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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Measuring Service Quality Beyond Metrics



Service management within the hotel industry is vitally important for raising perceived customer value. The more value an organization develops the more likely customers will experience a positive impression of the business. This impression has dollar and cents value. Despite this knowledge many hotels have a difficult time implementing new customer service programs that further their strategic interests. Part of the problem may lay in the culture of the organization, improper metrics, and a misaligned perception of total service quality. 

Let us assume for a minute that a new program to reduce checkout speed failed after implementation. The decision-makers trained the front desk representatives and measured the amount of customers they have attended to within the metric time-frames. Even though the speed increased the level of service declined as employees attempted to meet the service metric and ignored fundamental service expectations. 

Even though management has pushed for this speed they failed to see the fundamental value of a positive experience that lays in the total customer experience. Employees focused closely on the metric but ignored all other variables in an attempt to fulfill the requirements. This is an example where a seemingly concise strategy failed because it only partly represented the customer’s needs. 

To develop a stronger service culture and a higher level of customer satisfaction requires a proper focus on a service culture that continually reinvents itself based upon the needs of their patrons. The essential issues exist within the pro-active attitudes and the way in which employees view their job responsibilities. Is their job defined as the quality of service or is the job defined by the metric? Allowing for greater awareness of the fundamental aspects of customer service allows for a higher level of employee performance beyond short-term gains. 

To create this greater awareness it can be beneficial to understand the local culture and how employees view the concept of service management. For example, a study analyzing the influence of culture and service found that national cultural values impacted the overall personal perceptions of service quality dimensions (Dedic & Pavlovic, 2011). Knowing how employees and managers are perceiving customer service helps in developing stronger methods of improving customer service delivery. 

To understand the differences between employee perceptions and customer perceptions can be furthered by using an employee survey that assesses employee customer service perceptions and comparing the results to customer’s expectations of quality service. Where there is difference there will be a misalignment of service delivery. Better alignment can come through stronger training programs that help bridge the misalignment between employee’s understandings and customer understandings. 

The organization should develop a customer centric approach to its service metrics, employee training, and program implementation. Companies that have developed winning cultures place emphasis on customer service, business growth and employee development (Bradt, 2008). Positive growth is found in customer satisfaction, the expansion of successful services, and the development of employee skills and perceptions. 

 Fundamentally, customers have a variety of factors that constitute a positive experience and focusing simply on a speed metric may miss the other aspects that are inherent in patron retention. Such customers want a friendly attitude, competence in the expected service, and have their issues handled promptly. Failing to understand the totality of the service limits the likelihood of successful program implementation.

The next time you or your management team implements a program that appears to have unintended effects on customer service quality consider the type of metrics being used and ensure that they meet customer expectations in the widest possible sense. Furthermore, ensure that employees’ understandings and definitions of customer service are comparable with customer perceptions of quality service. Where there are differences, consider improving training to bring these two perceptions into alignment and redeveloping metrics to create a more beneficial measure of performance. 

Tips:
-Ensure metrics actually measure what is important to customers.
-Avoid having service quality defined exclusively by the service metric.
-Focus on the total customer experience.
-Develop training programs that increase both skill and perception.
-Ensure that the latent culture is customer versus organizational centric.
-Ensure that customer service programs actually align with strategic approaches. 

Bradt, G. (2008). 5 simple steps to build a winning corporate culture. Supervision, 69 (3). 

Dedic, G. & Pavlovice, D. (2011). A taleof two nations-empirical examination of influence of national culture on perceived service quality. International journal of management cases, 13 (3).

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