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Reliability of the internal service encounter

Gamini Gunawardane (College of Business and Economics, California State University, Fullerton, California, USA)

International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management

ISSN: 0265-671X

Article publication date: 11 October 2011

Abstract

Purpose

Service quality has been an active area of research during the last two decades. In this research, typically, service quality is considered from the viewpoint of the customer who is the recipient of the service, i.e. the “external customer”, and the research efforts have focused on identifying the dimensions of quality in this “external service encounter”. In the majority of these studies, “reliability” has been identified as the most prominent dimension among the various dimensions of the external service encounter. In recent times, researchers have also highlighted the importance of “internal customers” and the existence of an “internal service encounter”. The objectives of the research project reported here were: to investigate whether “reliability” is perceived as an important dimension in the internal service encounter as well, and, if so, to ascertain how service managers define “reliability” in the internal service encounter; and to examine whether the perceived importance of “reliability” in the internal service encounter varies with the type of the internal service encounter.

Design/methodology/approach

Literature review and manager interviews were used to ascertain the role and meaning of “reliability” in the internal service encounter and different types of internal service encounters. A field study in the health care industry was performed to examine whether the relative importance of “reliability” in the internal service encounter, vis‐à‐vis other dimensions, varies in different types of internal service encounters.

Findings

As with the external service encounter, “reliability” emerges as a key dimension in evaluating the quality of an internal service encounter. The meaning assigned to “reliability” in the internal service encounter is similar to that established for the external service encounter in that both focus on the accuracy of the outcome and dependability. A new dimension of “reliability” that became apparent was the need for flexibility, communication and problem‐solving support. This is probably due to the time‐consuming project nature of the internal service encounter, where the internal customer feels the need to be able to openly discuss its needs with the internal service provider and the latter's flexibility and patience in attending to these needs. The importance of “reliability” vis‐à‐vis other dimensions of internal service quality does vary with the type of internal service encounter.

Practical implications

The study and its findings highlight possible actions managers can adopt to improve the quality and effectiveness of a variety of internal service encounter types.

Originality/value

As research on the role of “reliability” as a dimension of internal service quality is rare, this paper presents a novel effort, i.e. a combination of various interpretations of “reliability” of the internal service encounter in the limited literature and views of managers of a large industry, to identify the role and meaning of “reliability” in the internal service encounter. There is no report in the literature of any previous efforts to investigate whether the importance attached by managers to “reliability” (as a factor of internal service quality) varies with the type of internal service encounter. The paper also proposes a novel typology for classifying internal service encounters.

Keywords

Citation

Gunawardane, G. (2011), "Reliability of the internal service encounter", International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Vol. 28 No. 9, pp. 1003-1018. https://doi.org/10.1108/02656711111172559

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited