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The Customer Service Gap Model

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Today’s consumer has become increasingly demanding. They not only want high quality products but they also expect high quality customer service. Even manufactured products such as cars, mobile phones and computers cannot gain a strategic competitive advantage through the physical products alone.  From a consumer’s point of view, customer service is considered very much part of the product.

Listen to Nick Coster – Head of Training Services discuss the Customer Service Gap Model with Phil Dobbie.

Delivering superior value to the customer is an ongoing concern of Product Managers. This not only includes the actual physical product but customer service as well. Products that do not offer good quality customer service that meets the expectations of consumers are difficult to sustain in a competitive market.

SERVQUAL (service quality gap model) is a gap method in service quality measurement, a tool that can be used by Product Manager across all industries. The aim of this model is to:

  • Identify the gaps between customer expectation and the actual services provided at different stages of service delivery
  • Close the gap and  improve the customer service

This model developed by Parasuraman, Zeithalm and Berry in 1985 identifies five different gaps:

The Customer Gap: The Gap between Customer Expectations and Customer Perceptions

The customer gap is the difference between customer expectations and customer perceptions. Customer expectation is what the customer expects according to available resources and is influenced by cultural background, family lifestyle, personality, demographics, advertising, experience with similar products and information available online. Customer perception is totally subjective and is based on the customer’s interaction with the product or service. Perception is derived from the customer’s satisfaction of the specific product or service and the quality of service delivery. The customer gap is the most important gap and in an ideal world the customer’s expectation would be almost identical to the customer’s perception.

In a customer orientated strategy, delivering a quality service for a specific product should be based on a clear understanding of the target market. Understanding customer needs and knowing customer expectations could be the best way to close the gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Gap between Consumer Expectation and Management Perception

The knowledge gap is the difference between the customer’s expectations of the service provided and the company’s provision of the service.  In this case, managers are not aware or have not correctly interpreted the customer’s expectation in relation to the company’s services or products. If a knowledge gap exists, it may mean companies are trying to meet wrong or non-existing consumer needs. In a customer-orientated business, it is important to have a clear understanding of the consumer’s need for service. To close the gap between the consumer’s expectations for service and management’s perception of service delivery will require comprehensive market research.

The Policy Gap: The Gap between Management Perception and Service Quality Specification

According to Kasper et al, this gap reflects management’s incorrect translation of the service policy into rules and guidelines for employees. Some companies experience difficulties translating consumer expectation into specific service quality delivery. This can include poor service design, failure to maintain and continually update their provision of good customer service or simply a lack of standardisation. This gap may see consumers seek a similar product with better service elsewhere.

The Delivery Gap: The Gap between Service Quality Specification and Service Delivery

This gap exposes the weakness in employee performance. Organisations with a Delivery Gap may specify the service required to support consumers but have subsequently failed to train their employees, put good processes and guidelines in action. As a result, employees are ill equipped to manage consumer’s needs. Some of the problems experienced if there is a delivery gap are:

  • Employees lack of product knowledge and have difficulty managing customer questions and issues
  • Organisations have poor human resource policies
  • Lack of cohesive teams and the inability to deliver

The Communication Gap: The Gap between Service Delivery and External Communications

In some cases, promises made by companies through advertising media and communication raise customer expectations. When over-promising in advertising does not match the actual service delivery, it creates a communication gap. Consumers are disappointed because the promised service does not match the expected service and consequently may seek alternative product sources.

Case Study: Amazon.com

Amazon.com provides books, movies, music and games along with electronics, toys, apparel, sports, tools, groceries and general home and garden items. Amazon is a good example of an online business that tries to close the service gaps in order to thoroughly meet consumer expectations.

Understanding Customer Needs

From the time the consumer starts to shop at Amazon’s online store, Amazon will attempt to understand their expectations. From when a customer first makes a product selection Amazon creates a consumer profile and attempts to offer alternative goods and services that may delight the consumer. The longer the consumer shops at Amazon, the more the company attempts to identify their preferences and needs.

Customer Defined Standards

When a consumer buys a product from Amazon they selects the mode of delivery and the company tells them the expected number of days it will take to receive their merchandise.

For example: standard shipping is three to five days but shipping in one or two days is also available. The company has set standards for how quickly customers are informed when a product is unavailable (immediately), how quickly customers are notified whether an out of print book can be located (three weeks), how long customers are able to return items (30 days) and whether they pay return shipping costs.

These standards exist for many activities at Amazon from delivery to communication to service recovery.

Service Performance

Apart from defining their service delivery, Amazon goes one step further and delivers on its promises. Amazon performs! Orders often arrive ahead of the promised dates; orders are accurate and are in excellent condition because of careful shipping practice.

Customers can track packages and review previous orders at any time. Amazon also makes sure that all its partners who sell used and new books and other related items meet Amazon’s high standards. The company verifies the performance of each purchase by surveying the customer and posting scores that are visible to other customers.

Managing promises is handled by clear and careful communication on the website. Every page is very easy to understand and to navigate.
For example the page dealing with returns eliminates customer misunderstanding by clearly spelling out what can be returned. The page describes how to repack items and when refunds are given. The customer account page shows all previous purchases and exactly where every ordered item is in the shipping process

Amazon strategy has been well received by its customers and the Amazon brand is known worldwide.

