Understanding the SERVQUAL Model


About the SERVQUAL (or RATER) Model

(Note: This model is also referred to as the RATER model, which stands for the five service factors it measures, namely: reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and responsiveness.)

As is indicated by the name of this model, SERVQUAL is a measure of service quality. Essentially it is a form of structured market research that splits overall service into five areas or components.

The SERVQUAL model features in many services marketing textbooks, usually when discussing customer satisfaction and service quality. It was developed in the mid 1980’s by well-known academic researchers in the field of services marketing, namely Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry. Note one of their original journal papers has been uploaded by a university.

Designed for Service Firms

The SERVQUAL model was initially designed for use for service firms and retailers. In reality, while most organizations will provide some form of customer service, it is really only service industries that are interested in understanding and measuring service quality. Therefore, SERVQUAL takes a broader perspective of service; far beyond simple customer service.

One of the drivers for the development of the SERVQUAL model was the unique characteristics of services (as compared to physical products). These unique characteristics, such as intangibility and heterogeneity, make it much harder for a firm to objectively assess its quality level (as opposed to a manufacturer who can inspect and test physical goods). The development of this model provided service firms and retailers with a structured approach to assess the set of factors that influence consumers’ perception of the firm’s overall service quality.

Service quality, while being interrelated with customer satisfaction, is actually a distinct concept.

Please see the discussion of the difference between service quality and customer satisfaction.

Service quality is the consumer’s assessment of overall delivery and value of the firm, which the SERVQUAL model splits into five main categories as discussed in the next section.

SERVQUAL’s Five Dimensions

As later suggested by the original developers of the SERVQUAL model, the easy way to recall the five dimensions are by using the letters of RATER, as follows:

  • R = Reliability
  • A= Assurance
  • T = Tangibles
  • E = Empathy
  • R = Responsiveness

According to the original academic journal article:

  • Tangibles refers to physical facilities, equipment and appearance of personnel
  • Reliability is the firm’s ability to perform the promise service accurately and dependably
  • Responsiveness is the firm’s willingness to help customer and provide prompt service
  • Assurance is knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence
  •  Empathy is caring and individualized attention paid to customers
servqual or rater model
The five dimensions of SERVQUAL
(Click to enlarge)

SERVQUAL’s 22 Questions

When the SERVQUAL model was originally developed and researched it consisted of 22 questions (as also discussed on this website) under the five RATER dimensions.  Like any piece of academic research, there is always debate and modifications over time of the appropriate factors/questions to use. Please keep in mind that 97 factors were originally considered and only the ones that were helpful (able to discriminate between firms) remained in the model.

This study initially looked at four different service industries, namely, banking, credit cards, repairs and maintenance, and telephone companies.

SERVQUAL’s Two Parts of the Questionnaire

The SERVQUAL questionnaire is split into two main sections:

1. Respondents are asked about their expectations of the ideal service firm in that service category.

In this case, the questions would be reworded to state a particular industry, such as banking, or hotels, or education. There is no reference to a specific firm at this stage; instead respondents are asked about the ideal firm to deal with.

This is done to frame expectations for that service category and to establish a benchmark for comparison. By working through the RATER elements, it can be seen that there would be significant differences in expectations across service industries. For example, for banking firms, assurance would be important, for medical firms, empathy would be important, and for hotels, tangibles would be important.

2. Respondents are then asked about the service quality delivery of specific firms in that industry.

This approach provides the researcher with:

  • A comparison of perceived service quality levels between competing firms,
  • The difference between expected and delivered service quality for each firm, and
  • The ability to drill down to the 22 questions to determine where a specific firm is performing above/below expectations or competitor quality levels.
Related Topics

Servqual’s 22 Questions

Academic Links

SERVQUAL Journal Article