What Is the SERVQUAL Model? SERVQUAL Model In A Nutshell

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.

SERVQUAL Model Dynamic Template

Understanding the SERVQUAL model

ElementDescriptionAnalysisImplicationsBenefitsChallengesUse CasesExamples
Service Quality DimensionsSERVQUAL identifies five dimensions to measure service quality: Tangibles, Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance, and Empathy. These dimensions help assess and improve service quality.These dimensions provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating service quality from various angles, aiding in identifying strengths and weaknesses.Understanding the dimensions helps organizations tailor their strategies to meet customer expectations and enhance overall service quality.Enhanced service quality and customer satisfaction.Challenges in quantifying and measuring subjective elements like empathy.Service quality assessment, customer feedback.A hotel using SERVQUAL to assess its service quality by surveying guests.
TangiblesTangibles refer to the physical and tangible aspects of the service, such as facilities, equipment, appearance, and cleanliness.Tangibles contribute to customers’ first impressions and can influence their overall perception of service quality.Well-maintained physical assets and appealing aesthetics can positively impact customers’ perception of the service.Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.Investments in tangibles may be costly.Facility maintenance, interior design.A restaurant upgrading its decor and furnishings.
ReliabilityReliability is the consistency and dependability of the service, including the ability to deliver promised services accurately and on time.Reliability is a fundamental aspect of service quality, as customers expect consistency and reliability in their service interactions.Consistently meeting or exceeding customer expectations builds trust and loyalty.Increased customer trust and repeat business.Challenges in maintaining consistency across all service interactions.Service process standardization, quality control.An airline ensuring on-time departures and arrivals.
ResponsivenessResponsiveness involves the willingness and ability of service providers to help customers promptly and address their needs and concerns.Quick response to customer inquiries or issues is essential for providing a positive service experience.Responsiveness demonstrates customer-centricity and can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.Improved customer relationships and loyalty.Inconsistent responsiveness due to varying workloads.Customer service training, complaint resolution.A call center responding promptly to customer inquiries.
AssuranceAssurance relates to the competence, courtesy, credibility, and professionalism of service providers. Customers should feel confident in the service provider’s abilities and trustworthiness.Assurance is crucial for building trust and confidence in the service provider, as customers rely on the provider’s expertise and credibility.Demonstrating competence and professionalism can enhance customers’ perception of service quality and reliability.Greater customer trust and confidence.Challenges in consistently delivering high levels of assurance.Employee training, certification programs.A financial advisor building trust through professional certifications and expertise.
EmpathyEmpathy refers to the service provider’s ability to understand, care for, and empathize with customers’ needs, feelings, and concerns.Empathy is essential for creating a personalized and customer-focused service experience, demonstrating genuine care for customers.Showing empathy can lead to stronger customer relationships, increased satisfaction, and long-term loyalty.Improved customer relationships and loyalty.Challenges in training employees to demonstrate empathy authentically.Customer service training, active listening.A healthcare provider showing empathy toward a patient’s concerns and fears.

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:

Knowledge gap

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.

Policy gap

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.

Delivery gap

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.

Communication gap

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.

Customer gap

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.

The model of service quality

The model of service quality, also known as the gaps model, is a conceptual framework that was also developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry between 1983 and 1988.

The model provides a systematic approach to understanding the various factors affect service quality and, as we’ll see below, is the basis of the SERVQUAL model.

Central to the model of service quality is the expectancy-confirmation paradigm.

This paradigm is based on the idea that an individual’s perception of quality depends on the extent to which they believe the delivery of service meets their expectations.

The service quality equation

As a result, service quality can be calculated with the simple equation SQ = P – E. 

In this case, SQ is service quality, P is the individual’s perception of a specific service delivery, and E is their expectation of that service delivery.

It stands to reason that service quality is deemed low when an individual’s expectations exceed their perceptions of service delivery.

Conversely, service quality is high when perceptions exceed expectations.

Note that the fifth gap is the only gap in the SERVQUAL model that can be measured in this way as it deals explicitly with customer service.

