E-Service Customization: The Provider Perspective

E-Service Customization: The Provider Perspective

Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1604-2.ch001
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This chapter discusses service customization from the perspective of service providers. It explains the role of service quality in customization. This chapter defines service quality and discusses several service quality models such as Servqual, Grönroos’ Model, the e-SQ Model, and others, that provide the foundation for measuring service quality and for specifying the critical factors that should be taken into consideration when seeking opportunities for service customization. This chapter concludes with a discussion of service quality in specific industry sectors, namely e-banking, e-health, e-procurement, and education (e-learning).
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Quality In Products And Services

Generally speaking, defining what constitutes product quality is easy. If the product performs exactly ‘as it says on the box’, if it does not break apart, if it is priced in accordance to the market expectations, and so on, is deemed to be of acceptable or good quality. Assume, as an example, a scenario where someone buys a chair. The buyer will look at the chair, examine its design, color and construction, and then decide whether to buy it or not. Basically, the customer will try the chair to get an idea of what he likes and dislikes about it. Being tangible, a product like a chair allows the potential customer to experience it and completely assess its qualities. Now imagine a scenario of a customer who wants to go on vacation. A vacation is a service, not a product. The vacation service provider does not have a tangible product that the customer can inspect beforehand; there are only intangible promises of nice and peaceful resorts, excellent food, friendly staff, etc. There are no proofs of truth in those promises, i.e. they stay unverified until the customer actually visits the vacation resort. Whether the customer will go ahead with the purchase of the vacation package, is a matter of trusting the service provider's promises. Therefore, the intangible nature of services imposes restrictions on how much information a customer can get beforehand about the quality of a service. Effectively, the customer needs to wait until the time of consumption to be able to judge the service quality. However, that might be too late for the customer to do anything about it.

Things are getting more complicated in judging quality, when more than one people experience the same product or service. In the chair scenario mentioned above, it is far easier for a group of customers to agree on the quality of the chair; a lot easier than getting them to agree on the quality of certain vacation package.

As said already in the introductory chapter, the problem lies in the main distinguishing feature of services from products: Services, unlike products, are intangible. Their intangible nature implies that services cannot be stored, as there is nothing to store! The production of a service commences when a customer requests the service. In many cases, the production of a service coincides with its consumption. Assume the case of a flight service. A passenger for example 'consumes' a flight at the same time that it is 'produced'. Service consumption is therefore time dependent. A flight service is offered within clearly defined time intervals. Before or after the specified time period, a service is not valid. Services, therefore, are perceived in a subjective way and only at the time they are created - not before. Heterogeneity characterizes services, in the sense that services adjust to individual customer demands (Bowen & Ford, 2002). Also, services are often produced in collaboration between employees and customers, many of whom have not worked together before. Services reflect the experience gained from their interaction with the customers. A service experience remains in the memory of each customer and may differ from that of other customers (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). Therefore, while some objective performance and quality criteria can be used for products, a service is subjectively evaluated by each customer, depending on his/her expectations about it.

The intangible nature of services implies that the management and business processes of service sector business differ from business processes in manufacturing (Bowen & Ford, 2002). The following characteristics distinguish the business processes that develop and deliver services from those processes that produce tangible products.

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