This report will examine how service quality can be measured within national tourist offices following the service quality workshop. This workshop had been undertaken at the end of November 2008, in to three different tourist boards, Morocco, Hong Kong and India. Different information on personal visit, telephone call and website were gathered for each of these tourist boards. In the first part of the report, theories about service quality and how it can be measured will be discussed. Then, in the second part of the report, the theories will be illustrated with the information gathered during the service quality workshop. Finally, some recommendations will be made for improvements in service quality.

The aim of the report is to assess how the findings from such measures can be used to make recommendations for improvements in service quality.

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1. Theory

First of all, it is important to define what service quality means, because quality in service industry is different to quality in manufacturing. In manufacturing, quality means zero defects (Foley et al, 1997). Whereas in service industry, Cooper et al cited in Baum (2006, p.84) distinguish ‘three characteristics which separate tourism as service from manufactured goods’: intangibility, perishability and inseparability (Foley et al, 1997; Williams and Buswell, 2003).Goods are tangibles whereas services are intangibles (Williams and Buswell, 2003). Intangibility means that the product cannot be displayed. Perishability signifies that the service which has not been sold is lost and inseparability ‘involves the simultaneous production and consumption of the service’ (Foley et al, 1997, p.6; Williams and Buswell, 2003; Baum, 2006).

It is also necessary to explain the difference between service quality and customer satisfaction (Gabbott and Hogg, 1997; Johnston and Clark, 2005; Zeithaml et al, 2006). ‘Satisfaction is the customer’s evaluation of a product or service in terms of whether that product or service has met the customer’s needs and expectations’ (Zeithaml et al, 2006, p.110). Furthermore, according to Zeithaml et al (2006) and Johnston and Clark (2005), customer expectations are influenced by different factors such as price, customer’s mood, word-of-mouth, company marketing, past experience as well as personal needs. Nevertheless, service quality is an element of the customer satisfaction. When customers judge the quality of service they look at five different dimensions (Zeithaml et al, 2006). According to Kunst and Lemmink (1997), Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (PZB) classified ten dimensions in 1985 and, in 1988 they cut down to five: tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy (Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons, 2008). The meanings given by Zeithaml et al (2006) for each of the dimensions are the following:

– Tangibility is the appearance of physical elements;

– Reliability is ‘the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately’ (p.117);

– Responsiveness is the ‘willingness to help customers and provide prompt service’ (p.117);

– Assurance can be defined as the competence, courtesy, credibility and security;

– Empathy is the ‘individualized attention given to customers (p.117).

Moreover, another model contributes to the customers’ perceptions: the Gr�nroos’s model. In 1982, he found two dimensions in service quality: technical and functional quality. The technical quality is what the consumer receives, it can be measured objectively, whereas, the functional quality is how the technical elements are transferred, which needs to be measured subjectively (Williams and Buswell, 2003; Kunst and Lemmink, 1997; Foley et al, 1997).

In addition, service quality and customer satisfaction are not measured in the same way. As the report noticed above, the customer satisfaction is the difference between what the customer expects and what the customer perceives. When this difference is compared, three levels of expectation are identified: exceptional quality or positive disconfirmation, satisfactory quality or simple confirmation and finally, unacceptable quality or negative disconfirmation. Exceptional quality means that expectations are exceeded; satisfactory quality signifies that expectations are confirmed and unacceptable quality means that expectations are not met (Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons, 2008; Williams and Buswell, 2003).

Service quality can be measured by using the PZB model; this is SERQUAL (Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons, 2008; Kunst and Lemmink, 1997. However, this report will not go into more details, because this model is showing the gap between expectations and perceptions and the service quality workshop undertaken, does not give the possibility to measure it.

Nevertheless, other methods can be used to measure customer service quality. These methods can be classified into two categories: qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative research methods are more difficult to measure; it is the collection of data that result to a personal opinion, whereas qualitative research methods are much simpler; that will contain numerical data (Hollins et al, 2006; Williams and Buswell, 2003). Here are some qualitative methods: focus group, complaint analysis, as well as customer advisory panel. The SERVQUAL gap analysis model is a quantitative method. Some methods can be both quantitative and qualitative, such as customer or user survey, mystery shoppers as well as internet and e-mail survey. Mystery shoppers and internet and e-mail survey methods were used in the service quality workshop of the three tourist boards.