The first four gaps cannot be quantified using the formula, but nevertheless provide diagnostic value.

How was the model of service quality developed?

The model is the result of an exhaustive literature search that occurred over five years.

Parasuraman and his co-workers found 100 factors that impacted service quality, which were used in the initial round of consumer testing.

From statistical analysis, the team found that the numerous factors could be represented along ten distinct dimensions. These include:

  1. Tangibles – the physical appearance and facilities of the service provider such as the cleanliness of the premises, the appearance of employees, and the quality of the equipment used.
  2. Reliability – the ability of the service provider to perform the promised service dependably and accurately. This means the service is correct on the first occasion or that accounts and schedules are well-kept and up-to-date. 
  3. Responsiveness – the willingness of the service provider to help customers and provide prompt service. For example, an eCommerce company provides an invoice and shipment tracking number immediately after a customer purchase.
  4. Courtesy – this encompasses concern or consideration for the customer’s property. It also extends to the neat and clean appearance of customer service staff and how this relates to respect, friendliness, and politeness.
  5. Security – is the customer safe in a physical and financial sense? Is confidential or other sensitive information protected?
  6. Credibility – the perceived trustworthiness, honesty, and expertise of the service provider. Does the provider have the customer’s best interests at heart?
  7. Access – the ease with which customers can reach, approach, and use the service provider. A fast-food chain with 24/7 hours in convenient city locations would score well on this dimension.
  8. Communication – the clarity and effectiveness of communication between the service provider and the customer. Does the business listen to the customers and communicate in a way they can easily understand?
  9. Understanding the customer – this is the effort the service provider puts in to understand the customer’s unique needs and requirements. This is related to personalized attention.
  10. Competence – do customer service staff possess the required skills and knowledge to perform their tasks?

Upon further analysis, Parasuraman et al. discovered that some of these dimensions were closely related or correlated.

As a result, the list of ten dimensions were further refined in the early 1990s to the five core dimensions of the SERVQUAL model today.

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. 

Southwest Airlines 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.

