Customer Satisfaction Isn’t Service Quality

We all make satisfaction vs. quality decisions every day. I can go to a restaurant and get a quick meal that won’t be very tasty, but it’s fast, cheap and good enough for now. If you catch me as I leave the restaurant and ask me if I am satisfied with my encounter I will say yes. If you ask me if this is a high quality restaurant I will say no.

Quality and satisfaction are different things altogether. Yet, many confuse these basic concepts; contributing to the ever-widening “business/IT gap”. You probably know how this gap feels if you work in IT. For example, you might use customer satisfaction surveys to measure say, the service desk. You pester users to complete a survey after every call to the service desk, and every quarter whether they called in or not. Few users actually complete your surveys, but those that do generally indicate satisfaction with the service desk. And yet, they (the users, customers and business) still complain about the service desk. The same holds true for other services, too. What gives?

Sweet & Sour

The answer is that one may be satisfied and still feel that service quality is low; and vice versa, one my be dissatisfied and feel service is of high quality. Service quality is a complex judgment about the overall superiority of a service whereas satisfaction is related to contentment regarding a specific transaction.

Here is a simple IT example from my own experience: my cable TV provider also provides my Internet. My Internet fails mysteriously several times a year―it slowly degrades, with my download speeds (but interestingly not my upload speeds) falling over time. I pay for top-tier boosted turbo-charged high-speed service, so you could say my expectations for service are high since, according to what my provider has told me via its marketing (you know, boosted turbo-charged high-speed service) I should be very happy with the service I receive, but I am not.

However, I am satisfied occasionally with the support I get. Even though when I call the service desk they make me wade through a litany of trouble shooting steps and ask dozens of questions (I know they are following ITIL good practices and that in the long run it’s for my own good) before resetting my cable modem (which they always do). I am not satisfied with the service desk overall since they take lots of time from me and never resolve the issue. They don’t listen to me and always wind up sending Dan the repairman.

Dan (he is a real person) comes and fixes things (mysterious things, things outside my office, up a pole, far away … things about which I am not supposed to speak.) Dan solves my problems. Dan is good at what he does, and I am satisfied with the service he provides. I am not at all satisfied with the service desk, however, and I think the overall service quality is very low.

Let me be clear. If my provider were to ask me about the quality of my Internet service I will say without hesitation it is poor and that I am not getting my money’s worth. Now, if they ask me if I am satisfied with the service provided by Dan (Isn’t it sad that I know his name?) I will say yes. Very much. Dan is efficient, pleasant and gets his work done fast.

Reliability supporting a service is but one of five aspects or dimensions of service quality. Service quality for any service and satisfaction for any service encounter arises from perceptions made by consumers around one or more of the following five dimensions:

Reliability: how closely the level of service provided matches any promises, guarantees, or formal statements made by the provider. Reliability reflects the consistency and dependability of the service provider and its services. Reliability is the ability of the system or component to perform its required functions under stated conditions for a specified period. Service Reliability is the ability to deliver promised service dependably and accurately.

Responsiveness: the willingness and readiness to provide prompt service and support to help consumers. Key components of responsiveness include telling service consumers exactly what services will be performed, keeping service consumers apprised of when they will receive service, the status of tickets etc.

Assurance: the level of safety and confidence felt when using the service or working with the service provider. Includes concepts such as security of transactions, sensitive information and risk, the knowledge of service provider employees expressed during service encounters.