Closing Service Quality Gaps Using Dynamic Service Level Agreements

Closing Service Quality Gaps Using Dynamic Service Level Agreements

Carlos Mendes (Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisboa, Portugal) and Miguel Mira da Silva (Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisboa, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/IJISMD.2016040103
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Abstract

Each service interaction between a provider and a customer is an opportunity for the provider to delight, satisfy or disappoint the customer. However, the customers' expectations may change on every interaction. Therefore, defining Service Level Agreements (SLAs) at design time and then restricting the customers' options limits the possibilities for the customers to express their expectations. This is one of the reasons why the services quality is suffering from gaps identified more than two decades ago. In this paper, the authors propose a service quality approach such that SLAs can be specified at execution time (dynamic service levels) in contrast to the usual static SLAs specified at design time. They evaluated the proposal's impact in the service quality gaps using SERVQUAL. The proposal showed improvements in three of the five dimensions measured by SERVQUAL.
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Introduction

The service industry growth motivated the creation of a new discipline in which this paper is included: Service Science (Chesbrough & Spohrer, 2006). Service Science is defined as the discipline “that focuses on fundamental science, models, theories and applications to drive innovation, competition, and quality of life through co-creation of value” (Ostrom, 2010, p. 5).

Despite the evolution in this discipline, the service quality is still affected by gaps identified two decades ago (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1985). These gaps influence the services quality as they represent the factors that diminish the services quality. Service marketers often use these gaps to illustrate how differences between perceived service delivery and expected service can come about (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Gaps Model of service quality. Adapted from (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1985)

Gap 5 represents the difference between customers’ expectations and perceived service and this gap is caused by the four preceding gaps. Hence, service quality can be increased by closing the first four gaps, thus bringing the perceived service in line with the expected service.

One of the reasons why these gaps still influence service quality nowadays, is due to one of the more challenging aspects of quality service: to provide for the uniqueness of each situation and of each customer (Ukens, 2007). Each service interaction between a provider and respective customers is an opportunity for the provider to delight, satisfy or disappoint a customer. However, the customers’ expectations may change on every interaction. Therefore, defining a number of SLAs at design time and restricting the customers’ options to this number limits the customers’ possibilities to express their expectations. This aspect of service quality is closely related with the customer service experience concept that was identified as one of the 12 most important service research priorities (Ostrom, Parasuraman, Bowen, Patrício, & Voss, 2015). Additionally, creating a positive experience in the context of dynamic expectations was also identified as one of the seven issues, regarding customer service experience, that need further research (Ostrom, Parasuraman, Bowen, Patrício, & Voss, 2015).

In this paper, we propose to let customers freely express what they are looking for in every interaction. This allows a dynamic SLA negotiation instead of only using static SLAs defined at design time. Thus, the hypothesis that this work seeks to evaluate is: dynamic SLAs diminish the gap between customers’ expectations and perceived service.

This research proposal is composed by four steps. The first three steps are based on previous research (Mendes & Mira da Silva, 2012) (Mendes, Almeida, Salvador, & Mira da Silva, 2012) and the fourth step represents this paper contribution. The addition of this step is a major contribution since it formally describes, through a DEMO white-box model (Dietz J., 2006), how to dynamically negotiate SLAs.

We evaluated if dynamic SLAs have a positive impact in the gaps by applying the proposal in a field study. This field study was based on a private company that hired an IT service provider to develop computer applications. First, we measured Gap 5 and then we applied our proposal. Afterwards, we measured Gap 5 again. This allowed us to measure the impact that our proposal had in Gap 5.

This research was conducted using the Design Science Research Methodology (DSRM) that aims at creating and evaluating IT artifacts intended to solve identified organizational problems (Hevner, March, Park, & Ram, 2004). This research method comprises the following phases (Peffers, 2008): problem identification, objectives definition, design and development, demonstration, evaluation and communication.

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