The determinants of service quality: satisfiers and dissatisfiers Robert Johnston University of Warwick, Coventry, UK Introduction There appear to be five major debates taking place in the service quality area. One debate concerns the similarities and differences between the constructs of service quality and satisfaction (see e. g. Anderson and Sullivan, 1993; Bolton and Drew, 1991; Cronin and Taylor, 1992, 1994; Oliver, 1993; Parasuraman et al. , 1988; Taylor, 1993; Zeithaml et al. , 1993).
There appears to be a consensus emerging that satisfaction refers to the outcome of individual service transactions and the overall service encounter, whereas service quality is the customer’s overall impression of the relative inferiority/superiority of the organization and its services (Bitner and Hubbert, 1994).
A second debate is about the efficacy of the expectation-perception gap view of service quality, which is similar to the disconfirmation theory found in the consumer behaviour literature (see, for example, Berry et al. 1985; Gronroos, 1984, 1990; Haywood-Farmer and Nollet, 1991; Parasuraman et al. , 1994).
Some researchers now believe that there is strong empirical evidence that service quality should be measured using performance-based measures (see for example Babakus and Boller, 1992; Cronin and Taylor, 1994).
A third debate is concerned with the development of models that help our understanding of how the perception gap arises and how managers can minimize or manage its effect (see, for example, Brogowicz et al. , 1990; Gronroos, 1990; Gummesson and Gronroos, 1987; Parasuraman et al. , 1985).
Their study focused on the consumers’ purchase and delivery (PD) choices, as part of a broader e ort to understand consumers’ shopping behavior. The present article begins by criticizing the content validity of E-S-QUAL (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Malhotra 2005), the principal academic measure of e-retailer service quality, which is probably the most important construct in contemporary services ...
A fourth debate concerns the definition and use of the zone of tolerance. Berry and Parasuraman (1991) suggested that “the zone of tolerance is a range of service performance that a customer considers satisfactory”. The importance of the zone of tolerance is that customers may accept variation within a range of performance and any increase in performance within this area will only have a marginal effect on perceptions (Strandvik, 1994).
Only when performance moves outside of this range will it have any real effect on perceived service quality (see also Johnston, 1995; Liljander and Strandvik, 1993).
A fifth debate, and the area of interest for this article, concerns the identification of the determinants of service quality. This should be a central concern for service management academics and practitioners, as the identification of the determinants of service quality is necessary in order to be able to specify, measure, control and improve customer perceived service quality. The next section provides an overview of the literature on service quality determinants. Determinants of service quality 53 Received September 1994 Revised June 1995 International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. No. 5, 1995, pp. 53-71. © MCB University Press, 0956-4233 IJSIM 6,5 54 The objective of this article is to explore the link between the determinants of service quality and outcomes either side of the zone of tolerance; that is are there some determinants which tend to be primarily a source of dissatisfaction and others that tend to be primarily a source of satisfaction. If these can be identified, service managers should be able to improve the delivery of customer perceived quality during the service process and have greater control over the overall outcome.
The determinants of service quality Most writers agree that customers’ expectations are rarely concerned with a single aspect of the service package but rather with many aspects (see, for example, Berry et al. , 1985; Johnston and Lyth, 1991; Sasser et al. , 1978).
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Parasuraman et al. (1985) provided a list of ten determinants of service quality as a result of their focus group studies with service providers and customers: access, communication, competence, courtesy, credibility, reliability, responsiveness, security, understanding and tangibles. In a later article that year (Berry et al. 1985) they added that: although the relative importance of the categories would vary from one service industry to the next, we believe the determinants of service quality in most (if not all) consumer service industries are included in this list. In the next phase of their research, Berry et al. (1985) found a high degree of correlation between, on the one hand, communication, competence, courtesy, credibility and security, and, on the other, between access and understanding; and so they created the two broad dimensions of assurance and empathy, that is, five consolidated dimensions.
They then used the five dimensions – tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy – as the basis for their service quality measurement instrument, SERVQUAL (Parasuraman et al. , 1988; Zeithaml et al. , 1990).
They reported further that, regardless of the service being studied, reliability was the most important dimension, followed by responsiveness, assurance and empathy. The intangibles were of least concern to service customers.
These dimensions have been the subject of some criticism, though they have formed the basis for a considerable amount of research and application in the field of service management. Finn and Lamb (1991), for example, in a study of retailing, concluded that their results did not support Berry et al. ’s (1985) belief that the instrument could be used to assess quality in a wide range of service firms. They found that the model’s five dimensions were insufficient to cover quality in a retailing setting.
