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European Journal of Marketing

SERVQUAL: review, critique, research agenda

Francis Buttle

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of Marketing

SERVQUAL: review, critique,

research agenda
Francis Buttle

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Received October 1994

Revised April 1995

European Journal of Marketing,

Vol. 30 No. 1, 1996, pp. 8-32.
MCB University Press, 0309-0566

Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK

SERVQUAL: a primer
SERVQUAL provides a technology for measuring and managing service
quality (SQ). Since 1985, when the technology was first published, its
innovators Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, have further developed,
promulgated and promoted the technology through a series of publications
(Parasuraman et al., 1985; 1986; 1988; 1990; 1991a; 1991b; 1993; 1994; Zeithaml
et al., 1990; 1991; 1992; 1993).
The ABI/Inform database Global edition, (September 1994) reports that
service quality has been a keyword in some 1,447 articles published in the
period January 1992 to April 1994. By contrast SERVQUAL has been a keyword
in just 41 publications. These publications incorporate both theoretical
discussions and applications of SERVQUAL in a variety of industrial,
commercial and not-for-profit settings. Published studies include tyre retailing
(Carman, 1990) dental services (Carman, 1990), hotels (Saleh and Ryan, 1992)
travel and tourism (Fick and Ritchie, 1991), car servicing (Bouman and van der
Wiele, 1992), business schools (Rigotti and Pitt, 1992), higher education (Ford et
al., 1993; McElwee and Redman, 1993), hospitality ( Johns, 1993), business-tobusiness channel partners (Kong and Mayo, 1993), accounting firms (Freeman
and Dart, 1993), architectural services (Baker and Lamb, 1993), recreational
services (Taylor et al., 1993), hospitals (Babakus and Mangold, 1992; Mangold
and Babakus, 1991; Reidenbach and Sandifer-Smallwood, 1990; Soliman, 1992;
Vandamme and Leunis, 1993; Walbridge and Delene, 1993), airline catering
(Babakus et al., 1993a), banking (Kwon and Lee, 1994; Wong and Perry, 1991)
apparel retailing (Gagliano and Hathcote, 1994) and local government (Scott
and Shieff, 1993). There have also been many unpublished SERVQUAL studies.
In the last two years alone, the author has been associated with a number of
sectoral and corporate SERVQUAL studies: computer services, construction,
mental health services, hospitality, recreational services, ophthalmological
services, and retail services. In addition, a number of organizations, such as the
Midland and Abbey National banks have adopted it.
Service quality (SQ) has become an important research topic because of its
apparent relationship to costs (Crosby, 1979), profitability (Buzzell and Gale,
1987; Rust and Zahorik, 1993; Zahorik and Rust, 1992), customer satisfaction
(Bolton and Drew, 1991; Boulding et al., 1993), customer retention (Reichheld
and Sasser, 1990), and positive word of mouth. SQ is widely regarded as a driver
of corporate marketing and financial performance.

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SERVQUAL is founded on the view that the customers assessment of SQ is

paramount. This assessment is conceptualized as a gap between what the
customer expects by way of SQ from a class of service providers (say, all
opticians), and their evaluations of the performance of a particular service
provider (say a single Specsavers store). SQ is presented as a multidimensional
construct. In their original formulation Parasuraman et al. (1985) identified ten
components of SQ:
(1) reliability;
(2) responsiveness;
(3) competence;
(4) access;
(5) courtesy;
(6) communication;
(7) credibility;
(8) security;
(9) understanding/knowing the customer;
(10) tangibles.
(See Appendix for definitions and examples.) In their 1988 work these
components were collapsed into five dimensions: reliability, assurance,
tangibles, empathy, responsiveness, as defined in Table I. Reliability, tangibles
and responsiveness remained distinct, but the remaining seven components
collapsed into two aggregate dimensions, assurance and empathy[1].
Parasuraman et al. developed a 22-item instrument with which to measure
customers expectations and perceptions (E and P) of the five RATER
dimensions. Four or five numbered items are used to measure each dimension.
The instrument is administered twice in different forms, first to measure
expectations and second to measure perceptions.



The ability to perform the promised

service dependably and accurately
The knowledge and courtesy of employees and
their ability to convey trust and confidence
The appearance of physical facilities, equipment,
personnel and communication materials
The provision of caring, individualized attention
to customers
The willingness to help customers and to provide
prompt service


review, critique,
research agenda

Items in scale

Table I.
SERVQUAL dimensions

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In 1991, Parasuraman et al. published a follow-up study which refined their

previous work (1991b). Wording of all expectations items changed. The 1988
version had attempted to capture respondents normative expectations. For
example, one 1988 expectations item read: Companies offering
services should keep their records accurately. The revised wording focused on
what customers would expect from excellent service companies. The sample
item was revised thus: Excellent companies offering services will
insist on error-free records. Detailed wording of many perceptions items also
changed. Two new items, one each for tangibles and assurance, were
substituted for two original items. The tangibles item referred to the
appearance of communication materials. The assurance item referred to the
knowledge of employees. Both references had been omitted in the 1988 version.
Analysis of SERVQUAL data can take several forms: item-by-item analysis
(e.g. P1 E1, P2 E2); dimension-by-dimension analysis (e.g. (P1 + P2 + P3
+ P4/4) (E1 + E2 + E3 + E4/4), where P1 to P4, and E1 to E4, represent the
four perception and expectation statements relating to a single dimension); and
computation of the single measure of service quality ((P1 + P2 + P3
+ P22/22) (E1 + E2 + E3 + + E22/22)), the so-called SERVQUAL gap.
Without question, SERVQUAL has been widely applied and is highly valued.
Any critique of SERVQUAL, therefore, must be seen within this broader context
of strong endorsement. What follows is a discussion of several criticisms which
have been levelled at SERVQUAL elsewhere or have been experienced in the
application of the technology by this author.
Criticisms of SERVQUAL
Notwithstanding its growing popularity and widespread application,
SERVQUAL has been subjected to a number of theoretical and operational
criticisms which are detailed below:
(1) Theoretical:
Paradigmatic objections: SERVQUAL is based on a
disconfirmation paradigm rather than an attitudinal paradigm;
and SERVQUAL fails to draw on established economic, statistical
and psychological theory.
Gaps model: there is little evidence that customers assess service
quality in terms of P E gaps.
Process orientation: SERVQUAL focuses on the process of service
delivery, not the outcomes of the service encounter.
Dimensionality: SERVQUALs five dimensions are not universals;
the number of dimensions comprising SQ is contextualized; items do
not always load on to the factors which one would a priori expect;
and there is a high degree of intercorrelation between the five
RATER dimensions.

