We now come to the gap that most people familiar with ServQual think of – the measure of customer satisfaction (and the main reason for applying the model). This gap considers the difference between the customer’s expectation and his (or her) perception of the actual service received. Putting it simply, if the customer thinks the service was as good as expected, he will be satisfied; if not, he’ll not. The two key words in this are “expectation” and “perception” and, contrary to much common thinking, the actual supplier performance (sometimes called “quality”) isn’t necessarily at the top of the list of priorities. Let’s look briefly at these two factors:
Expectation: This is what the customer is expecting from the supplier’s product or service and comes from a number of sources or factors. It will differ in each case, and often for subsequent transactions of the same product/service, so it’s not a “fit and forget” feature. Factors can include:
- Past experience with the same supplier (for the same or a different product/service);
- Past experience with a different supplier (for the same or similar product/service);
- What the supplier has promised through advertising or brochures;
- What the supplier has promised direct (both implicitly and tacitly);
- What the customer thinks would be reasonable to expect;
- What the customer actually needs;
- What other customers have said about the supplier and his products/services;
- What the media reports about the supplier and the supplier’s products/services.
This list isn’t complete and there are nuances within each item listed as well. What should be clear, however, is that it is not simple. Think about your own expectations when going out for a meal – could you identify every factor that is going to affect how satisfied you will be with the meal and service you get? Take a couple of extreme options and consider how your expectations will differ when visiting a high street fast-food chain or a celebrity chef’s restaurant; or between a restaurant you’ve visited on several occasions and one recommended by a friend.
You will have expectations prior to any transaction and it is often impossible to accurately define them – you may be able to list some but, I suggest, never all: some factors may only become apparent when the service falls short of them. For a supplier, it can be a nightmare. In fact, many attempts to manage expectations can backfire – the classic case being to raise them in order to win an order but then fail to deliver.
Perception: This is what the customer believes he has received. It should be what the supplier has actually delivered but that may not always be the case. Expectations will have a big bearing, of course and the customer, whether consciously or subconsciously, will be basing his perception on what he is expecting. It should be easier for the supplier to manage, however. The supplier can (or should be able to) control what is being delivered – that, after all, is what quality assurance and quality control are for.
I’ve concentrated on expectations here because these are too often overlooked. Satisfaction measures often focus on the customer’s perception (though often then ignoring the fact that perception need not be the same as reality) but totally overlook the effect of prior expectations. Buy a book from a charity shop and we expect some worn or dog-eared pages; buy the same book from a bookstore and a small crease in a page could be cause to take it back…