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Monday, April 12, 2010

Evaluating experiences beyond "I know it when I see it."

I’m in the middle of an awful service experience with my local Volkswagen service location, one that has left me without my main mode of transportation for the last seven days and counting.

Though it hasn’t yet concluded, I’m taking a few minutes to go frame-by-frame through the experience in preparation for a debrief with the service provider. As I’m doing so, It’s obvious that if they were simply better at keeping me informed on the status of the ongoing experience, my perception of the entire engagement would be dramatically improved.

Quality of the services we produce and consume is difficult for all parties involved to measure.

Because of their intangible, emotional nature, consumers often use the “I know it when I see it” method to judge whether their experience was a good one or a bad one. Regardless of whether the evaluation was conscious or not, they’re evaluating their experiences on five service quality dimensions companies also need pay attention to:

• Assurance: the ability of the company / provider / experience to inspire trust in the consumer

• Empathy: the emotional labor, or caring, behind the actions of the service or its provider

• Reliability: the ability to perform the promised experience accurately and consistently

• Responsiveness: the willingness of service providers to help, and the availability of the offering

• Physical evidence: the appearance of the service environment and the tangible cues that the experience is adequately performed

In seven days of mistakes and omissions on the part of my Volkswagen service center, more than half of the quality deficiencies are of responsiveness. Their lack of follow-up or proactive information management eliminated any assurance I might have had, and I started evaluating everything else more critically, resulting in further failures on empathy, reliability and tangibles I might not have otherwise noticed. A failure on one dimension led to avoidable failures on the others.

Good service businesses know the relative importance of assurance, empathy, reliability, responsiveness and physical cues to their customers’ perceptions or the experience. They measure and manage performance across them, knowing that a deficiency in one leads to perceived deficiencies in others.

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