Maddox Smith Staff asked 4 years ago

2 – Defining Quality

Slack et al note “There is no clear or agreed definition of what quality means.” (2007, p 538).  Compounding that lack of clarity is the fact that “Much of the theory of quality comes from work with processes which are by their nature reproduced many times -” (Brown et al, 2000, p 216).  The ASB service, called upon in 300+ cases in the last 12 months, is effectively a different service every time it is provided because:

  • It is provided by different staff, likely to provide inconsistent levels of service no matter what training is provided.
  • It is provided to different customers, interacting with the service, including other customers) in different ways, regardless of their obligations under the terms of their tenancy agreements.
  • Each case is unique – even noise nuisance cases require different types of management, dependent on factors like the type of property in which they occur (flat, house etc), the nature of the noise nuisance (vehicles, domestic disputes etc), the involvement of other agencies (local authority noise teams, Police etc) and so on.

The degree of customisation of the service affects the extent to which quality management theories, developed for use in processes that are repeated many times, can be appropriately applied to the service.

Quality gurus like Feigenbaum extended principles developed in production settings to services operations and developed definitions of quality such as the following:

Defining Quality“The total composite product and service characteristics…through which the product or service in use will meet the expectations of the customer”. (Feigenbaum, 1983 in Brown et al, 2000, p 194).

Such definitions are difficult to apply to services such as the ASB service.  Dotchin and Oakland (1994, p 14) note “a service package constitutes elements which are different from each other, are difficult to measure objectively and for which the consumer may use completely different methods of assessment”.  Garvin (1988, in Brown et al, 2000, p 194) raises two significant difficulties of relevance to the ASB service:

  • Customers may have very different perceptions of quality
  • It may be difficult to identify the key attributes that connote quality

Such confusion about the definition of quality affects how RSL’s measure service quality.  Williams et al (1999, p 367) note that measuring service quality in the housing sector is done largely through use of hard, easily quantifiable data.  That approach to the measurement of quality is reflected in the ASB service standards, in which the only measurable attributes of the service are defined as:

  • speed with which staff will respond to reports
  • fact that Connect will accept hate incident reports
  • use of methods to resolve disputes, including use of legal action where appropriate

Slack et al (2007, p 541) provide a definition of quality that may be helpfully applied to the ASB service, that being:

“Quality can be defined as the degree of fit between customers’ expectations and customer perception of the product or service.”

The diagram below outlines the implications of such expectation / perception gaps.

Customers’ expectations for the service Gap Customers’ expectations for the service Customers’ perceptions of the service Gap Customers’ perceptions of the service
Customers’ perceptions of the serviceCustomers’ expectations for the service
Expectations>perceptions Expectations=perceptions Expectations<perceptions
Perceived quality is poor     Perceived quality is good

(Slack et al, 2007, p 541)

Though Buttle (1996, p 10) noted that there is little evidence that customers assess service quality in terms of expectation / perception gaps, Connect recognises the importance of the extent to which services meet customers’ expectations.  The association incorporated questions designed to assess this into its last satisfaction survey (a survey of a range of Connect services) but it is likely that the association asked the wrong question!  As seen below, the survey measured the degree of fit between importance to customers and satisfaction with service.

RequirementsImportanceSatisfaction 
General condition of the inside of your home9.17.9 
General upkeep of the outside of your home8.87.3 
Safety and security of your home9.27.5 
The general surroundings where you live8.87.4 
Overall quality of repair work8.98.1 
Appointment being offered at a convenient time8.98.2 
The attitude of workmen/women9.08.8 
Repairs completed in good time8.98.1 
Repairs being completed on first visit8.67.8 
How clean and tidy your home was left9.08.6 
Helpfulness of Connect staff9.08.5 
Staff respecting you as an individual9.18.5 
Ability to listen to your views9.08.3 
The tenant newsletter – Get Connected7.58.1 
Other information provided by Connect (letters, leaflets, etc.)7.98.1 
Help given to resolve disputes with neighbours8.17.3 
Effective handling of other problems & complaints8.57.3 
The range of ways to pay your rent8.69.0 
The value you get for your rent money8.87.9 

(Leadership Factor, 2007)

In relation to the ASB service, the table indicates there is a clear gap between views on importance and satisfaction with the service.  However, it is likely that customers may view a service as important but still expect that it will not be of high quality.  Buttle (1996, p 21) noted that customers’ expectations may be low because of previous experience with the service provider and that meeting these low expectations will result in no expectation / perception gap.  An importance / satisfaction gap may not necessarily indicate that customers view the service as poorly performing and Connect should ensure that it understands the expectations of customers by explicitly asking them about this in future surveys.