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SERVQUAL is a multi-dimensional research instrument, designed to capture consumer expectations and perceptions of a service along the five dimensions that are believed to represent service quality. SERVQUAL is built on the expectancy-disconfirmation paradigm, which in simple terms means that service quality is understood as the extent to which consumers' pre-consumption expectations of quality are confirmed or disconfirmed by their actual perceptions of the service experience. When the SERVQUAL questionnaire was first published in 1988 by a team of academic researchers, A. Parasurman, Valarie Zeithaml and Leonard L. Berry to measure quality in the service sector,[1] it represented a breakthrough in the measurement methods used for service quality research. The diagnostic value of the instrument is supported by the model of service quality which forms the conceptual framework for the development of the scale (i.e. instrument or questionnaire). The instrument has been widely applied in a variety of contexts and cultural settings and found to be relatively robust. It has become the dominant measurement scale in the area of service quality. In spite of the long-standing interest in SERVQUAL and its myriad of context-specific applications, it has attracted some criticism from researchers.

The SERVQUAL instrument[edit]

The five dimensions of service quality)

SERVQUAL is a multidimensional instrument (i.e. questionnaire or measurement scale) designed to measure service quality by capturing respondents’ expectations and perceptions along the five dimensions of service quality.[2] The questionnaire consists of matched pairs of items; 22 expectation items and 22 perceptions items, organised into five dimensions which are believed to align with the consumer’s mental map of service quality dimensions. Both the expectations component and the perceptions component of the questionnaire consist a total of 22 items, comprising 4 items to capture tangibles, 5 items to capture reliabiility, 4 items for responsiveness, 5 items for assurance and 5 items to capture empathy.[3] The questionnaire is designed to be administered in a face-to-face interview and requires a moderate to large size sample for statistical reliability. In practice, it is customary to add additional items such as the respondent's demographics, prior experience with the brand or category and behavioural intentions (intention to revisit/ repurchase, loyalty intentions and propensity to give word-of-mouth referrals). Thus, the final questionnaire may have up to 60 items and typically takes at least one hour, per respondent, to administer. The length of the questionnaire combined with sample size requirements contribute to substantial costs in administration and data analysis.

Summary of SERVQUAL items [4]
Dimension No. of Items in Questionnaire Definition
Reliability 5 The ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately
Assurance 5 The knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence
Tangibles 4 The appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials
Empathy 5 The provision of caring, individualized attention to customer
Responsiveness 4 The willingness to help customers and to provide prompt service

The instrument was developed over a five year period; was tested, pre-tested and refined before appearing in its final form. The instrument's developers, claim that it is a highly reliable and valid instrument.[5] Certainly, it has been widely used and adapted in service quality research for numerous industries and various geographic regions. In application, many researchers are forced to make minor modifications to the instrument as necessary for context-specific applications. Some researchers label their revised instruments with innovative labels such as EDUQUAL (educational context),[6] HEALTHQUAL (hospital context) [7] and ARTSQUAL (art museum).[8]

Examples of matched pairs of items in the SERVQUAL questionnaire [9]
Dimension Sample expectations item Sample perceptions item
Reliability When excellent telephone companies promise to do something by a certain time, they do so XYZ company provides it services at the promised time
Assurance The behaviour of employees in excellent banks will instill confidence in customers The behaviour of employees in the XYZ bank instils confidence in you.
Tangibles Excellent telephone companies will have modern looking equipment XYZ company has modern looking equipment
Empathy Excellent banks will have operating hours convenient to customers XYZ bank has convenient operating hours
Responsiveness Employees of excellent telephone companies will never be too busy to help a customer XYZ employees are never too busy to help you

The SERVQUAL questionnaire has been described as "the most popular standardized questionnaire to measure service quality." [10] It is widely used by service firms, most often in conjunction with other measures of service quality and customer satisfaction. The SERVQUAL instrument was developed as part of a broader conceptualisation of how customers understand service quality. This conceptualisation is known as the model of service quality or more popularly as the gaps model.

The model of service quality[edit]

The model of service quality, popularly known as the gaps model was developed by a group of American authors, A. Parasuraman, Valarie A. Zeithaml and Len Berry, in a systematic research program carrie out between 1983 and 1988. The model identifies the principal dimensions (or components) of service quality; proposes a scale for measuring service quality (SERVQUAL) and suggests possible causes of service quality problems. The model's developers originally identified ten dimensions of service quality, but after testing and retesting, some of the dimensions were found to be autocorrelated and the total number of dimensions was reduced to five, namely - reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and responsiveness. These five dimensions are thought to represent the dimensions of service quality across a range of industries and settings. [11] Among students of marketing, the memnonic, RATER, an acronym formed from the first letter of each of the five dimensions is often used as an aid to recall.

A simplified model of service quality

Businesses use the SERVQUAL instrument (i.e. questionnaire) to measure potential service quality problems and the model of service quality to help diagnose possible causes of the problem. The model of service quality is built on the expectancy-confirmation paradigm which suggests that consumers perceive quality in terms of their perceptions of how well a given service delivery meets their expectations of that delivery.[12] Thus, service quality can be conceptualised as a simple equation:

SQ = P- E

SQ is service quality
P is the individual's perceptions of given service delivery
E is the individual's expectations of a given service delivery

When customer expectations are greater than their perceptions of received delivery, service quality is deemed low. When perceptions exceed expectations then service quality is high. The model of service quality identifies five gaps that may cause customers to experience poor service quality. In this model, gap 5 is the service quality gap and is the only gap that can be directly measured. In other words, the SERVQUAL instrument was specifically designed to capture gap 5. In contrast, Gaps 1-4 cannot be measured, but have diagnostic value.

Summary of Gaps with Diagnostic Indications [13]
Gap Brief description Probable Causes
Gap 1

The Knowledge Gap

Difference between the target market’s expected service and management’s perceptions of the target market’s expected service
  • Insufficient marketing research
  • Inadequate upward communications
  • Too many layers of management
Gap 2

The standards Gap

Difference between management’s perceptions of customer expectations and the translation into service procedures and specifications
  • Lack of management commitment to service quality
  • Employee perceptions of infeasibility
  • Inadequate goal setting
  • Inadequate task standardisation
Gap 3

The Delivery Gap

Difference between service quality specifications and the service actually delivered
  • Technical breakdowns or malfunctions
  • Role conflict/ ambiguity
  • Lack of perceived control
  • Poor employee-job fit
  • Poor technology- fit
  • Poor supervision or training
Gap 4

The Communications Gap

Difference between service delivery intentions and what is communicated to the customer
  • Lack of horizontal communications
  • Poor communication with advertising agency
  • Inadequate communications between sales and operations
  • Differences in policies and procedures across branches or divisions of an entity
  • Propensity to overpromise

Development of the model[edit]

The development of the model of service quality involved a systematic research undertaking which began in 1983 and after various refinements resulted in the publication of the SERVQUAL instrument in 1988.[14] The model's developers began with an exhaustive literature search in order to identify items that were believed to impact on perceived service quality. This initial search identified some 100 items which were used in the first rounds of consumer testing. Prelimiary data analysis, using a data reduction technique known as factor analysis (also known as principal components analysis) revealed that these items loaded onto ten dimensions (or components) of service quality. The initial ten dimensions that were believed to represent service quality were:

  1. Competence is the possession of the required skills and knowledge to perform the service. For example, there may be competence in the knowledge and skill of contact personnel, knowledge and skill of operational support personnel and research capabilities of the organization.
  2. Courtesy is the consideration for the customer's property and a clean and neat appearance of contact personnel, manifesting as politeness, respect, and friendliness.
  3. Credibility includes factors such as trustworthiness, belief and honesty. It involves having the customer's best interests at prime position. It may be influenced by company name, company reputation and the personal characteristics of the contact personnel.
  4. Security enables the customer to feel free from danger, risk or doubt including physical safety, financial security and confidentiality.
  5. Access is approachability and ease of contact. For example, convenient office operation hours and locations.
  6. Communication means both informing customers in a language they are able to understand and also listening to customers. A company may need to adjust its language for the varying needs of its customers. Information might include for example, explanation of the service and its cost, the relationship between services and costs and assurances as to the way any problems are effectively managed.
  7. Knowing the customer means making an effort to understand the customer's individual needs, providing individualized attention, recognizing the customer when they arrive and so on. This in turn helps to delight the customers by rising above their expectations.
  8. Tangibles are the physical evidence of the service, for instance, the appearance of the physical facilities, tools and equipment used to provide the service; the appearance of personnel and communication materials and the presence of other customers in the service facility.
  9. Reliability is the ability to perform the promised service in a dependable and accurate manner. The service is performed correctly on the first occasion, the accounting is correct, records are up to date and schedules are kept.
  10. Responsiveness is the readiness and willingness of employees to help customers by providing prompt timely services, for example, mailing a transaction slip immediately or setting up appointments quickly.

Further testing suggested that some of the ten preliminary dimensions of service quality were closely related or autocorrelated. Thus the ten initial dimensions were reduced and the labels amended to accurately reflect the revised dimensions. By the early 1990s, the authors had refined the model to five factors which in testing, appear to be relatively stable and robust.

  1. Reliability: the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately
  2. Assurance: the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence
  3. Tangibles: the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials
  4. Empathy: the provision of caring, individualized attention to customers
  5. Responsiveness: the willingness to help customers and to provide prompt service

These are the five dimensions of service quality that form the basis of the individual items in the SERVQUAL research instrument (questionnaire). The acronym RATER, is often used to help students of marketing remember the five dimensions of quality explicitly mentioned in the research instrument.

Nyeck, Morales, Ladhari, and Pons (2002) stated the SERVQUAL measuring tool “appears to remain the most complete attempt to conceptualize and measure service quality” (p. 101). The SERVQUAL measuring tool has been used by many researchers across a wide range of service industries and contexts, such as healthcare, banking, financial services, and education (Nyeck, Morales, Ladhari, & Pons, 2002).

Criticisms of SERVQUAL and the model of service quality[edit]

Although the SERVQUAL instrument has been widely applied in a variety of industry and cross-cultural contexts, there are many criticisms of the approach. Francis Buttle published one of the most comprehensive criticisms of the model of service quality and the associated SERVQUAL instrument in 1996 in which both operational and theoretical concerns were identified.[15] Some of the more important criticisms include:

Face validity: The model of service quality has its roots in the expectancy-disconfimation paradigm that informs customer satisfaction.[16] A number of researchers have argued that the research instrument actually captures satisfaction rather than service quality.[17] Other researchers have questioned the validity of conceptualising service quality as a gap.[18]
Construct validity: The model's developers tested and retested the SERVQUAL scale for reliability and validity. However, at the same time the model's developers recommended that applied use of the instrument should modify or adapt the for specific contexts. Any attempt to adapt or modify the scale will have implications for the validity of items with implications for the validity of the dimensions of reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and repsonsiveness.[19]
Ambiguity of expectations construct: SERVQUAL is designed to be administered after respondents have experienced a service. They are therefore asked to recall their pre-experience expectations. However, recall is not always accurate, raising concerns about whether the research design accurately captures true pre-consumption expectations. In addition, studies show that expectations actually change over time. Consumers are continually modifying their expectations as they gain experience with a product category or brand.[20] In light of these insights, concerns have been raised about whether the act of experiencing the service might colour respondents' expectations.
The way that expectations has been operationalised also represents a concern for theorists investigating the validity of the gaps model. The literature identifies different types of expectations.[21] Of these, there is an argument that only forecast expectations are true expectations. Yet, the SERVQUAL instrument appears to elicit ideal expectations.[22] Note the wording in the questionnaire in the preceding figure which grounds respondents in their expectations of what excellent companies will do. Subtle use of words can elicit different types of expectations. Capturing true expectations is important because it has implications for service quality scores. When researchers elicit ideal expectations, overall service quality scores are likely to be lower, making it much more difficult for marketers to deliver on those expectations.[23]
Questionnaire length: The matched pairs design of the questionnaire (total of 22 expectation items plus 22 perception items= 44 total items) makes for a very long questionnaire. If researchers add demographic and other behavioural items such as prior experience with product or category and the standard battery of demographics including: age, gender, occupation, educational attainment etc. then the average questionnaire will have around 60 items. In practical terms, this means that the questionnaire would take more than one hour per respondent to administer in a face-to-face interview. Lengthy questionnaires are known to induce respondent fatigue which may have potential implications for data reliability. In addition, lengthy questionnaires add to the time and cost involved in data collection and data analysis. Coding, collation and interpretation of data is very time consuming and in the case of lengthy questionnaires administered across large samples, the findings cannot be used to address urgent quality-related problems. In some cases, it may be necessary to carry out 'quick and dirty' research while waiting for the findings of studies with superior research design.
Some analysts have pointed out that the SERVPERF instrument, developed by Cronin and Taylor,[24][25] and which reduced the number of questionnaire items by half (22 perceptions items only), achieves results that correlate well with SERVQUAL, with no reduction in diagnostic power, improved data accuracy through reductions in respondent boredom and fatigue and savings in the form of reduced administration costs.
Dimensional instability: A number of studies have reported that the five dimensions of service quality implicit in the model (reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and responsiveness) do not hold up when the research is replicated in different countries, different industries, in different market segments or even at different time periods.[26][27] Some studies report that the SERVQUAL items do not always load onto the same factors. In some empirical research, the items load onto fewer dimensions, while other studies report tht the items load onto more than five dimensions of quality. In statistical terms, the robustness of the factor loadings is known as a model's dimensional stability. Across a wide range of empirical studies, the factors implicit in the SERVQUAL instrument have been shown to be unstable.[28] Problems associated with the stability of the factor loadings may be attributed, at least in part, to the requirement that each new SERVQUAL investigation needed to make context-sensitive modifications to the instrument in order to accommodate the unique aspects of the focal service setting or problem. However, it has also been hypothesised that the dimensions of service quality represented by the SERVQUAL research instrument fail to capture the true dimensionality of the service quality construct and that there may not be a universal set of service quality dimensions that are relevant across all service industries.[29]