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(2) Operational:
Expectations: the term expectation is polysemic; consumers use
standards other than expectations to evaluate SQ; and SERVQUAL
fails to measure absolute SQ expectations.
Item composition: four or five items can not capture the variability
within each SQ dimension.
Moments of truth (MOT): customers assessments of SQ may vary
from MOT to MOT.
Polarity: the reversed polarity of items in the scale causes respondent
Scale points: the seven-point Likert scale is flawed.
Two administrations: two administrations of the instrument causes
boredom and confusion.
Variance extracted: the over SERVQUAL score accounts for a
disappointing proportion of item variances.
Each of the criticisms will be examined below.
Paradigmatic objections. Two major criticisms have been raised. First,
SERVQUAL has been inappropriately based on an expectationsdisconfirmation model rather than an attitudinal model of SQ. Second, it does
not build on extant knowledge in economics, statistics and psychology.
SERVQUAL is based on the disconfirmation model widely adopted in the
customer satisfaction literature. In this literature, customer satisfaction (CSat)
is operationalized in terms of the relationship between expectations (E) and
outcomes (O). If O matches E, customer satisfaction is predicted. If O exceeds E,
then customer delight may be produced. If E exceeds O, then customer
dissatisfaction is indicated.
According to Cronin and Taylor (1992; 1994) SERVQUAL is paradigmatically
flawed because of its ill-judged adoption of this disconfirmation model.
Perceived quality, they claim, is best conceptualized as an attitude. They
criticize Parasuraman et al. for their hesitancy to define perceived SQ in
attitudinal terms, even though Parasuraman et al. (1988) had earlier claimed
that SQ was similar in many ways to an attitude. Cronin and Taylor observe:
Researchers have attempted to differentiate service quality from consumer satisfaction, even
while using the disconfirmation format to measure perceptions of service quality this
approach is not consistent with the differentiation expressed between these constructs in the
satisfaction and attitude literatures.

Iacobucci et al.s (1994) review of the debate surrounding the conceptual and
operational differences between SQ and CSat concludes that the constructs
have not been consistently defined and differentiated from each other in the
literature. She suggests that the two constructs may be connected in a number
of ways. First, they may be both different operationalizations of the same
construct, evaluation. Second, they may be orthogonally related, i.e. they may

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be entirely different constructs. Third, they may be conceptual cousins. Their

family connections may be dependent on a number of other considerations,
including for example, the duration of the evaluation. Parasuraman et al. (1985)
have described satisfaction as more situation- or encounter-specific, and quality
as more holistic, developed over a longer period of time, although they offer no
empirical evidence to support this contention. SQ and CSat may also be related
by time order. The predominant belief is that SQ is the logical predecessor to
CSat, but this remains unproven. Cronin and Taylors critique draws support
from Olivers (1980) research which suggests that SQ and CSat are distinct
constructs but are related in that satisfaction mediates the effect of prior-period
perceptions of SQ and causes revised SQ perceptions to be formed. SQ and CSat
may also be differentiated by virtue of their content. Whereas SQ may be
thought of as high in cognitive content, CSat may be more heavily loaded with
affect (Oliver, 1993).
Cronin and Taylor suggest that the adequacy-importance model of attitude
measurement should be adopted for SQ research. Iacobucci et al. (1994) add the
observation that in some general psychological sense, it is not clear what
short-term evaluations of quality and satistaction are if not attitudes. In turn,
Parasuraman et al. (1994) have vigorously defended their position, claiming
that critics seem to discount prior conceptual work in the SQ literature, and
suggest that Cronin and Taylors work does not justify their claim that the
disconfirmation paradigm is flawed.
In other work, Cronin and Taylor (1994) comment that:
Recent conceptual advances suggest that the disconfirmation-based SERVQUAL scale is
measuring neither service quality nor consumer satisfaction. Rather, the SERVQUAL scale
appears at best an operationalization of only one of the many forms of expectancydisconfirmation.

A different concern has been raised by Andersson (1992). He objects to

SERVQUALs failure to draw on previous social science research, particularly
economic theory, statistics, and psychological theory. Parasuraman et al.s work
is highly inductive in that it moves from historically situated observation to
general theory. Andersson (1992) claims that Parasuraman et al. abandon the
principle of scientific continuity and deduction. Among specific criticisms are
the following:
First, Parasuraman et al.s management technology takes no account of the
costs of improving service quality. It is nave in assuming that the marginal
revenue of SQ improvement always exceeds the marginal cost. (Aubrey and
Zimbler (1983), Crosby (1979), Juran (1951) and Masser (1957) have addressed
the issue of the costs/benefits of quality improvement in service settings.)
Second, Parasuraman et al. collect SQ data using ordinal scale methods
(Likert scales) yet perform analyses with methods suited to interval-level data
(factor analysis).
Third, Parasuraman et al. are at the absolute end of the street regarding
possibilities to use statistical methods. Ordinal scales do not allow for

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investigations of common product-moment correlations. Interdependencies

among the dimensions of quality are difficult to describe. SERVQUAL studies
cannot answer questions such as: Are there elasticities among the quality
dimensions? Is the customer value of improvements a linear or non-linear
Fourth, Parasuraman et al. fail to draw on the large literature on the
psychology of perception.
Gaps model. A related set of criticisms refer to the value and meaning of gaps
identified in the disconfirmation model.
Babakus and Boller (1992) found the use of a gap approach to SQ
measurement intuitively appealing but suspected that the difference scores
do not provide any additional information beyond that already contained in the
perceptions component of the SERVQUAL scale. They found that the
dominant contributor to the gap score was the perceptions score because of a
generalized response tendency to rate expectations high.
Churchill and Surprenant (1982), in their work on CSat, also ponder whether
gap measurements contribute anything new or of value given that the gap is a
direct function of E and P. It has also been noted that:
while conceptually, difference scores might be sensible, they are problematic in that they are
notoriously unreliable, even when the measures from which the difference scores are derived
are themselves highly reliable (Iacobucci et al., 1994).

