The SERVQUAL model was created by researchers A. Parasuraman, Valarie Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry in 1985 to measure and drive quality in the service and retail sector. The SERVQUAL model is a framework for measuring service quality and customer satisfaction through five dimensions: reliability, responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, and empathy.
Understanding the SERVQUAL model
Irrespective of the industry, however, most businesses need to provide some degree of customer service. This requires an understanding of how the customer’s mind works and what drives their decisions or actions.
The SERVQUAL model helps bridge the gap in perception between what the company believes it is delivering to customers and what those customers expect, want, or need during customer service.
Although developed before the digital age, the SERVQUAL model is still relevant today. With customers now using the internet to share their thoughts with a vast and captive audience, perception management has never been more important.
The five dimensions of service quality
The SERVQUAL model considers five dimensions customers use to evaluate the quality of service they receive from a business.
These dimensions include:
How consistently does the organization deliver a product or service on time, as described, and without error?
For the customer, reliability means the organization respects commitments and honors promises.
How quickly can the organization respond to customer needs?
Despite the negative perception it creates, some businesses ignore or evade customer service requests for no apparent reason.
Does the organization inspire trust and confidence in customers with professional service, great communication skills, technical knowledge, and the right attitude?
Or the visual aesthetic of a company derived from its logo, physical store, or the look and feel of its website.
Tangibles also encompass equipment, with hand sanitizing and contactless payment devices influencing the consumers of today.
Furthermore, the fourth dimension also includes the physical appearance of customer service staff.
How well are they dressed? Do they practice good personal hygiene?
Or the ability for employees to show genuine care and concern during customer service.
In other words, are those tasked with providing customer service friendly and approachable?
Do they actively listen to consumer needs? Indeed, are they sensitive to consumer needs?
The five gaps of service quality in the SERVQUAL model
The SERVQUAL model defines five scenarios where businesses often fall short of customer expectations.
As mentioned in the introduction, gaps emerge when there is a discrepancy between the needs or wants of the consumer and the services the organization provides.
Each of the five gaps is summarised below:
A knowledge gap occurs when an organization has not done its due diligence on the target audience.
Whether through insufficient or careless research, knowledge gaps reflect a lack of market understanding.
These gaps occur because of a conflict between what the customer wants and what the organization provides.
Policy gaps may be caused by an insufficient commitment to service quality, lack of task standardization, or inadequately described service levels.
Ar dissimilarity between the standards of customer service set out in policies and the actual delivery standard.
This is a common problem in many businesses and may be the result of poor technology, poor management, low employee engagement, and role ambiguity or conflict.
This gap describes a difference between what the company chooses to advertise about a product and what the customer actually receives.
Communication gaps occur because of over-commitment or a lack of cohesion between the advertising and product development departments.
Simply, the difference between customer expectations and the experience created for them by the business.
Customer gaps can be explained by revisiting the five service quality dimensions of reliability, responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, and empathy.
Starbucks SERVQUAL model case study
Starbucks is one of the first companies that comes to mind when one thinks of exemplary customer service.
Let’s analyze the café chain in terms of the model’s five dimensions.
Reliability is one of the hallmarks of the Starbucks experience.
Trained baristas work quickly and efficiently to ensure that long lines of customers receive their coffee orders in a reasonable amount of time.
At Starbucks, however, baristas are expected to do more than make coffee and take a few orders.
The company trains servers on how to make the perfect coffee and requires that they learn about the numerous coffee varieties.
Once trained, baristas are expected to impart this knowledge and passion to the customer.
Reliability is also embodied in the coffee orders themselves.
Since customers are at the heart of the process, Starbucks promises to prepare each drink according to an individual’s particular tastes.
This is a promise that is upheld irrespective of whether the customer resides in Los Angeles or Madrid.
Starbucks is a company that listens to its customers. In 2008, the company launched the “My Starbucks Idea” initiative where customers could submit feedback, ideas, requests, and concerns on a microsite.
Note that this initiative was more than just a glorified suggestion box.
Users could vote on comments and ideas they liked and the microsite also featured a public leader board where the most popular ideas and dedicated fans were listed.
Over 150,000 ideas were received in the first five years of operation, with around 300 incorporated into company operations since.
Some of the ideas which were implemented include free treats on customer birthdays and a new hazelnut-flavored macchiato.
Assurance is related to reliability in that well-trained staff understand how to make good coffee and can communicate their expertise and passion to customers.
These qualities enable Starbucks staff to convey confidence and trust.
The assurance dimension of the SERVQUAL model has been embodied more or less since the company was started.
When founder Howard Schultz once remarked that “We are not in the coffee business serving people but in the people business serving coffee”, he instituted a company-wide attitude and culture that persists to this day.
For many customers, the ambiance of a Starbucks café is as important as the quality of the coffee.
Every detail in a store – from the furniture to the lighting – has been carefully chosen by the company to ensure customers feel at home.