They questioned particularly whether the five dimensions are generic and suggested that much development and refinement was needed. Cronin and Taylor (1992), in their research into service quality in banks, pest control, dry cleaning and fast food, also found little support for the five dimensions. They stated: our results suggest that the 5-component structure proposed by Parasuraman et al. (1988) for their SERVQUAL scale is not confirmed in any of the research samples. Research by Johnston et al. (1990) involved some testing of the comprehensive- Determinants of ness of Parasuraman et al. s (1988) service quality determinants in the light of service quality empirical data gathered in ten UK service organizations.
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Their analysis, although generally supportive of the ten determinants, suggested a refined list of 12: access, appearance/aesthetics, availability, cleanliness/tidiness, comfort, communication, competence, courtesy, friendliness, reliability, responsiveness 55 and security. The limitation of their work lay in the fact that the empirical investigation drew only on management perceptions of service. Unlike Parasuraman et al. (1988), Johnston et al. 1990) did not use customer data in order to identify the determinants of service quality. Johnston and Silvestro (1990) went on to add the customer’s perspective to the 12 service quality characteristics. This led to the identification of an additional five service quality determinants: attentiveness/helpfulness, care, commitment, functionality, integrity; it also led to a refining of some of the other definitions.
A number of other authors have also postulated their own determinants of service quality, though in some cases they appear to have been based on Berry et al. s (1985) well publicized work. Walker (1990) suggested that the key determinants are product reliability, a quality environment and delivery systems that work together with good personal service – staff attitude, knowledge and skills. Gronroos (1990) postulated six criteria of perceived good service quality: professionalism and skills; attitudes and behaviour; accessibility and flexibility; reliability and trustworthiness; recovery; reputation and credibility. Albrecht and Zemke (1985) suggested care and concern, spontaneity, problem solving and recovery.
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Armistead (1990) split the dimensions into “firm” and “soft”. The firm dimensions are time (including availability, waiting time and responsiveness), fault freeness (including physical items, information and advice) and flexibility (ability to recover from mistakes, to customize the service or add additional services).
The soft dimensions are style (attitude of staff, accessibility of staff and ambience), steering (the degree to which customers feel in control of their own destiny) and safety (trust, security and confidentiality).
The key issue for this article is that the work on the determinants of service quality does not necessarily distinguish between the effect of the determinants in terms of creation of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. It is implicitly assumed that they are the two sides of the same coin; for example, reliability was Berry et al. ’s (1985) most important factor, which implies that unreliability will lead to dissatisfaction and that reliability will lead to satisfaction.
Could it not be that a train which arrives on time is satisficing not satisfying? Their instrument measured only the importance, but not the relative impact of any individual, or collection of, determinants. Satisfiers versus dissatisfiers There has been some recent research which has sought to identify some of the determinants of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The earliest work is to be found in the consumer behaviour literature. IJSIM 6,5 Swan and Combs (1976) postulated that: onsumers judge products on a limited set of attributes, some of which are relatively important in determining satisfaction, while others are not critical to consumer satisfaction but are related to dissatisfaction when performance on them is unsatisfactory. 56 Their hypothesis was that there are two types of determinants – instrumental (the performance of the physical product) and expressive (the psychological performance of the product) – and that both have to be achieved to satisfy the consumer.
They postulated that satisfaction will tend to be associated with expressive outcomes above or equal to expectations and dissatisfaction will tend to be related to performance below expectations for instrumental outcomes. Also, to be satisfactory the product must meet expectations on both instrumental and expressive outcomes. They suggested that dissatisfaction may occur from either type of performance.
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To test their ideas they applied a modified version of the critical incident technique (CIT) and asked 60 graduate students to “think about an item of clothing that has been especially satisfactory and an item that has been especially dissatisfactory”. The students were interviewed about their reasons. Swan and Combs stated that this was very much an exploratory study and that its findings were not necessarily generalizable. They found some problems in the classification of their data: for example, comfort could be instrumental or expressive, and its categorization as one or the other significantly affected the results.
They also found that both instrumental and expressive factors led to both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. It should also be noted that their work was concerned with products and not services. Maddox (1981) replicated Swan and Combs’s (1976) work and collected data on clothing, personal care products, durables and small appliances. He applied a selfadministered questionnaire to about 200 members of a consumer behaviour class at the University of Missouri-St Louis in 1979. The response rate was over 80 per cent. He used the same classification and hypotheses as Swan and Combs.