Also, in the context of CSat, Oliver (1980) has pondered whether it might be
preferable to consider the P E scores as raw differences or as ratios. No work
has been reported using a ratio approach to measure SQ.
Iacobucci et al. (1994) take a different tack on the incorporation of Emeasures. They suggest that expectations might not exist or be formed clearly
enough to serve as a standard for evaluation of a service experience.
Expectations may be formed simultaneously with service consumption.
Kahneman and Miller (1986) have also proposed that consumers may form
experience-based norms after service experiences, rather than expectations
A further issue raised by Babakus and Inhofe (1991) is that expectations may
attract a social desirability response bias. Respondents may feel motivated to
adhere to an I-have-high-expectations social norm. Indeed, Parasuraman et al.
report that in their testing of the 1988 version the majority of expectations
scores were above six on the seven-point scale. The overall mean expectation
was 6.22 (Parasuraman et al., 1991b).
Teas (1993a; 1993b; 1994) has pondered the meaning of identified gaps. For
example, there are six ways of producing P E gaps of 1 (P = 1, E = 2; P = 2,
E = 3; P = 3, E = 4; P = 4, E = 5; P = 5, E = 6; P = 6, E = 7). Do these tied gaps
mean equal perceived SQ? He also notes that SERVQUAL research thus far has
not established that all service providers within a consideration or choice set,
e.g. all car-hire firms do, in fact, share the same expectations ratings across all
items and dimensions.

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A further criticism is that SERVQUAL fails to capture the dynamics of

changing expectations. Consumers learn from experiences. The inference in
much of Parasuraman et al.s work is that expectations rise over time. An Escore of seven in 1986 may not necessarily mean the same as an E-score in 1996.
Expectations may also fall over time (e.g. in the health service setting). Grnroos
(1993) recognizes this weakness in our understanding of SQ, and has called for
a new phase of service quality research to focus on the dynamics of service
quality evaluation. Wotruba and Tyagi (1991) agree that more work is needed
on how expectations are formed and changed over time.
Implicit in SERVQUAL is the assumption that positive and negative
disconfirmation are symmetrically valent. However, from the customers
perspective, failure to meet expectations often seems a more significant
outcome than success in meeting or exceeding expectations (Hardie et al., 1992).
Customers will often criticize poor service performance and not praise
exceptional performance.
Recently, Cronin and Taylor (1992) have tested a performance-based measure
of SQ, dubbed SERVPERF, in four industries (banking, pest control, dry
cleaning and fast food). They found that this measure explained more of the
variance in an overall measure of SQ than did SERVQUAL. SERVPERF is
composed of the 22 perception items in the SERVQUAL scale, and therefore
excludes any consideration of expectations. In a later defence of their argument
for a perceptions-only measure of SQ, Cronin and Taylor (1994) acknowledge
that it is possible for researchers to infer consumers disconfirmation through
arithmetic means (the P E gap) but that consumer perceptions, not
calculations, govern behavior. Finally, a team of researchers, including
Zeithaml herself (Boulding et al., 1993), has recently rejected the value of an
expectations-based, or gap-based model in finding that service quality was only
influenced by perceptions.
Process orientation. SERVQUAL has been criticized for focusing on the
process of service delivery rather than outcomes of the service encounter.
Grnroos (1982) identified three components of SQ: technical, functional and
reputational quality. Technical quality is concerned with the outcome of the
service encounter, e.g. have the dry cleaners got rid of the stain? Functional
quality is concerned with the process of service delivery, e.g. were the dry
cleaners counter staff courteous? Reputational quality is a reflection of the
corporate image of the service organization.
Whereas technical quality focuses on what, functional quality focuses on how
and involves consideration of issues such as the behaviour of customer contact
staff, and the speed of service.
Critics have argued that outcome quality is missing from Parasuraman et al.s
formulation of SQ (Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Mangold and Babakus, 1991;
Richard and Allaway, 1993).
Richard and Allaway (1993) tested an augmented SERVQUAL model which
they claim incorporates both process and outcome components, and comment
that the challenge is to determine which process and outcome quality

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attributes of SQ have the greatest impact on choice[2]. Their research into

Domino Pizzas process and outcome quality employed the 22 Parasuraman et
al. (1988) items, modified to suit context, and the following six outcome items:
(1) Dominos has delicious home-delivery pizza.
(2) Dominos has nutritious home-delivery pizza.
(3) Dominos home-delivery pizza has flavourful sauce.
(4) Dominos provides a generous amount of toppings for its home-delivery
(5) Dominos home-delivery pizza is made with superior ingredients.
(6) Dominos prepared its home-delivery pizza crust exactly the way I like it.
These researchers found that the process-only items borrowed and adapted
from SERVQUAL accounted for only 45 per cent of the variance in customer
choice; the full inventory, inclusive of the six outcome items, accounted for 71.5
per cent of variance in choice. The difference between the two is significant at
the 0.001 level. They conclude that process-and-outcome is a better predictor of
consumer choice than process, or outcome, alone.
In defence of SERVQUAL, Higgins et al. (1991) have argued that outcome
quality is already contained within these dimensions: reliability, competence
and security.
Dimensionality. Critics have raised a number of significant and related
questions about the dimensionality of the SERVQUAL scale. The most serious
are concerned with the number of dimensions, and their stability from context
to context.
There seems to be general agreement that SQ is a second-order construct,
that is, it is factorially complex, being composed of several first-order
variables[3]. SERVQUAL is composed of the five RATER factors. There are
however, several alternative conceptualizations of SQ. As already noted,
Grnroos (1984) identified three components technical, functional and
reputational quality; Lehtinen and Lehtinen (1982) also identify three
components interactive, physical and corporate quality; Hedvall and
Paltschik (1989) identify two dimensions willingness and ability to serve, and
physical and psychological access; Leblanc and Nguyen (1988) list five
components corporate image, internal organization, physical support of the
service producing system, staff/customer interaction, and the level of customer
Parasuraman et al. (1988) have claimed that SERVQUAL:
provides a basic skeleton through its expectations/perceptions format encompassing
statements for each of the five service quality dimensions. The skeleton, when necessary, can
be adapted or supplemented to fit the characteristics or specific research needs of a particular

In their 1988 paper, Parasuraman et al. also claimed that the final 22-item scale
and its five dimensions have sound and stable psychometric properties. In the

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1991b revision, Parasuraman et al. found evidence of consistent factor

structure across five independent samples (emphases added). In other
words, they make claims that the five dimensions are generic across service
contexts. Indeed, in 1991, Parasuraman et al. claimed that SERVQUALs
dimensions and items represent core evaluation criteria that transcend specific
companies and industries (1991b)[4].
Number of dimensions. When the SERVQUAL instrument has been
employed in modified form, up to nine distinct dimensions of SQ have been
revealed, the number varying according to the service sector under
investigation. One study has even produced a single-factor solution.
Nine factors accounted for 71 per cent of SQ variance in Carmans (1990)
hospital research: admission service, tangible accommodations, tangible food,
tangible privacy, nursing care, explanation of treatment, access and courtesy
afforded visitors, discharge planning, and patient accounting (billing)[5].
Five factors were distinguished in Saleh and Ryans (1992) work in the hotel
industry conviviality, tangibles, reassurance, avoid sarcasm, and empathy.
The first of these, conviviality, accounted for 62.8 per cent of the overall
variance; the second factor, tangibles, accounted for a further 6.9 per cent; the
five factors together accounted for 78.6 per cent. This is strongly suggestive of
a two-factor solution in the hospitality industry. The researchers had initially
assumed that the factor analysis would confirm the [SERVQUAL] dimensions
but this failed to be the case.
Four factors were extracted in Gagliano and Hathcotes (1994) investigation
of SQ in the retail clothing sector personal attention, reliability, tangibles and
convenience. Two of these have no correspondence in SERVQUAL. They
conclude the [original SERVQUAL scale] does not perform as well as
expected in apparel speciality retailing.
Three factors were identified in Bouman and van der Wieles (1992) research
into car servicing customer kindness, tangibles and faith[6]. The authors
were not able to find the same dimensions for judging service quality as did
Berry et al..
One factor was recognized in Babakus et al.s (1993b) survey of 635 utility
company customers. Analysis essentially produced a single-factor model of
SQ which accounted for 66.3 per cent of the variance. The authors advance
several possible explanations for this unidimensional result including the
nature of the service, (which they describe as a low-involvement service with an
ongoing consumption experience), non-response bias and the use of a single
expectations/perceptions gap scale. These researchers concluded: With the
exception of findings reported by Parasuraman and his colleagues, empirical
evidence does not support a five-dimensional concept of service quality.
In summary, Babakus and Boller (1992) commented that the domain of
service quality may be factorially complex in some industries and very simple
and unidimensional in others. In effect, they claim that the number of SQ
dimensions is dependent on the particular service being offered.

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In their revised version, Parasuraman et al. (1991b) suggest two reasons for
these anomalies. First, they may be the product of differences in data collection
and analysis procedures. A more plausible explanation is that differences
among empirically derived factors across replications may be primarily due to
across-dimension similarities and/or within dimension differences in customers
evaluations of a specific company involved in each setting.
Spreng and Singh (1993) have commented on the lack of discrimination
between several of the dimensions. In their research, the correlation between
Assurance and Responsiveness constructs was 0.97, indicating that they were
not separable constructs. They also found a high correlation between the
combined Assurance-Responsiveness construct and the Empathy construct
(0.87). Parasuraman et al. (1991b) had earlier found that Assurance and
Responsiveness items loaded on a single factor, and in their 1988 work had
found average intercorrelations among the five dimensions of 0.23 to 0.35.
In testing their revised version (Parasuraman et al., 1991b), Parasuraman and
colleagues found that the four items under Tangibles broke into two distinct
dimensions, one pertaining to equipment and physical facilities, the other to
employees and communication materials. They also found that Responsiveness
and Assurance dimensions showed considerable overlap, and loaded on the
same factor. They suggested that this was a product of imposing a five-factor
constraint on the analyses. Indeed, the additional degrees of freedom allowed
by a subsequent six-factor solution generated distinct Assurance and
Responsiveness factors.
Parasuraman et al. (1991a) have now accepted that the five SERVQUAL
dimensions are interrelated as evidenced by the need for oblique rotations of
factor solutionsto obtain the most interpretable factor patterns. One fruitful
area for future research, they conclude, is to explore the nature and causes of
these interrelationships.
It therefore does appear that both contextual circumstances and analytical
processes have some bearing on the number of dimensions of SQ.
Contextual stabil ity. Carman (1990) tested the generic qualities of the
SERVQUAL instrument in three service settings a tyre retailer, a business
school placement centre and a dental school patient clinic. Following
Parasuraman et al.s suggestion, he modified and augmented the items in the
original ten-factor SERVQUAL scale to suit the three contexts. His factor
analysis identified between five and seven underlying dimensions.
According to Carman, customers are at least partly context-specific in the
dimensions they employ to evaluate SQ. In all three cases, Tangibles, Reliability
and Security were present[7]. Responsiveness, a major component in the
RATER scale, was relatively weak in the dental clinic context. Carman also
commented: Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry combined their original
Understanding and Access dimensions into Empathy our results did not find
this to be an appropriate combination. In particular he found that if a
dimension is very important to customers they are likely to be decomposed into
a number of sub-dimensions. This happened for the placement centre where

