Service quality

Delivering service quality in e-commerce can be assessed through reviewing existing marketing frameworks for determining levels of service quality. Those most frequently used are based on the concept of a 'service-quality gap' that exists between the customer's expected level of service (from previous experience and word-of-mouth communication) and their perception of the actual level of service delivery. We can apply the elements of service quality on which Parasuraman et al. (1985) suggest that consumers judge companies. Note that there has been heated dispute about the validity of this SERVQUAL instrument framework in determining service quality, see for example Cronin and Taylor

(1992). Despite this it is still instructive to apply these dimensions of service quality to customer service on the web (see for example Chaffey and Edgar (2000), Kolesar and Galbraith (2000), Zeithaml et al. (2002) and Trocchia and Janda (2003)):

• tangibles - the physical appearance of facilities and communications;

• reliability - the ability to perform the service dependably and accurately;

• responsiveness - a willingness to help customers and provide prompt service;

• assurance - the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence;

• empathy - providing caring, individualised attention.

Online marketers should assess what customers' expectations are in each of these areas, and identify where there is an online service-quality gap between the customer expectations and what is currently delivered.

Research across industry sectors suggests that the quality of service is a key determinant of loyalty. Feinberg et al. (2000) report that when reasons why customers leave a company are considered, over 68% leave because of 'poor service experience', with other factors such as price (10%) and product issues (17%) less significant. Poor service experience was subdivided as follows:

This survey was conducted for traditional business contacts, but it is instructive since these reasons given for poor customer service have their equivalents online through e-mail communications and delivery of services on-site.

We will now examine how the five determinants of online service quality apply online.

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