The outcome of his study provides support for Swan and Combs’ findings that it is difficult to make predictions on the link between the two outcomes and customer satisfaction. He did find, however, that “low values on an expressive attribute will reduce satisfaction, but will not lead to dissatisfaction”. Another preliminary investigation was carried out by Hausknecht (1988).
He again applied CIT to a group of 94 students investigating their experience of a number of products. He concluded that satisfaction is best characterized by the emotions interest, joy and surprise, and dissatisfaction by anger, disgust and surprise.
His study revealed differences in the emotions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, rather than the causes of these states. Cadotte and Turgeon (1988) undertook an analysis of the content of complaints and compliments reported by a cross-section of restaurant owners in the USA. There were 432 responses from restaurants and 260 from hotels, most of which, surprisingly, were compliments and not complaints (only 9 per cent of the guests’ comments were unfavourable).
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They found that some variables were dissatisfiers when the performance or absence of the desired feature led to dissatisfaction, which then resulted in complaining behaviour.
Furthermore, higher levels of them did not appear to cause compliments; for Determinants of example, parking at the restaurant. They concluded that “Dissatisfiers service quality represent the necessary but not sufficient conditions of product performance”. There were also some satisfiers where unusual performance elicited strong feelings of satisfaction leading to complimenting behaviour, but typical performance or the absence of performance did not necessarily cause negative feelings. They stated: “from a management point of view satisfiers represent an 57 opportunity to move ahead of the pack”.
They further suggested that there were “criticals” which were the variables that could elicit both positive and negative feelings – quality of service was one of the factors that ranked high as both a satisfier and dissatisfier. They also identified “neutrals” as those areas which received neither compliment nor complaint. This work seems to suggest that the causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction may be different. However, by analysing compliments and complaints it is possible that only the very extremes of satisfactory and dissatisfactory experiences were considered.
Furthermore, and importantly, service quality was a single variable, yet other variables included service quality characteristics: for example, cleanliness, speed of service, employee knowledge. It was unclear what remained in the quality of service category. There have been a number of studies undertaken more recently by service management researchers. A study by Bitner et al. (1990), again using CIT, attempted to identify the events and employee traits that led to satisfactory and dissatisfactory outcomes. They studied 700 incidents from customers of airlines, hotels and restaurants.
They identified employees’ willingness to respond to a problem, employees’ responsiveness to customer needs and requests and unsolicited employee actions as being the key employee actions that elicit both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Their study focused on the actions of employees and so had only limited coverage of customer perceived service quality. A CIT study by Johnston and Silvestro (1990), using a convenience sample of 100 with anecdotes covering many different service industries, revealed some support for the satisfying, dissatisfying and “criticals” proposition put forward by Cadotte and Turgeon (1988).
They called their categories hygiene, enhancing and dual factors, (recognizing the similarities with Herzberg et al. ’s (1959) categorization of the factors affecting job satisfaction (see also Johnston and Lyth, 1988).
Mersha and Adlakha (1992) asked 25 MBA students to identify the factors that satisfied and dissatisfied them. The 12 resulting attributes were found to be similar to those proposed by Parasuraman et al. (1985).
This led to the development of a questionnaire which was pre-tested on an undergraduate class and tested on a graduate class.
Five services were covered: physician; retail banking; car maintenance; colleges; and fast-food restaurants. The attributes of good quality were knowledge of the service, thoroughness, accuracy, consistency, reliability, reasonable cost, willingness to correct errors, timely and prompt service. The attributes of poor quality included lack of knowledge about the service, employees’ indifference, reluctance to correct errors, service inconsistency, sloppiness and high cost. There seems to be some evidence that, IJSIM 6,5 58 t a detailed level, there may be some difference between the causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Another study was undertaken by Smith et al. (1992) using CIT and cluster analysis. They suggested that the determinants of satisfaction and dissatisfaction indeed may be different. They did not use the existing service quality characteristics but found that satisfaction was usually generated by service going beyond expectations and dissatisfaction resulted from failure, slowness, disinterest and rudeness of staff.
Their data came from a single industry – retail services – and their sample comprised graduate and undergraduate students from an American university. Their analysis was based on 35 satisfying incidents and 36 dissatisfying incidents. Edvardsson (1992) used CIT to investigate the causes of negative critical incidents in an airline. He took information from both passengers and staff to identify the cause and result of the incidents. His findings were interesting and he reported a difference in the perception of incidents between customers and staff.