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Responsiveness, Personal attention, Access and Convenience were all identified

as separate factors. According to Carman, this indicates that researchers should
work with the original ten dimensions, rather than adopt the revised five-factor
Parasuraman et al. (1988) model.
There is also an indication from one piece of cross-cultural research that the
scale may not always travel well. Ford et al. (1993) computed alphas for a
SERVQUAL application in the higher education contexts of New Zealand and
the USA markets which the authors describe as intuitively similar. Table II
displays the results.
Cronbach alpha

Table II.
SERVQUAL alphas in
New Zealand and the


New Zealand
















These results challenge Zeithamls (1988) claim that consumers form higher
level abstractions of SQ that are generalized across contexts.
Item loadings. In some studies (e.g. Carman, 1990), items have not loaded on
the factors to which they were expected to belong. Two items from the Empathy
battery of the Parasuraman et al. (1988) instrument loaded heavily on the
Tangibles factor in a study of dental clinic SQ. In the tyre retail study, a
Tangibles item loaded on to Security; in the placement centre a Reliability item
loaded on to Tangibles. An item concerning the ease of making appointments
loaded on to Reliability in the dental clinic context, but Security in the tyre store
context. He also found that only two-thirds of the items loaded in the same way
on the expectations battery as they did in the perceptions battery. Carman
supplies other examples of the same phenomena, and suggests that the
unexpected results indicate both a face validity and a construct validity
problem. In other words, he warns against importing SERVQUAL into service
setting contexts without modification and validity checks.
Among his specific recommendations is the following: We recommend that
items on Courtesy and Access be retained and that items on some dimensions
such as Responsiveness and Access be expanded where it is believed that these
dimensions are of particular importance. He also reports specific Courtesy and
Access items which performed well in terms of nomological and construct
Carman (1990) further suggested that the factors, Personal attention, Access
or Convenience should be retained and further contextualized research work be
done to identify their significance and meaning.

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Item intercorrelations. Convergent validity and discriminant validity are

important considerations in the measurement of second-order constructs such
as SERVQUAL. One would associate a high level of convergent validity with a
high level of intercorrelations between the items selected to measure a single
RATER factor. Discriminant validity is indicated if the factors and their
component items are independent of each other (i.e. the items load heavily on
one factor only)[8]. Following their modified replication of Parasuraman et al.s
work, Babakus and Boller (1992) conclude that rules for convergence and
discrimination do not indicate the existence of the five RATER dimensions.
The best scales have a high level of intercorrelation between items
comprising a dimension (convergent validity). In their development work in
four sectors (banking, credit-card company, repair and maintenance company,
and long-distance telecommunications company) Parasuraman et al. (1988)
found inter-item reliability coefficients (alphas) varying from 0.52 to 0.84.
Babakus and Boller (1992) report alphas which are broadly consistent with
those of Parasuraman, varying from 0.67 to 0.83 (see Table III). In their 1991b
version, Parasuraman et al. report alphas from 0.60 to 0.93, and observe that
every alpha value obtained for each dimension in the final study is higher than
the corresponding values in theoriginal study. They attribute this
improvement to their rewording of the 22 scale items.
Spreng and Singh (1993), and Brown et al. (1993) are highly critical of the
questionable application of alphas to difference scores. They evaluate the
reliability of SERVQUAL using a measure specifically designed for difference
scores (Lord, 1963). Spreng and Singh conclude that there is not a great deal of
difference between the reliabilities correctly calculated and the more common
[alpha] calculation, an observation with which Parasuraman et al. (1993)
concurred when they wrote: The collective conceptual and empirical evidence
neither demonstrates clear superiority for the non-difference score format nor
warrants abandoning the difference score format.
Expectations. Notwithstanding the more fundamental criticism that expectations
play no significant role in the conceptualization of service quality, some critics
have raised a number of other concerns about the operationalization of E in
In their 1988 work, Parasuraman et al. defined expectations as desires or
wants of consumers, i.e. what they feel a service provider should offer rather than
would offer (emphasis added). The expectations component was designed to
measure customers normative expectations (Parasuraman et al., 1990), and is
similar to the ideal standard in the customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction
literature (Zeithaml et al., 1991). Teas (1993a) found these explanations
somewhat vague and has questioned respondents interpretation of the
expectations battery in the SERVQUAL instrument. He believes that
respondents may be using any one of six interpretations (Teas, 1993b):

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Table III.
Reliability of

Parasuraman et al. (1988)







Babakus and Boller (1992)

Coefficient Item-to-total






(1) Service attribute importance. Customers may respond by rating the

expectations statements according to the importance of each.
(2) Forecasted performance. Customers may respond by using the scale to
predict the performance they would expect.
(3) Ideal performance. The optimal performance; what performance can
(4) Deserved performance. The performance level customers, in the light of
their investments, feel performance should be.
(5) Equitable performance. The level of performance customers feel they
ought to receive given a perceived set of costs.
(6) Minimum tolerable performance. What performance must be.
Each of these interpretations is somewhat different, and Teas contends that a
considerable percentage of the variance of the SERVQUAL expectations
measure can be explained by the difference in respondents interpretations.

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Accordingly, the expectations component of the model lacks discriminant

validity. Parasuraman et al. (1991b; 1994) have responded to these criticisms by
redefining expectations as the service customers would expect from excellent
service organizations, rather than normative expectations of service
providers, and by vigorously defending their inclusion in SQ research.
Iacobucci et al. (1994) want to drop the term expectations from the SQ
vocabulary. They prefer the generic label standard, and believe that several
standards may operate simultaneously; among them ideals, my most desired
combination of attributes, the industry standard of a nominal average
competitor, deserved SQ, and brand standards based on past experiences
with the brand.
Some critics have questioned SERVQUALs failure to access customer
evaluations based on absolute standards of SQ. The instrument asks
respondents to report their expectations of excellent service providers within a
class (i.e. the measures are relative rather than absolute). It has been argued that
SERVQUAL predicts that:
customers will evaluate a service favourably as long as their expectations are met or exceeded,
regardless of whether their prior expectations were high or low, and regardless of whether the
absolute goodness of the [service] performance is high or low. This unyielding prediction is
illogical. We argue that absolute levels (e.g. the prior standards) certainly must enter into a
customers evaluation (Iacobucci et al., 1994).

