” level of performance. Anything in between acceptable and desirable is what the customer will tolerate.
To achieve that range between acceptable and desirable, each organization has to establish:
- Product and service quality specifications
- Employee performance metrics
- Product performance and quality metrics
• Clear definitions of customer expectations
- Service process management
- Service process metrics
- On-going, interactive customer orientation
- Iterative process monitoring, controls, and corrective action procedures
To be in business to provide a product also requires providing service. To be in business as a service provider requires recognition of the two components of the service: the service as the product and the service in support of the product. Every organization provides services in support of their “product.” Those services are an integral part of customers’ buying decision and satisfaction, the loyalty, and the price they will pay. Ultimately, the total product/service “package” is what the customer looks for and evaluates; when an organization gets it right they are successful at every level. When things go wrong, then it is disastrous for the bottom line.
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