We have looked at the main factors which determine why the Marketing of Services differs to the Marketing of Products. When delivering a service you want to ensure satisfactory ‘Service Quality’. Service quality is essentially the difference between a customer’s initial expectations of the service and their overall perception of the actual service experience.
Service providers need to assess the service quality as perceived by their customers to identify problems and subsequently make improvements. Essentially service quality is the difference between service perception and service expectations. Service quality enhances customer satisfaction which in turn develops into customer loyalty
When a service does not match a customer’s expectations a ‘gap’ arises. There are 4 main Provider gaps in Services Marketing:
Gap 1: Gap between customer expectation and management perception. This gap arises when management don’t properly perceive what customers want. It may be down to inadequate market research, lack of upward communication in-house or a poor ‘Service Recovery’ attempt for example.
Gap 2: Gap between management perception and service quality specifications. This involves providers not selecting the right service standards. Management may correctly perceive what customers want but they may not set a suitable performance standard. A new service may start offering online payments, which providers might feel is enough to satisfy customer needs, however problems may arise if the online payment system itself isn’t up to standard. It is mainly caused by a poor “Service Design” and unsubstantial planning processes as well as a lack of full management commitment
Gap 3: Gap between service quality specifications and service delivery. Often arises as a result of a lack of communication between management and “Frontline staff” (those who deal directly with customer, e.g. waiters in a restaurant) or this staff not being adequately trained. Another issue here can be a lack of motivation amongst frontline staff to deliver the service up to standard. With services, management must fully ensure employee satisfaction as well as customer satisfaction, as the frontline staff play a huge role in service delivery.
Very often customers form a perception of the service, based on their interaction with frontline staff. If frontline staff perform poorly or are indifferent towards the customer it can affect the latter’s perception of the whole service encounter, even if the service itself is up to standard for the most part. The idea of people “being the service”, so to speak is a large phenomenon in Services Marketing and will be looked at in another blog in the very near future.
Gap 4: Gap between service delivery and external communication. With regard to services, customers often rely on advertisements or word of mouth before undergoing the service themselves. It is important for the service provider to accurately advertise the service and not under-exaggerate or over-exaggerate some of the features. An example of a problem arising here would be if a gym was advertised as state of the art and with a plethora of new machines, and upon the customer using the service they discover it is full of run down equipment and a lack of space.
You want the customer to feel sufficiently satisfied with the service they experienced based on their original perception they gained as a result of viewing an advertisement or hearing a first-hand account from the company itself, for example. Remember your service may well be the best hotel in the county but if you over-exaggerate the features a customer can feel unsatisfied as their bar of expectation was raised very high in the first place. On the other hand an inferior hotel may well leave a customer more satisfied than using the superior one as they may believe their expectation was better matched with the former. Customers don’t like to feel like they were conned or lied to as such.
Providers must constantly aim to close these gaps to ensure better customer satisfaction all round. This must be an ongoing process, and a Marketing Strategy that service providers should always be looking to prioritise.
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