Put another way, SERVQUAL assumes that an E-score of six for Joes Greasy
Spoon Diner is equivalent to an E-score of six for Michel Rouxs Le Lapin
French restaurant. In absolute terms, clearly they are not. Grnroos (1993) refers
to a similar oddity, which he calls the bad-service paradox. A customer may
have low expectations based on previous experience with the service provider;
if those expectations are met there is no gap and SQ is deemed satisfactory.
Since Zeithaml et al. (1991) have themselves identified two comparison norms
for SQ assessment (desired service, the level of service a customer believes can
and should be delivered; adequate service, the level of service the customer
considers acceptable) it seems unlikely that the debate about the meaning of
expectations is over.
Item composition. Each factor in the 1988 and 1991 SERVQUAL scales is
composed of four or five items. It has become clear that this is often inadequate to
capture the variance within, or the context-specific meaning of, each dimension.
Carmans (1990) study of hospital services employed 40 items. Bouman and van
der Wiele (1992) used 48 items in their car service research, Saleh and Ryan (1992)
33 items in their hospitality industry research, Fort (1993) 31 items in his analysis
of software house service quality and Babakus and Mangold (1992) 15 items in
their hospital research. Parasuraman et al. (1991b) acknowledge that contextspecific items can be used to supplement SERVQUAL, but caution that the new
items should be similar in form to the existing SERVQUAL items.
Moments of truth. Many services are delivered over several moments of truth or
encounters between service staff and customer: hotel and hospital services for

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example. Carman (1990) found evidence that customers evaluate SQ by reference

to these multiple encounters. For example, in his hospital research he listed the
three items below:
(1) My discharge from the hospital was prompt.
(2) Nurses responded promptly when I called.
(3) My admission to the hospital was prompt.
These items did not load heavily on a single Responsiveness factor as might be
expected; instead they loaded on factors which represented a particular hospital
function, or moment of truth. Parasuraman et al., in contrast, have declared the SQ
is a more global construct, not directly connected to particular incidents.
Polarity. Of the 22 items in the 1988 SERVQUAL scale, 13 statement pairs are
positively worded, and nine pairs are negatively worded. The negatives are the
full set of Responsiveness and Empathy statements. Parasuraman et al.s goal was
to reduce systematic response bias caused by yea-saying and nay-saying. This is
accepted as good normative research practice (Churchill, 1979), yet has
consequences for respondents who make more comprehension errors, and take
more time to read items (Wason and Johnson-Laird, 1972).
In factor analysis of SERVQUAL data, Babakus and Boller (1992) found that all
negatively-worded items loaded heavily on one factor while all positively-worded
items loaded on another. They also found a significant difference between the
average P, E and gap scores of positively and negatively-worded items. They
conclude that the wording of the items produces a method factor: Item wording
may be responsible for producing factors that are method artifacts rather than
conceptually meaningful dimensions of service quality. Item wording creates
data quality problems, and calls into question the dimensionality and validity of
the instrument. Babakus and Mangold (1992), in their application of SERVQUAL
to a hospital setting, therefore decided to employ only positively-worded
statements. Parasuraman et al. (1991b) have responded to these criticisms by
rewording all negatively-worded items positively.
Scale points. The use of seven-point Likert scales has been criticized on several
grounds. Although none of these are specific to SERVQUAL applications, they
bear repeating here. Lewis (1993) has criticized the scale for its lack of verbal
labelling for points two to six. She believes this may cause respondents to overuse
the extreme ends of the scale and suggests this could be avoided by labelling each
point. Another issue is the respondents interpretation of the meaning of the
midpoint of the scale (e.g. is it a dont know, do not feel strongly in either
direction or a do not understand the statement response?) Lewis is also
concerned about responses which suggest there is no gap when in fact a gap does
exist. For instance a respondent may have expectations of 5.4 and perceptions of
4.6 (a gap of 0.8) but when completing SERVQUAL may rate each as 5, the nearest
possible response in each case. This is an example of a Type II error.
Babakus and Mangold (1992) opted to use five-point Likert scales on the
grounds that it would reduce the frustration level of patient respondents,
increase response rate and response quality.

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Two administrations. Respondents appear to be bored, and sometimes confused

by the administration of E and P versions of SERVQUAL (Bouman and van der
Wiele, 1992). Boredom and confusion imperil data quality.
Carman (1990) also comments on the timing of the two administrations. He is
critical of Parasuraman et al. for asking respondents to complete the two
questionnaires at a single sitting. In Parasuraman et al.s 1988 work respondents
were asked to report their expectations and perceptions, based on what they had
experienced in the last three months. All self-reports were entirely ex post, a
practice also criticized by Grnroos (1993). Carman also observed that it was
impractical to expect customers to complete an expectations inventory prior to a
service encounter and a perceptions inventory immediately afterwards. His
solution was to collect data on the expectations-perceptions difference with a
single question at a single administration, for example: The visual appeal of
XYZs physical facilities is (much better, better, about the same, worse, much
worse) than I expected. Lewis (1993) refers to work undertaken by Orledge who
has also experimented with an alternative method of combining perceptions and
expectations. He combined the two elements as in the following example:
Indicate on the scale using a P how well dressed the staff of company XYZ are. On the same
scale indicate using an E how well dressed you expect the staff of companies in this industry
to be.

Bouman and van der Wiele (1992) also comment on the same problem. Babakus
and Boller (1992), and Babakus et al. (1993b) solved the problem by employing a
single seven-point scale to collect gap data. Recommended earlier by Carman
(1990), the scale ranges from 7 = greatly exceeds my expectations to 1 = greatly
falls short of my expectations.
Clow and Vorhies (1993) argue:
When expectations and experience evaluations are measured simultaneously, respondents will
indicate that their expectations are greater than they actually were before the service encounter.