However, measuring service quality can be difficult. As noticed above, qualitative methods are more difficult to measure than quantitative. This is not the only issue. Surveys are expensive, take times, have sometimes a limited coverage or may not be representative. Moreover, customer’s needs change all the time; this is means that evaluation has to be done more often (Johnston and Clark, 2005). As Johnston and Clark (2005, p.126) noticed, ‘a lot of customer satisfaction assessment is a waste of time and effort’.

3. Practice

Now, the theoretical context will be analysed with the service quality workshop. This workshop had been undertaken by six girls as mystery shoppers. They investigated the quality of service of three national tourist organisations, Morocco, India and Hong Kong. Two personal visits, telephone calls and website observations have been made.

The personal visits were assessed with the ZBP’s subsequent five determinants of service quality. Here are the questions for each of the determinant: – Reliability: opening days/hours and queuing time – Responsiveness of the staff – Assurance: if mystery shoppers were satisfied by the service – Empathy: the location, if it is easy to find. – Tangibility: cleanliness/visual appealing

When mystery shoppers went to the tourist offices, they evaluated by using numerical data from 0, for poor service, to 3, for very good service; that is quantitative method.

Telephone calls and tourist boards’ website were assessed with qualitative and quantitative questions. The five dimensions were also used to analyse the quality of service. However, questions are slightly different, other observations must be made, while the personal visit assessment could not do. In the reliability, the technical functioning of the website or of the telephone is adding. The empathy is the number of rings for the telephone and for the website, the number of click in order to access to the information needed. According to Zeithaml et al (2006) other dimensions can be used for the Web, such as the efficiency of the site, the fulfilment as well as the privacy of the website. In the workshop, the efficiency includes the easiness to find the website through Google.

Moreover, when the observations have been made, the level of expectations for the Moroccan tourist board was unacceptable; the expectations were not met. However, for the tourist boards of Hong Kong and India, the expectations were confirmed, but not exceeded. The mystery shoppers’ expectations came from their personal needs, these were having information on each of the destination for 1-2 week summer break (see further details in the appendix).

In addition, as the report remarks on the theoretical part, measuring service quality can be difficult. In the service quality workshop, the assessment of the telephone calls could not be done for the Hong Kong and Indian tourist offices. The mystery shopper was redirected to a voicemail for the tourist board of Hong Kong, and the option from 1-6 for the Indian board were not working. Sometimes, the survey may not be relevant; this had been the case for the personal visits. The two visits were done at different days and time, and with two different people. The results were slightly different for the Indian tourist board and greatly different for the Moroccan one. The responsiveness of the staff and the service satisfaction were judged as better quality at the second visit (see further details in the appendix).

4. Recommendations

Following the analysis of the three tourist boards, some recommendations can be made. First of all, for the Moroccan tourist office, sign posting should be improved because it was difficult to find the office, as well as for the opening hours which were not displayed on the door. Moreover, the staffs were not friendly with the customers. Regarding to the Moroccan’s website, improvement should be done, such as offering more languages than just English and French. On the phone, staff should take more interest in customers. Due to the result on the friendliness of the staff, the company should train their staff in order to improve their image (see further details in appendix 1).

For the tourist information office of Hong Kong, the only recommendations are to displayed the opening hours outside the office and provide telephone enquiry service (see further details in appendix 1).

Finally, for the Indian tourist board, the reliability of staff should be improved, as well as the appearance of the website which is not really attractive and does not provide enough information (see further details in appendix 1).

Conclusion

To conclude, service quality is an important element to the customer satisfaction. If the customer is satisfied, he will come back to the same service, but if he is not satisfied, then the company may lose the customer who will go to another supplier. Evaluating the three tourist boards had not been easy to do. The expectations are not the same for everyone.