Retaining existing clients, boosting sales, and growing a business are all made possible by providing top-notch customer services. But, there is a huge gap between what companies perceive to be great customer service and what they are actually able to deliver. This disparity in perceived customer success is one of the biggest challenges businesses face today, which is why the service industry widely uses the Gap Model to understand the gaps in its service delivery processes.
First proposed by A. Parasuraman, Valarie Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry in 1985, the Gap Model of Service Quality helps the company to understand customer satisfaction and pinpoint areas that might improve the client experience. In the Service Gap Model of Service Quality, also known as the SERVQUAL model, customer satisfaction is majorly dependent on the perception of customers. Customers who perceive that a service has met their initial expectations are satisfied. Those who perceive service to have fallen short of their expectations will always be dissatisfied.
This blog discusses the five gaps addressed by the Service Gap Model relevant to understanding the shortcomings in customer expectations and recommends ways to resolve them.
1. Knowledge Gap
The knowledge gap is the difference between what the customers expect of the service and what the company’s understanding of customer needs is. This gap arises because management isn’t aware of what customers expect. The gap can grow if the management doesn’t focus on customer expectations thoroughly. This may happen because of the following factors:
- Lack of management and customer interaction
- Lack of communication between the management and the customer-facing employees
- Insufficient market research
- Little focus on relationship management
- Failure to understand customer complaints
Bridging the Knowledge Gap
Bridging the gaps between customer expectations and a company’s understanding of those expectations is a process that works from the inside out of an organization.
- Building an organizational culture focused on providing top-notch customer service and working relentlessly to understand customer expectations can bridge this gap.
- Gauging a better understanding of customer expectations through proper research, analysis, and feedback. Increasing direct interactions between management and customers can foster a better understanding of customer needs.
- A good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that can manage huge amounts of data related to customers’ buying history, feedback, and complaints can help design a prompt corrective action plan to address customer complaints. It can also enable an organization to forecast future customer behavior and buying patterns that can bridge the gap between customer expectations and service delivery.
2. Policy Gap
It is also known as the “Standards Gap.” This gap scrutinizes the difference between management’s perception of the quality of service that the customer desires and the steps required to provide that level of service. This policy gap arises from the variance between what customers want and what management proposes. Managers may know what their customers want but still, need to develop the training and standards to meet those expectations.
The reasons for expanding policy gap:
- Inadequate adherence to service quality
- Lack of task standardization
- Lack of goal setting
- Inadequately explained service levels
- Failure to frequently update service level quality
Bridging the Policy Gap
- Managers need to define to their team the level of service quality they want their customers to experience to minimize the possibility of lowered quality standards.
- Establish standard operating strategies/methods/systems for your team and establish SMART goals that are precise, quantifiable, actionable, pertinent, and timely.
3. Delivery Gap
The delivery gap is the difference between the company’s service delivery policies and the service’s actual delivery. The delivery gap in service standards occurs when the company finds it challenging to safeguard and maintain the quality of products and services delivered to customers. The company is aware of the Voice of Customer and critical to quality outputs from the customers and has processes in place, but the expectation still needs to be met. The reasons for the delivery gap:
- Improper implementation of service delivery processes
- Lack of requisite training
- Role conflict
- Poor technology
At this phase, managers might examine the customer experience to recognize and identify areas for advancement and development. In this situation, the team may benefit from further training. In some circumstances, management may need to analyze their hiring for best fit employees and impart standard customer service to them.
Bridging the Delivery Gap
The gaps can be bridged using the RATER Framework. Per the RATER Framework, the five aspects of service standards are:
- Reliability: Reliability measures the level to which a service can be relied upon to generate a favorable result or outcome at any specified time. This determines the consistency of services delivered by an organization. If an organization gives consistent services, then it will have high reliability.
- Assurance: Assurance means the intensity of trust a customer has about the standard of services.
- Tangibility: Tangibility means the look of the product or service provided by the organization.
- Empathy: Empathy measures the capacity of a company to acknowledge what its customers demand.
- Responsiveness: Responsiveness refers to how quickly a service meets a customer’s demands.
4. Communications Gap
When customer expectations and messaging don’t align, this opens up a dangerous divide that we call the Communications Gap. Advertisements and corporate statements significantly impact customers’ expectations; thus, businesses should be careful that their external communications accurately represent what they can provide to avoid raising customers’ expectations too high or making misleading claims. By making excessive promises but offering little in return, a corporation risks raising customer expectations and falling short of them. This may happen because of the following reasons:
- Poor communication between sales, marketing, and operations
- Lack of horizontal communication
- The predisposition of an organization to overpromise
Bridging the Communications Gap
Rather than making inflated promises, organizations should assess how accurately they have to reveal information about their services in their advertising and communications. They should communicate about their goods or services in a straightforward manner to lower the danger of communication gaps.
5. Customer Satisfaction Gap
The customer satisfaction gap refers to the distinction between customer expectations and customer perception. This may occur when the customer identifies a characteristic of service standard as something undesirable. This gap is also used to relate to overall customer discontentment, which emerges as the outcome of the sum of the other gaps.
Many organizations need to be made aware of this gap. This gap can occur because of one of the other four gaps or because the customer misunderstands the standard of the service. A worst-case scenario could lead to a business losing a large percentage of its customers overnight. Although the company assumes there was no gap, the reality was that their customers were waiting for someone to overfill their perceived gap.
Bridging the Customer Satisfaction Gap
Conducting a gap analysis assists in the following:
- Analyzing the current portfolio of products and services to determine new business opportunities
- Augmenting your internal processes and functioning by emphasizing any underperforming sector/area
- Upgrading overall business yield by exploring why your sales targets haven’t been met
Customer demands and needs are constantly changing; some may argue that fully closing the gap between customer expectations and service is impossible, which is correct. However, it is possible to continually strive to close the gap so that customers are satisfied most of the time, and businesses can find new ways to ensure that their customers have great experiences every time and at every contact point. Companies must invest time and effort in providing relevant and timely training to their customer service representatives and other employees so that everyone is working toward increasing customer satisfaction levels. Furthermore, all feedback and customer experiences should be carefully analyzed so that immediate action can be taken to eliminate them. At iQuasar, we strive for clear and transparent customer interactions, allowing us to gain a greater insight into their needs. With a sharp focus on customer expectations, our team minimizes service delivery gaps, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.