They contend that expectations must be measured prior to receipt of services

otherwise responses will be biased. Specifically, Clow and Vorhies found that:
Customers who had a negative experience with the service tend to overstate their expectations,
creating a larger gap; customers who had a positive experience tend to understate their
expectations, resulting in smaller gaps.

Variance extracted. Fornell and Larcker (1981) have suggested that variance
extracted should be stringently employed as a measure of construct validity.
Parasuraman et al. (1988) reported that the total amount of variance extracted by
the five RATER factors in the bank, credit-card, repair and maintenance, and
long-distance telephone samples was 56.0 per cent, 57.5 per cent, 61.6 per cent and
56.2 per cent respectively. Parasuraman et al. (1991a) report variance explained in
a telephone company, insurance company 1, insurance company 2, bank 1 and
bank 2 at 67.2 per cent, 68.3 per cent, 70.9 per cent, 71.6 per cent and 66.9 per cent,
respectively. When the samples are combined, variance explained is 67.9 per cent.

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Babakus and Bollers (1992) utility-sector replication reported 58.3 per cent.
Carmans (1990) modified replication in the hospital sector, tyre store, business
school placement centre and dental clinic reported 71 per cent, 61 per cent, 75 per
cent and 71 per cent respectively. Saleh and Ryans (1992) modified replication in
the hotel sector reported 78.6 per cent. Bouman and van der Wieles (1992)
modified replication in car servicing reported 40.7 per cent only. Generally, the
modified scales tended to produce higher levels of variance extracted. The higher
the variance extracted, the more valid is the measure.
SERVQUAL has undoubtedly had a major impact on the business and academic
This review has identified a number of theoretical and operational issues which
should concern users of the instrument. Since the most serious of these are
concerned with face validity and construct validity, this conclusion briefly reviews
the nature and significance of validity.
Face validity is concerned with the extent to which a scale appears to measure
what it purports to measure.
Construct validity generally:
is used to refer to the vertical correspondence between a construct which is at an unobservable,
conceptual level and a purported measure of it which is at an operational level. In an ideal sense,
the term means that a measure assesses the magnitude and direction of (1) all of the characteristics
and (2) only the characteristics of the construct it is purported to assess (Peter, 1981, emphases

In particular, the concerns about the adoption of an inappropriate paradigm, the

gaps model, SERVQUALs process orientation, and SERVQUALs dimensionality
(the four theoretical criticisms as listed earlier) are construct validity issues.
Critical face and construct validity questions which SERVQUAL researchers
face are: Do consumers actually evaluate SQ in terms of expectations and
perceptions? Do the five RATER dimensions incorporate the full range of SQ
attributes? Do consumers incorporate outcome evaluations into their
assessments of SQ?
Construct validity is itself a composite of several forms of validity: nomological
validity, convergent validity and discriminant validity.
Nomological validity is the extent to which a measure correlates in theoretically
predictable ways with measures of different but related constructs. SQ is one of a
number of apparently interrelated constructs whose precise alignment has yet to
be explored. Included in the nomological net are customer (dis)satisfaction,
customer retention and defection, behavioural intention, attitude to service
provider or organization, and service provider or organization choice. Some
research into these questions has been published (Parasuraman et al., 1991b;
Richard and Allaway, 1993) but the relationships have yet to be explored fully.
Convergent validity is the extent to which a scale correlates with other
measures of the same construct. A high level of intercorrelation between items
comprising each RATER dimension would indicate high convergent validity

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internal to SERVQUAL. A high level of correlation between SERVQUAL scores

and a different, reliable and valid measure of SQ, would indicate a high level of
external convergent validity. Discriminant validity is the extent to which a
measure does not correlate with other measures from which it is purported to
differ. If SQ evaluations were composed of five distinct RATER dimensions, one
would expect little correlation between the five factors. SERVQUALs
dimensionality would be regarded as more stable if individual items loaded on to
the dimensions to which they belong.
Issues of face and construct validity are of overriding importance in the
development of instruments such as SERVQUAL. The operational criticisms are
evidently less significant than the theoretical criticisms, and pose less of a threat
to validity. The theoretical criticisms raised in this article are of such moment that
the validity of the instrument must be called into question.
Despite these shortcomings, SERVQUAL seems to be moving rapidly towards
institutionalized status. As Rust and Zahorik (1993) have observed, the general
SERVQUAL dimensions should probably be put on any first pass as a list of
attributes of service.
These criticisms indicate that there is still a need for fundamental research.
There are still doubts about whether customers routinely assess SQ in terms of
Expectations and Perceptions; there are doubts about the utility and
appropriateness of the disconfirmation paradigm; there are doubts about the
dimensionality of SQ; there are doubts about the universality of the five RATER
dimensions. These are serious concerns which are not only significant for users of
SERVQUAL but for all those who wish to understand better the concept of SQ.
Directions for future research
This review has raised several conceptual and operational difficulties
surrounding SERVQUAL which are yet to be resolved. The following represent
a set of questions which SQ researchers should address:
(1) Do consumers always evaluate SQ in terms of expectations and
perceptions? What other forms of SQ evaluation are there?
(2) What form do customer expectations take and how best, if at all, are they
measured? Are expectations common across a class of service providers?
(3) Do attitude-based measures of SQ perform better than the disconfirmation
model? Which attitudinal measure is most useful?
(4) Is it advantageous to integrate outcome evaluations into SQ measurement
and how best can this be done?
(5) Is the predictive validity of P measures of service quality better than that
of P E measures?
(6) What are the relationships between SQ, customer satisfaction,
behavioural intention, purchase behaviour, market share, word-of-mouth
and customer retention?

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(7) What is the role of context in determining E and P evaluations? What

context-markers do consumers employ?
(8) Are analytical context markers such as tangibility and consumer
involvement helpful in advancing SQ theory?
Do evaluative criteria in intangible-dominant services (e.g. consulting)
differ from those in tangible-dominant services (e.g. hotels)?