For example, round tables were installed to enable larger groups to study, work, or socialize.
The company also caters to solo workers who want to work in peace, and no one is ever told to leave for overstaying their welcome.
Ultimately, Starbucks wants its stores to become a second or third home for customers.
Starbucks considers empathy to be one of the primary components of its service to others.
That the company will make whatever drink the customer wants is an obvious example, but smaller touches like writing the name of the person on each order also show it cares.
Employees are also trained on how to recognize and respond to customer needs. Consider the Latte method, a technique that enables staff to respond to unpleasant situations with the following steps:
- Listen to the customer.
- Acknowledge their complaint.
- Solve the problem with action.
- Express thanks, and
- Explain why the problem occurred.
When effective, the Latte method enables baristas to recognize negative emotions in customers and address them in positive ways.
SERVQUAL model case study
In this case study, let’s look at the American company Southwest Airlines.
As an airline company, the reliability dimension of the SERVQUAL method is one of the most important to Southwest. The company must provide reliable and consistent flights at the promised times whilst minimizing disruptions such as delays or cancellations.
NerdWallet noted that Southwest was recently awarded 3 out of 5 stars for on-time performance (OTP) – a universal measure of punctuality across different modes of transportation. This score ranked Southwest behind competitors such as Delta, Alaskan, and American Airlines.
Southwest scores more favorably in other key reliability metrics such as the rate of mishandled baggage, with Business Insider reporting that in 2022, the company was among the five airlines with the lowest rate.
Responsiveness for Southwest refers to the company’s ability to promptly respond to customer inquiries such as flight changes, baggage claims, and other special requests.
In 2016, a study found that the airline’s average response time on Twitter was just 15 minutes. This was an industry-leading number that eclipsed Delta (26 minutes), American Airlines (36 minutes), and United (103 minutes). The company also responded to 24% of the 27,554 Twitter mentions it received over a four-week period.
To ensure customers receive a resolution as quickly as possible, the company monitors several metrics such as:
- Time to agent response – how fast the customer receives the initial response.
- Conversation handle time – how fast they receive a resolution, and
- Customer reaction to those times – where the airline looks for customer comments such as “Great, thanks for the fast response” to validate its system.
For Southwest, assurance means consumers feel safe and confident to travel on its aircraft.
The company has a modern fleet of Boeing 737s with the only recent issues related to a manufacturer fault with the 737-MAX 8. In 2023, Southwest was ranked in the top 20 safest low-cost airlines in the world.
Since Southwest only operates one model of aircraft, its engineers have become experts at maintaining them to a high standard.
Each 737 is equipped with HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of all airborne particles. The company also cleans each aircraft from nose to tail for 6 hours with electrostatic disinfectant and an anti-microbial spray.
Staff are dressed in bold blue, summit silver, and warm red colors that complement aircraft liveries and the Southwest website.
Southwest Airlines recognizes that empathy is a critical employee trait in the aviation industry.
In the past, the company was known to make empathy a key attribute during the recruitment process. When interviewing potential flight attendants, Southwest split 50 or 60 people into small teams where individuals were asked to share their most embarrassing life stories.
One may assume the company employs this tactic to assess how their level of confidence or learn how they overcame obstacles. However, as the stories are told, recruiters scan faces in the audience looking for signs of empathy.
Employees who display empathy are a better fit for the company’s culture which rests on three characteristics:
- A warrior spirit – customers travel for a variety of reasons such as for business, a vacation, or even a funeral. Employees are equipped with the tools they need to be sensitive to a customer’s space and schedule.
- A servant’s heart – for Southwest, this means treating customers with respect, putting people first, and giving them more than what they paid for.
- A fun-luving attitude – this attitude means employees don’t take themselves too seriously. They prioritize empathy toward the customer to help them get to their destination, but they also focus on making the process more enjoyable.
- The SERVQUAL model is a framework for measuring service quality and customer satisfaction. It was created by researchers in 1985 to measure and drive quality in the service and retail sector
- The SERVQUAL model assesses five dimensions of service quality: reliability, responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, and empathy.
- The SERVQUAL model also defines five knowledge gaps that help explain how and why a business falls short of customer expectations. These include gaps in knowledge, policy, delivery, communication, and general customer experience.
Why is SERVQUAL model important?
The SERVQUAL model is constructive in putting customer satisfaction at the center of a company’s strategy. Indeed, the SERVQUAL model is a framework for measuring service quality and customer satisfaction through five dimensions: reliability, responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, and empathy.
Is SERVQUAL and gap model same?
Yes, the SERVQUAL model is also known as the gap mode. It helps bridge the gap in perception between what the company believes it delivers to customers and what those customers expect, want, or need during customer service.
What are the 5 dimensions of the SERVQUAL model?
The five dimensions comprise:
Related Business Concepts
Read the remaining product development frameworks here.
Read Next: SWOT Analysis, Personal SWOT Analysis, TOWS Matrix, PESTEL
Main Free Guides: