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The perceived service quality concept a mistake?
The perceived service quality concept – a mistake?
The most important characteristic of services, and probably the only really unique one, is the fact that services are processes, not things. Other characteristics such as the fact that consumption and production are partly simultaneous activities and that customers participate in the service production process follow from the process characteristic. This means that a service firm has no products, only interactive processes. A product variable should, therefore, not enter a service marketing model.
A need-satisfying, physical product exists before consumption starts. Products are outcomes of a production process. In a service context, in contrast, a need-satisfying equivalent of a product emerges gradually for the customer throughout the consumption process. Hence, a service is a process that leads to an outcome during partly simultaneous production and consumption processes. This is quite different in nature from a physical product, and indeed, the terms we still use (e.g. production process, productivity, even consumption) are manufacturing-oriented concepts that do not always fit the nature of services well.
Compared to the marketers of physical goods, who offer tangible products, service firms rely on a set of resources – employees, physical resources, technology and systems, and customers – and a governing system that puts these resources to use when the customer requests a service. The interactions between the customer and the quality-generating resources controlled by the service provider form the heart of service marketing. Since the late 1970s, in the service marketing literature this has been labelled interactive marketing. This marketing process is then supported by more traditional external marketing activities, such as advertising, pricing and direct response activities.
In traditional marketing models, the product is the starting point for decisions about marketing communication, distribution and pricing (to use the marketing mix language of consumer goods marketing). In a service marketing model, the starting point for planning is not a product but a service concept, that is, an idea about how the quality-generating resources should function and what result they should achieve for the customer.
In my research into service marketing I became interested in service quality because of the notion of the missing product, not because of an interest in quality per se. Something was needed in a service marketing model that replaced the product features embedded in the pre-produced physical product. The natural way of finding the service-oriented equivalent of product features is to ask the question "What do customers of services see in a service as a need-satisfying solution when they do not see and perceive any ready-made product features?" The obvious answer seems to be, "They see and perceive the process they are involved in as consumers of the service as well as the outcome of this process." Hence, whereas the consumption of physical products can be described as outcome consumption, the consumption of services can be characterized as process consumption (Grönroos, 1998).
In other words, there are no physical products to manage in service marketing, only resources and a system that governs the process that produces a result for the customer. Clearly something is needed to replace the product concept. The question is how is the service concept transformed to something that provides satisfaction, that is, how is the satisfaction-providing process perceived by customers of services? The answer was the perceived service quality model, which was first presented in English in 1982 (Grönroos, 1982). The consumer, of course, perceives what he or she receives as the outcome of the process in which the resources are used, i.e. the technical or outcome quality of the process. But he or she also, and often more importantly, perceives how the process itself functions, i.e. the functional or process quality dimension. Thus, the technical quality and functional quality dimensions of perceived service quality emerge. To me, the technical and functional quality dimensions of a service replace the product features of a physical product, nothing else.
Because customers often have continuous contacts with the same service firm, a dynamic aspect is also needed in a service quality model. Customers bring their previous experiences and overall perceptions of a service firm to each encounter. Therefore, the image concept was introduced as yet another important component in the perceived service quality model, so that the dynamic aspect of the service perception process was taken into account as well.
Originally, I never thought that the perceived service quality model would be anything other than a conceptual model that would help researchers and practitioners to understand the need-satisfying elements of a marketing model in a service context. It was developed to provide the services equivalent of product features and how to cope with them, much in the same way as the goods-oriented product concept helps marketers understand how to cope with the same issues in a goods-oriented marketing model. I imagined that how well perceived service quality dimensions serve customers' could and should be measured with customer satisfaction with the service. Quality as such should not be measured. However, service marketing research took another avenue here. In retrospect, I should probably have used the terms technical and functional features of services instead of technical and functional quality dimensions of services. We should probably have had a model of perceived service features instead of perceived service quality. That way, much of the confusing and time-consuming discussion of the relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction could have been avoided.
Christian GrönroosHanken Swedish School of Economics,Finland
ReferencesGrönroos, C. (1982), Strategic Management and Marketing in the Service Sector, Chartwell-Bratt (published in the USA in 1983 by the Marketing Science Institute), London, UK.Grönroos, C. (1998), "Marketing services: a case of a missing product", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing,Vol. 13 No. 3-4, pp. 322-38.
Services are processes – a service firm has no products, only interactive processes.
Consumption of physical products can be described as outcome consumption whereas consumption of services can be characterized as process consumption.
Customers bring their previous experiences and overall perceptions of a service firm to each encounter – the image concept of the perceived service quality model enables the dynamic aspect of the service perception process to be taken into account.