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How does involvement influence the evaluation of SQ?

(9) How do customers integrate transaction-specific or MOT-specific
evaluations of SQ? To what extent are some MOTs more influential in the
final evaluation than others?
(10) What are the relationships between the five RATER factors? How stable
are those relationships across context?
(11) What is the most appropriate scale format for collecting valid and reliable
SQ data?
(12) To what extent can customers correctly classify items into their a priori
Answers to questions such as these would help improve our understanding of the
service quality construct and assess the value of the SERVQUAL instrument.
Even in its present state SERVQUAL is a helpful operationalization of a somewhat
nebulous construct.
Many of these questions require contextually sensitive qualitative research. The
first question, Do consumers always evaluate SQ in terms of expectations and
perceptions?, is perhaps best approached through in-depth case analyses of
particular service encounters. The formation of expectations implies a consumer
who accumulates and processes information about a class of service providers.
This would appear to make prima facie sense for high-cost, high-risk services, e.g.
if purchasing a weekend break to celebrate 25 years of wedded bliss. Is it as likely
that expectations high in cognitive content would be formed for a low-cost, lowrisk service such as a hot drink from a coffee shop? The role of context appears to
have been repressed or subjugated in the present body of SERVQUAL research.
Context needs to be recovered.
Other questions lend themselves to multisectoral comparative analyses. For
example, the question, Is the predictive validity of P-measures of SQ better than
that of P E measures?, is perhaps best approached in multi-sectoral study
which thoroughly tests the predictive performance of P and P E SQ measures.
Pursuit of this research agenda would surely strengthen our understanding of
the meaning, measurement and management of service quality. Parasuraman,
Zeithaml and Berry have undoubtedly done a splendid job of marketing
SERVQUALs measurement and management technologies. It remains to be seen
whether its dominance will remain unchallenged.

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1. The mnemonic RATER is a helpful aide mmoire, where R = reliability, A = assurance,
T = tangibles, E = empathy and R = responsiveness.
2. Richard and Allaways (1993) research was largely focused on testing SERVQUALs
predictive validity. Parasuraman et al. (1991b) have also tested the predictive validity of the
modified SERVQUAL scale. Customers in five samples were asked three questions: Have
you recently had a service problem with the company? If you have experienced a problem,
was it resolved to your satisfaction? Would you recommend the service firm to a friend? It
was hypothesized that positive answers to these questions would be correlated negatively,
positively and positively, respectively, with higher perceived SQ scores. All results were
statistically significant in the hypothesized direction, lending support to the predictive
validity of the instrument.
3. Babakus and Boller (1992) have expressed concern that it is unclear whether SERVQUAL
is measuring a number of distinct constructs or a single, global, more abstract variable.
4. Cronin and Taylor (1992), following a test of SERVQUAL in four classes of service firm,
conclude in stark contrast that the five-component structure proposed by Parasuraman,
Zeithaml and Berry (1988) for their SERVQUAL scale is not confirmed.
5. Babakus and Mangolds (1992) research into hospital SQ identified three factors within the
expectations data, accounting for 56.2 per cent of the variance in the item scores, two
factors within the perceptions data (70.6 per cent) and no meaningful factor structure
within the difference or gaps data.
6. Customer kindness, that is the front office personnels approach to the customer and his
problems, regardless of the service delivered, was the only factor to have a significant
relationship with future car servicing intentions, future car purchase intentions, and wordof-mouth recommendation.
7. Carmans Security factor is composed of Credibility, Security and Competence.
Parasuraman et al. (1988) had incorporated these three components, together with
Communication and Courtesy, into the factor Assurance.
8. For a discussion of construct, convergent and discriminant validity see Churchill (1979)
and Peter (1981).
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Appendix. Ten components of service quality
(1) Reliability involves consistency of performance and dependability. It also means that the
firm performs the service right first time and honours its promises. Specifically, it may

accuracy in billing;

performing the service at the designated time.

(2) Responsiveness concerns the willingness or readiness of employees to provide service. It
may involve:

mailing a transaction slip immediately;

calling the customer back quickly;

giving prompt service (e.g. setting up appointments quickly).

(3) Competence means possession of the required skills and knowledge to perform the
service. It involves:

knowledge and skill of the contact personnel;

knowledge and skill of operational support personnel;

research capability of the organization.

(4) Access involves approachability and ease of contact. It may mean:

the service is easily accessible by telephone;

waiting time to receive service is not extensive;

convenient hours of operation and convenient location of service facility.

(5) Courtesy involves politeness, respect, consideration, and friendliness of contact personnel
(including receptionists, telephone operators, etc.). It includes:

consideration for the consumers property;

clean and neat appearance of public contact personnel.

(6) Communication means keeping customers informed in language they can understand,
and listening to them. It may mean that the company has to adjust its language for
different customers. It may involve:

explaining the service itself and how much the service will cost;

explaining the trade-offs between service and cost;

assuring the consumer that a problem will be handled.

review, critique,
research agenda

of Marketing

(7) Credibility involves trustworthiness, believability, honesty. It involves having the

customers best interests at heart. Contributing to credibility are:

company name and reputation;

personal characteristics of the contact personnel;

the degree of hard sell involved in interactions with the customer.


(8) Security is the freedom from danger, risk, or doubt. It may involve:

physical safety;

financial security and confidentiality.

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(9) Understanding/knowing the customer involves making the effort to understand the
customers needs. It involves:

learning the customers specific requirements;

providing individualized attention.

(10) Tangibles include the physical evidence of the service:

physical facilities and appearance of personnel;

tools or equipment used to provide the service;

physical representations of the service, such as a plastic credit card.

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361. G.S. Sureshchandar, Chandrasekharan Rajendran, R.N. Anantharaman. 2002. Determinants of customerperceived service
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365. Mik Wisniewski. 2001. Using SERVQUAL to assess customer satisfaction with public sector services. Managing Service
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