Have you been using satisfaction surveys to measure service quality?

If you have, don’t feel badly. Your desire to improve your company’s service quality is admirable. The downside is the data gained from your surveys may not give you rhe information you need to gain a competitive advantage. 

Confused? Let me show you what I mean. 

Imagine you are sitting in a McDonalds restaurant and you have just finished eating a Big Mac sandwich. On the following scale rate how satisfied you are with that sandwich. 

Low Satisfaction  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  High Satisfaction


Now, rate the quality of that Big Mac sandwich. 

Low Qualtiy  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  High Quality


Did you circle the same number on both scales? Chances are, your quality rating was lower than your satisfaction rating. 

This exercise demonstrates two important points. First, satisfaction surveys do not measure quality – they measure satisfaction. Second, consumers can perceive your products and services to be satisfactory and low quality at the same time. 

The point being made is simple. If you want to gain a competitive advanrage by providing superior quality goods and service, you need to measure consumers’ perceived quality not satisfaction. 

What’s the difference? 

Both consumer satisfaction and service quality can be expressed as the difference between expectations and perceptions of service received. For example: 

Customer Satisfaction = Expectations – Perceptions
Service Quality = Expectations – Perceptions

The difference between the two formulas rests in how “expectations” are defined. In the customer satisfaction formula, expectations are defined as “predictions about what a service provider will or is likely to provide, rather than what should be provided.” In the service quality formula, expectations are defined as “the desires or wants of consumers.” Stated another way, the expectations in the qmlity formula are based on what the consumer feels the service provider should offer. 

In the product industty. an opinion of quality can be based on a single factor such as durability, size, or appearance. In the services industries, opinions of setvice quality are formed by blending many factors. 

Service quality experts Valarie Zeithaml, Leonard Berry and A. Parasuraman state consumers form opinions of quality by blending the following 10 dimensions: 

  1. Reliability – ls the service delivered dependably and accurately?
  2. Responsiveness – Do the service providers provide prompt setvice?
  3. Competence – Do staff possess the required skills and knowledge to perform the service properly?
  4. Courtesy – How polite, respectful and friendly are the employees?
  5. Credibility – Do the service providers appear to be trustworthy?
  6. Security – Does the customer perceive a low degree of danger, risk or doubt about the service and the service provider?
  7. Access – Are the employees approachable and easily contacted?
  8. Communication – Do employees keep the customers informed in a language they understand, and do the employees listen to the customers?
  9. Tangibles – Are the appearance of staff, physical facilities, equipment and commmnication materials consistent with what is expected in that industry?
  10. Understanding – Do employees make an effott to understand the customer and their needs?

It is important to note – not all dimensions are equally important to all service sectors. For example, if a service is delivered at the client’s company or home, the appearance of the service provider’s facilities may be unimpottant to the customer. 

Rule of thumb – before measuring any of the 10 dimensions listed above, always determine which dimensions are important to your target market. This rule is an important first step in developing a service quality improvement system. 

The second step involves measuring consumer perceptions of quality against the baseline established in step one. It is the combination of these two steps which enables managers to assess whether they are improving setvice quality where it counts – in the eyes of the consumer. 


Kopalle P., and Lehmann, D. (1995,. August). The Effects of Advertised and Observed Quality on Expectations About New Product Quality. Journal of Marketing Research,. XXXII (3). 

Rust. R., & Oliver. R., (1994). Service Quallity: New Directions in Theory anu Practice. London: Sage. 

Teas. K., (1994, January). Expectations as a Comparison Standard in Measuring Service Quality: An Assessment of a Reassessment. Journal of Marketing, 58, 132-139 

Zeithaml. V., Parasurman. A., Berry, L. (1990). Delivering Qualtiy Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations, New York: Collier Macmillian Canada Inc.


Orignal Source – Alberta Society for Marketing Professional Services: Marketing Exchange: Winter 1998, Volume 4, Issue 2