Gap Model of Service Quality & Customer Relationships
Currently, to have a sustainable competitive advantage, organizations must deliver high quality services. High quality services are associated with customer satisfaction which has a positive effect on profitability. Gap model highlights the elements that are required to deliver high quality services. The model identifies gaps that lead to unsuccessful service delivery. This paper reviews the literature on the evolution of the gap model and discuss the concept of customer relations. The paper then evaluates the connection between the model and customer relationships. The conclusion is that the Gap model and customer relationships are connected in that one determines the success of the other. Customer relationships help in collecting customers’ information essential in closing gaps identified in the Gap model leading essential in offering quality service. Quality service promotes customer satisfaction associated with the growth of profits.
Gap model of service quality
Evaluating a service is complex that a product considering that a service is intangible. This concern led to the emergence of quality models in the 1970s. The purpose of the models is to help in measuring user satisfaction. According to Pena et al. (2013, p1228), to understand how consumers assess and perceive service quality, a study involving 12 focus groups was developed in 1985 investigating services such as repairs and maintenance, retail banking, securities brokerage, and credit cards. The researchers finally defined quality of service as the type and degree of inconsistency between the expectations and perceptions of consumers. This suggests that similar aspects were employed in terms of assessing quality. The results indicated that users were influenced by results of service quality evaluation and process dimensions (Pena et al., 2013, p1228). The study findings verified that there are gaps involving differences between what consumers are offered and what they expect.
According to the authors, the gaps act as obstacles for consumers to recognise a service as of high quality. They argue that there are five corporate gaps which are normally encountered between user’s perceptions and expectations. The first gap refers to the perceptions of management towards the expectations of users. The challenge here is that management fails to understand requirements that signify high quality for users (2013, p1229). The second gap refers to the quality specification of a service according to perceptions of service providers have on expectations of consumers. The third gap involves failure to deliver a standard service. The fourth gap is a failure to marry performance with promise. Fifth is the function of the four other gaps.
According to Krudthong (2017, p22), Parasuraman et al. developed the service quality gap model with a purpose of conceptualizing the meaning of a supposed quality of a service as the gap between what is perceived and expectations. The model is useful in exploring differences in the process of service quality to detect the features that an organization requires to improve. According to the author, any gap in service quality process can lead to consumer dissatisfaction (2017, p22). A smaller gap ensures that services delivered are of high quality associated with user satisfaction. Otherwise, the existence of gaps in service process acts as a source of dissatisfaction. The author argues that gap analysis is an effective approach in identifying differences between provider and perceptions of users on service performance. By addressing the gaps, organizations are able to formulate strategies that will promote consistent experiences increasing the possibility of user satisfaction. According to the author, businesses are expected to deliver quality services as it is a profit strategy. Implementing the strategy is associated with higher consumer satisfaction, increased profit margins, and reduced cost of operation, a competitive advantage. Through the gap model, organizations are able to meet user needs and at the same time meet user expectations (2017, p21).
Shahin & Samea (2010, p2) the gap model of service quality has evolved overtime. The authors first discuss the model as developed by Parasuraman et al. (1985). This model is widely used in the existing works. The model focuses on showing the salient activities of service function that affects quality perception. The model also helps in identifying elements that would lead to user satisfaction. The gaps between user expectation and performance influence user satisfaction. The model was thus advanced based on the analysis of the gaps. According to the author, the model identifies various factors useful in the evaluation of service quality including communication, understanding users, accessibility, courtesy, reliability, credibility, responsiveness, competence, tangibility, and security (2010, p2). These factors are then condensed into five service dimensions. Tangibles that include personnel appearance, physical facilities, and equipment. Reliability which refers to the capability to perform services as promised accurately and dependably. Responsiveness refers to the willingness to provide assistance to users. Assurance includes security, courtesy, competence, and credibility. Empathy refers to individualized attention and cares that users are provided by organizations.
To evaluate the service quality, the model calculates the difference between user perception of a service and expectations. If the difference is positive, then quality is attained and if it is negative then service dissatisfaction occurs (2010, p3). The model measures five gaps. According to the author, in 2000, Frost & Kumar developed another model whose purpose is to determine gaps in service quality among internal users and suppliers. The internal service quality model identified three gaps; the difference in perceptions of the internal supplier on expectations of internal users, the difference in specifications of service quality and actual service delivered, and difference on internal users perceptions and expectations of internal suppliers. In 2002, Luk & Lyton advanced the gap model of by including two extra gaps (2010, p3). These are the differences in user perception and expectations of service provider, and difference of expectations of users by service providers.
According to Mauri at al. (2013, p135), Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry were the first authors to publish Gas model. The model is based on the theory of expectation-confirmation. It explains how users of services asses quality considering various factors that that lead to a determination of quality including expected quality, offered quality, and users perception of quality after consumption of a service. The model seeks to identify the causes of gaps between the expected quality and the perceived one. According to the authors, the quality of a service is assessed and perceived in accordance with the essential components that were categorized into ten levels in 1985 and then in five levels in 1988. The original model was updated severally.