Conclusion

Effective product management is a complex undertaking which includes many different strategies, skills and tasks. Product managers plan for creating the best products and operational excellence to maximize customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention. Recognising and closing gaps offers high quality customer service to the consumer and helps them to achieve their goal whilst maximising market position, market share and financial results through customer satisfaction. It also helps managers to identify areas of weakness and make improvements to a company’s service delivery.

Check out our blog post on “The Value Curve: visualising the value proposition”. This tool allows product managers to take information gleaned from gap analysis to develop or refine products that are both compelling to customers and distinct from competitors.

Please add your feedback in the comments below.

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19 Comments

  • John Gary says:

    It strikes me that what is missing in this gap discussion is a technique for prioritising the gap. Is the biggest gap the one that should be fixed first? How about the gap that is the strongest driver of customer behaviour? While it is certainly a good idea to understand where one falls short of customer expectation, it is an even better idea to know where to apply scarce resources to most benefit both the customer and the business.


  • harriete says:

    Very helpful

    Thank you


  • Adrienne says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks very much for your perceptive comment.

    Since the services and products provided by industries are different, the importance of each gap might be different for each industry based on the nature of the business and its need.


  • James says:

    Anyone know how you would apply this to a fitness centre??


  • nick coster says:

    @James – A Fitness Centre is a service business. You are not selling anything tangible. It is all a service.

    Gap between Customer Expectations and Customer Perceptions – who are your customers and what are they expecting from the fitness centre. You may run a centre that caters to a number of different types of customers or you may target a very distinct market segment. The Customer Expectations of someone who wants to loose weight will be different to someone who is body building. The first customer who wants to loose weight may expect the Fitness Centre to provide classes, coaching and nutrition advice. The bodybuilder may expect that there is a wide range of available free weights and equipment to use. If these expectations are not met for these customers then there is likely to be a gap in the way that the Fitness Centre’s service is perceived.

    This same process can be applied to the other types of Customer Service Gaps.

    Customer service is not just the hospitality that you receive from the staff of a business. It includes the entire customer experience with a product or service.
    –nick coster


  • James says:

    Thanks Nick

    Very helpful


  • Vikram says:

    How can one apply this to a zoo, I know it sounds odd! but i need to apply the gap model in an assignment based on my individual analysis of the London zoo.

    I would really appreciate any help that i can come by

    Cheers
    V


  • nick coster says:

    @Vikram – A visitor to a zoo is not there to buy anything physical as they may in a standard retail store. They are there to have an experience that draws together all of the parts of the zoo, from the initial entry and ticketing, the maps and the layout of the zoo that allow you to find your way to the exhibits that are of interest, all they way to the point that the visitor leaves the zoo.

    To apply the Gap Model to the London Zoo first explore the Customer Gap. What are customers expecting before they visit the Zoo? How well are these expectations being met when they arrive and throughout their visit? Are there areas where the customer expectations are not only not being met but are well below expectations?

    Unfortunately these are not questions that can be answered just sitting at a keyboard. You will need to visit the zoo for yourself, watch the visitors and how they interact with the overall zoo experience, and be prepared to ask them questions. What did they enjoy and what did they feel let them down? Then ask ‘why?’ to get understand what the real gap is between their expectations and the reality of their experience.


  • Sara Talebzadeh says:

    Running proper market research is crucial in order to apply the customer gap model. This helps find the gaps in every industry.

    The initial respondents for research should be the users of the service or product. This will help us to understand the customer need, expectation and perception regarding the service.

    The second respondents for research should be the in front line customer service employee, since they are in direct contact with customers. For example in the case of a Zoo, it’s good to survey the people who work in help or the information desk office or as guides through the Zoo.

    The final respondents of the survey shall be the Product Managers themselves. Questions to ask the Product Managers:
    Have they a good evaluation of the situation and customer perception regarding their service?
    Do they know the customers, employee and product or service?
    Do they know what the customer wants and need?

    Analysing and interpreting the information gathering from the above three surveys not only shows the gaps but also helps the manager to make decisions based on the real situation not assumptions and perception.


  • Sharada says:

    its useful in any kind of industry.. very helpful for my lectures too..
    Thanks :)


  • Vimal says:

    Hi,

    How can we put this framework to use in case of an educational institute ??


  • vusi kampi says:

    brilliant information, very helpful


  • Joyce says:

    Hello,

    Anyone know how i can apply this to a full-service restaurant, which is a Franchise?

    thank you


  • PARAMESWAR CHOUDHURY says:

    Actually i have already spent 3 years in retail sector but really i donot has any concept about customer gap model.
    ITS VERY H-F….
    THNKS


  • Neel says:

    How would you apply the other 3 gaps for the fitness centre example commented above?


  • Olga says:

    Hi!
    I think, it is a very good model for undestanding the process of service delivery. But how one can understand how large is the gap? What are the metrics, for the named Fintess Centre, for example?

    And how do you think, how can this model be used to analyse IT-service GAPs in an IT-service companies? I mean, not call-centres or so, but, for example, IT-integrators, serving software based bisness solutions. Can you help me in analyzing these GAPs inside an IT-Service company?


  • which of the four gaps is hardest to close?Why?
    QUESTION :can gap four(4) be closed. before closing the other provider gaps?Why?


  • how is the technology changing the nature service ?


  • if your the manager of certain organisation, pepsi for example. and you want to apply a gap modal analysis. Which gap you would start with? Why? in what order you proceed to close the gap?


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