Additional Case Studies

  • Apple Inc.:
    • Reliability: Apple ensures reliable product performance with rigorous quality control measures.
    • Responsiveness: The company’s customer support teams respond promptly to inquiries and technical issues.
    • Assurance: Apple’s brand reputation for innovation and quality products instills trust in customers.
    • Tangibles: Apple’s sleek and minimalist product design contributes to a positive visual aesthetic.
    • Empathy: Apple Store employees are trained to provide empathetic customer service, focusing on understanding and meeting customer needs.
  • Amazon:
    • Reliability: Amazon’s consistent delivery and order accuracy contribute to its reliability.
    • Responsiveness: The company’s customer service teams address inquiries and issues promptly.
    • Assurance: Amazon’s transparent policies and guarantees provide assurance to customers.
    • Tangibles: The user-friendly website and mobile app design enhance the tangible aspect of Amazon’s services.
    • Empathy: Amazon personalizes recommendations and customer experiences based on user preferences.
  • Google:
    • Reliability: Google’s search engine consistently provides accurate and relevant search results.
    • Responsiveness: Google’s support teams assist users with technical inquiries and issues.
    • Assurance: Google’s strong reputation for data security and privacy practices assures users.
    • Tangibles: The clean and intuitive design of Google’s interfaces enhances user experience.
    • Empathy: Google Maps provides real-time traffic and location-based recommendations, showing empathy for users’ needs.
  • Microsoft:
    • Reliability: Microsoft’s software products are known for their reliability and performance.
    • Responsiveness: The company offers customer support and regular software updates to address issues.
    • Assurance: Microsoft’s long history and industry partnerships assure customers of its expertise.
    • Tangibles: User-friendly interfaces of Microsoft products contribute to a positive user experience.
    • Empathy: Microsoft’s accessibility features and inclusive design show empathy for diverse user needs.
  • Facebook (Meta):
    • Reliability: Facebook’s platform reliability ensures users can access it consistently.
    • Responsiveness: The company responds to user reports and inquiries regarding content and privacy.
    • Assurance: Facebook’s commitment to data security and privacy assurance is vital for user trust.
    • Tangibles: The visual design and ease of use of the Facebook app enhance user satisfaction.
    • Empathy: Facebook introduces features like safety check-ins during crises, demonstrating empathy for user safety.
  • Netflix:
    • Reliability: Netflix ensures reliable streaming with minimal downtime and buffering.
    • Responsiveness: The company quickly resolves technical issues and offers customer support.
    • Assurance: Netflix’s commitment to content quality and data security assures subscribers.
    • Tangibles: The user-friendly interface and personalized recommendations enhance the viewing experience.
    • Empathy: Netflix creates original content tailored to various demographics and preferences, showing empathy for diverse viewers.
  • Tesla:
    • Reliability: Tesla’s electric vehicles are known for their reliability and performance.
    • Responsiveness: The company provides over-the-air software updates and responsive customer service.
    • Assurance: Tesla’s innovation and commitment to sustainable energy assure customers of its mission.
    • Tangibles: The sleek design and cutting-edge technology of Tesla cars contribute to customer satisfaction.
    • Empathy: Tesla’s focus on environmental sustainability aligns with empathetic concerns for the planet.
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS):
    • Reliability: AWS offers highly reliable cloud computing services with minimal downtime.
    • Responsiveness: AWS provides timely technical support and assistance to customers.
    • Assurance: AWS’s strong reputation for data security and compliance standards assures businesses.
    • Tangibles: The AWS management console offers a user-friendly interface for managing cloud resources.
    • Empathy: AWS offers services and resources tailored to various industries and business needs.
  • Uber:
    • Reliability: Uber ensures reliable transportation services with real-time tracking and ETAs.
    • Responsiveness: The company addresses driver and rider issues through customer support.
    • Assurance: Uber’s safety features and transparent pricing assure users of their well-being.
    • Tangibles: The user-friendly app design and in-app payment options enhance the user experience.
    • Empathy: Uber offers options like “Quiet Mode” and “Accessible Rides” to cater to diverse passenger needs.
  • Twitter (X):
    • Reliability: Twitter maintains a reliable platform for real-time updates and conversations.
    • Responsiveness: The company responds to user reports and inquiries related to content.
    • Assurance: Twitter’s commitment to privacy and content moderation assures users.
    • Tangibles: The clean and simple design of Twitter’s interface contributes to user satisfaction.
    • Empathy: Twitter provides tools for reporting harassment and abusive content, demonstrating empathy for user safety.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Key Highlights

  • Reliability: How consistently the organization delivers its products or services on time, as described, and without errors. Reliability means keeping commitments and honoring promises to customers.
  • Responsiveness: The speed and efficiency with which the organization responds to customer needs and requests. Ignoring or evading customer service inquiries can lead to negative perceptions.
  • Assurance: The level of trust and confidence the organization inspires in customers through professional service, effective communication, technical knowledge, and a positive attitude.
  • Tangibles: The visual aesthetics and physical appearance of the company, including its logo, store design, website, and equipment. It also includes the appearance of customer service staff.
  • Empathy: The ability of employees to show genuine care and concern during customer interactions. It involves being friendly, approachable, and actively listening to customer needs.

The SERVQUAL model identifies five gaps that can occur in service quality:

  • Knowledge Gap: Occurs when the organization lacks understanding of customer preferences and needs due to insufficient or careless research.
  • Policy Gap: Arises from conflicts between customer expectations and the organization’s service policies, often caused by inadequate commitment to service quality or lack of standardized tasks.
  • Delivery Gap: Refers to the discrepancy between service standards set out in policies and the actual service delivery. It can result from poor technology, management, employee engagement, or role ambiguity.
  • Communication Gap: Occurs when there is inconsistency between what the company advertises and what customers experience. It may be caused by overcommitment or lack of coordination between advertising and product development.
  • Customer Gap: The difference between customer expectations and the actual experience provided by the business. It relates to the five dimensions of service quality mentioned earlier.

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:

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