In 1994 it was revised based on the criticism it received as well as the detailed definition of the expected services given in 1993. The authors identity the strengths of the model as outline linearity, simplicity, and rationality (2013, p136). The Gap model is essential in identifying the quality of a service and understanding relationship between customers and service providers. This is a source of advantage and growth. The authors argue that firms need to pay attention to details to satisfy the current user demands. The model is an essential tool to ensure that today’s consumers are satisfied.
According to Soliman (2011, p167), customer relationships refers to the development of a continuous connection between an organization and its clients. The relationships involve customer service, sales support, marketing communications, and technical assistance. This relationship is measured in terms of consumer satisfaction degree based on the buying cycle after receipt of services. Technology advancement has established new trends that see customers demanding services as per their expectations. Current customers expect that service providers will offer services that meet their needs. They also prefer buying from providers they know. This leads to the development of customer relationships. The concept has become important considering that return end users determine the profitability of any company.
According to Soliman (2011, p168) managing customer relationships involve understanding the behaviour of consumers through a deep communication with a purpose of improving performance to attract and retain customers eventually enhancing loyalty and profitability. Service providers require to understand consumer needs and desire to improve the relationship between the two. Customer relationships involve investing in users who are identified as valuable to a business. It involves strategies identified to communicate and deal with the existing end users. A good customer relationship involves helping customers efficiently. It helps an organization to ensure customers are satisfied (2011, p168). This is considering that providing good services enables a business to survive in the market. Through the management of customer relationships, firms are able to maintain positive relationships with their customers.
According to Catalán-Matamoros (2012, p3), customer relationships involve understanding customers in a better way. This helps firms to provide quality services to the customers strengthening the relationship. The relationships also equip customers with the information on the service providers creating a social relationship that prevents them from switching to competitors. This is why many forms switch to managing the customer relationships to tap the benefits. Management of customer relationships has been defined from various perspectives. As a process it refers to a relationship between a buyer and a seller that develop over time. It helps in responding to consumer needs.
As a strategy it involves investing in valuable end users and reducing expenses on non-valuable ones. As a philosophy, it involves obtaining user centricity. As a capability, the management refers to the capacity of adopting to consumer preference. As technology, the management involves blending service information systems, sales, and marketing with a purpose of building profitable and long-term relationships with customers (Catalán-Matamoros, 2012, p3). According to the author the concept is beneficial in that it promotes cross-selling opportunities that lower cost. Second, customer relationships develop immunity in customers to pull out of competitors. The author concludes that the customer retention is key to boosting revenues and profits. Customer retention involves maintaining a constant trading relationship with end users for a long period. Through customer relationship, a firm is able to retain valuable customers (Catalán-Matamoros, 2012, p10).
According to Laketa et al. (2015, p243), managing customer relationships involves establishing and maintaining relationships with customers on a long-time basis. This helps in providing value for firms and customers. The concept involves identifying, communication, and building long-term relations with clients on an individual basis. To increase profits, must identify and adjust to consumers’ needs. Customer relationships help firms to develop a marketing strategy that is based on an enhanced understanding of consumer base, their needs, and attitudes. According to the authors (2015, p243) the concept of customer relationships originated firms that aimed at retaining the existing user base in a competitive market. Among the benefits of customer relationships are retaining existing clients, attracting new ones, encouraging a deeper cooperation, and preventing loses. Through management of customer relationships, firms are able to identify consumers through transactions, communication, and interaction with a purpose of creating value for every consumer.
Firms are able to segment consumers based on their specific needs. Frequent communication and interactions with individual consumers help in collecting more information in relations to individual’s behaviors and needs. This also helps in determining the value of every consumer for a firm. Similarly. Consumers obtain essential information about the firm that can satisfy their needs. Eventually, forms are able to achieve long-term loyalty from the individual consumers. According to the authors (2015, p250), customer relationships help in customizing products for consumers, improves sales’ effectiveness, helps in identifying profitable consumers, and in personalizing marketing messages. Firms experience the benefits through lower operational costs, changes, increased revenues, and growing profits.
Surujlal, J. & Manilall, D. (2012, p14) argue that the marketing of services is different from marketing a product. The authors identify a marketing relationship as the only approach to effectively market services. This involves marketing with a purpose of establishing, maintaining, and enhancing relationships with consumers to ensure that the objectives of both sides are realized. The relationship involves building relations with consumers and attracting them (2012, p14). According to the authors, customer relations have become a major issue in many organizations by being considered as the cornerstone of a viable competitive advantage. Organizations have realized that they have to implement effective customer relationships to rapidly grow in the competitive market.
Enhancing the relationships involves offering customized services, fair treatment of customers, offering high value services, and establishing strategies to attract customers from rivals. The authors argue that improved customer relationships promote the growth and viability of a firm. Management of the consumer relationships involves maximizing relations with all consumers (Surujlal, & Manilall, 2012, p17). A consumer-centric strategy helps in understanding consumers essential in offering improved products for loyalty and customer retention. Customer relationships are beneficial to firms because they help in boosting revenues and profits. The authors conclude that good management of customer relationships enables firms to provide customer needs. This strengthens the relationship protective against competitors (Surujlal & Manilall, 2012, p17).
