Customer perceptions regarding service quality are central to evaluating water utility performance. Parasuraman et. al. (1985) * developed the SERVQUAL model, identifying five dimensions of service quality as perceived by customers:
- External Characteristics or Tangibles (tidy workplace, employee appearances)
- Reliability (meeting deadlines, consistency in interactions)
- Responsiveness (providing service promptly)
- Consideration or Assurance (personnel who are courteous, friendly, and polite: trustful and helpful).
- Empathy (giving individual care and attention: comprehensible transactions)
Documenting performance on these dimensions can lead to changes in procedures that affect customer attitudes. SERVQUAL is then an empirically derived method that may be used by a services organization to improve service quality. The method involves the development of an understanding of the perceived service needs of target customers. These measured perceptions of service quality for the organization in question are then compared to an organization that is “excellent”. The resulting gap analysis may then be used as a driver for service quality improvement.
- Advantages: Surveys can reveal performance gaps and identify areas of concern. Customer complaints provide a direct indicator of consumer perceptions. Disaggregating complaints by type of customer, location, and type of complaint can help managers identify problem areas. In addition, trends over time can be used by regulators and policy-makers to evaluate utility performance.
- Disadvantages: Many other factors are relevant for the efficient provision of water services. Citizens not receiving service are not likely to be surveyed. Also, the use of difference scores in calculating SERVQUAL contributes to problems with the reliability, discriminant validity, convergent validity and predictive validity of the measurement. Hence, caution should be exercised in the use of SERVQUAL scores. Finally, SERQUAL assumes that the results of market surveys are accurate, and it also assumes that customer needs can be documented and captured, and that they remain stable during the whole process.
- Application: Many water utilities use surveys to determine customer attitudes and concerns. Regulatory commissions examine lists of complaints to identify areas in need of improvement.
*Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1985) “A Conceptual Model of Service Quality and its implications for future research,” Journal of Marketing 49 (4), Fall, 41-50.
Also see, R. Parena (1999). The IWSA Benchmarking Initiatives: Performance Indicators for Water and Sewage Services—An Actual Tool for Better Management and Public Regulation. Hydrocontrol International Workshop, Cagliari, Italy.