Connections between the gap model and customer relationships
Service providers strive to provide service of high quality to satisfy consumer needs. This is to ensure that the retain customers in the current competitive market. Otherwise, consumers would seek alternative service providers offering high quality services. High service quality gives organizations a competitive advantage. For organizations to ensure the offer quality services, the implement Gap model (Habidin et al., 2017, p293). The framework helps in understanding end user satisfaction. According to the model, organizations must address five satisfaction gaps to meet end user expectations. The model holds that if end users believe that provided services meet their expectations, they will be satisfied. If they perceive that a service does not meet their expectations then dissatisfaction occurs. The dissatisfaction occurs when the gaps are not closed. However, to effectively implement the model, customer relationships are required (Habidin et al., 2017, p294). Much of the information used in identifying the gaps and closing them is collected through customer relationships. For example, the first gap is the inconsistency between the expectations of a service by customers and the provided service.
The gap occurs when an organization fails to understand what is exactly expected of customers. The common problem here is that management lacks customer interaction, failure to listen to complaints from customers, and poor relationship focus. This is where customer relationships come in. through customer relationships, organizations are able to improve their relationship with existing end users, attract new ones, and win back former customers (Habidin et al., 2017, p294). To close the first gap, organizations are assisted by customer relationships which helps understand and collect the needs of the customers. Customer relationships help in identifying the expectations of customers. With the information, organizations are able to make strategies that will help meet the expectations, eventually closing the gap. The second gap is the difference between the perception of management and specifications of the consumer experience. To close the gap management requires to define service level as needed (Habidin et al., 2017, p296). This involves setting measurable quality goals. To be able to set these goals, management requires to understand the expectations of customers. The information can be collected through customer relationships.
By managing customer relationships, organizations are able to understand the needs of the end users. It also helps in monitoring the behaviour of consumers over a period of time. These interactions help in collecting necessary information for closing the second gap. The third is the delivery gap. This is the inconsistency between service delivery criteria and the actual delivery (Habidin et al., 2017, p296). The gap can be created by failing to match demand and supply. For example, if Netflix were to face thus gap, then it would mean that customers are selecting a certain show to watch after which it takes ten minutes to start playing. This would be against the expectations of product performance. Closing the gap would involve investing in the right resources (Hadzagas, 2011, p1459). Through customer relationships, service providers would gather information on such challenges and identify the need to address them. For example in the case of Netflix, customers would raise complains through the relationships useful in detecting the gap.
Gap four is the communication gap which refers to the difference between what service providers promise customers and what they deliver. The gap can lead to customer dissatisfaction, pushing them to competitors. For example, if Netflix was to experience the gap, it would mean that their services are not as easy to use as stated in their ads. To close this gap, organizations should consider getting customer input to the ads, using real customers’ ads, and by managing customer expectations accurately (Habidin et al., 2017, p297). To achieve this, organizations can only rely on customer relationships. This connects customer relationships with the gap model. Through customer relationships, organizations are able to engage customers with their ads and manage the expectations based on actual information. The fifth gap is the customer gap which refers to the difference between what customers expect and what they perceive (Hadzagas, 2011, p1457). This gap occurs when a customer fails to understand what a service has achieved or when they misinterpret quality of a service. Failure to address this gap leads to loss of customers to competitors. The only way to close this gap is by closing the other four gaps.
The closure of the four leads to alignment of customer expectations and perceptions. It is clear that thorough attention to customer relationships helps in identifying necessary information for closing the gaps in gaps analysis. This shows the connection between Gap model and customer relationships. The two rely on each other to provide quality services. To effectively implement a Gap model, one must establish customer relationships because it provides a foundation on which gaps are closed (Hadzagas, 2011, p1462). This is the only way organizations can promote customer satisfaction associated with increased revenues and profit growth. Customer relationships provide necessary information for offering quality services, a purpose of the Gap model of quality service. The two are thus connected on that one service as a foundation for the success of the other (Habidin et al., 2017, p297). Gap model thus needs customer relationships to ensure that quality services are provided in any organization.
It is clear that high quality services promote customer satisfaction which leads to increased profits. The current competitive market requires that organizations offer high quality services as it acts as a source of competitive advantage. The Gap analysis emphasizes the importance of high quality service by identifying gaps that need to be closed for customer satisfaction. However, to effectively close these gaps, customer relationships are required to collect essential information. This paper has evaluated the connection between the Gap model and customer relationships and found that the customer relationships help in gathering information that is used in closing the gaps leading to high quality services promoting customer satisfaction which eventually leads to growing profits. Customer relationships involve understanding the needs and perceptions of customers. This information is then used in closing the identified gaps that cause customer dissatisfaction.
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