In spite of these criticisms, the SERVQUAL instrument, or any one of its variants (i.e. modified forms), dominates current research into service quality.[30] In a review of more than 40 articles that made use of SERVQUAL. a team of researchers found that “few researchers concern themselves with the validation of the measuring tool”.[31] SERVQUAL is not only the subject of academic papers, but it is also widely used by industry practitioners.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parasuraman, A, Ziethaml, V. and Berry, L.L., "SERVQUAL: A Multiple- Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality' Journal of Retailing, Vo. 62, no. 1, 1988, pp 12-40 <online:>
  2. ^ Parasuraman, A., Berry, L.L. and Zeithaml, V.A., “Refinement and Reassessment of the SERVQUAL scale,” Journal of Retailing, Vol. 67, no. 4, 1991, pp 57-67
  3. ^ Parasuraman, A, Ziethaml, V. and Berry, L.L., "SERVQUAL: A Multiple- Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality' Journal of Retailing, Vol. 62, no. 1, 1988, p. 25
  4. ^ Based on Parasuraman, A, Ziethaml, V. and Berry, L.L., "SERVQUAL: A Multiple- Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality' Journal of Retailing, Vol. 62, no. 1, 1988, p. 22, 25 and 29
  5. ^ Zeithaml, V., Parasuraman, A. and Berry, L.L., Delivering Service Quality: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations, N.Y., The Free Press, 1990
  6. ^ Mahapatra, S.S. and Khan, M.S., "A Methodology for Evalution of Service Quality Using Neural Networks," in Proceedings of the International Conference on Global Manufacturing and Innovation,' July 27–29, 2006
  7. ^ Lee, D., "HEALTHQUAL: a multi-item scale for assessing healthcare service quality," Service Business, 2016; pp 1-26, doi:10.1007/s11628-016-0317-2
  8. ^ Higgs, B., Polonsky M.J. and Hollick, M., “Measuring Expectations: Pre and Post Consumption: Does It Matter?” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, vol. 12, no. 1, 2005
  9. ^ Based on Parasuraman, A, Ziethaml, V. and Berry, L.L., "SERVQUAL: A Multiple- Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality' Journal of Retailing, Vol. 62, no. 1, 1988, [Appendix: SERVQUAL questionnaire, pp 37-40
  10. ^ Caruanaa,A., Ewing, M.T and Ramaseshanc, B., "Assessment of the Three-Column Format SERVQUAL: An Experimental Approach," Journal of Business Research, Vol. 49, no. 1, July 2000, pp 57–65
  11. ^ Zeithaml, V.A., Berry, L.L. and Parasuraman, A., "Communication and Control Processes in the Delivery of Service Quality," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 52, No. 2, 1988, pp. 35-48
  12. ^ Oliver, R.L., Balakrishnan, P.V. S. and Barry, B., "Outcome Satisfaction in Negotiation: A Test of Expectancy Disconfirmation," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 60, no. 2, 1994, Pages 252-275
  13. ^ Based on Zeithaml, V.A., Berry, L.L. and Parasuraman, A., "Communication and Control Processes in the Delivery of Service Quality," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 52, No. 2, 1988, pp. 35-48
  14. ^ Parasuraman, A., Berry, L.L., Zeithaml, V. A., "Understanding Customer Expectations of Service," Sloan Management Review, Vol. 32, no. 3, 1991, p. 39
  15. ^ Buttle, F., “SERVQUAL: Review, Critique, Research Agenda," European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 8-32 1996
  16. ^ Oliver, R.L., Satisfaction: A Behavioural Perspective on the Consumer, Boston, MA, Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1996
  17. ^ Souca, Ma. L., "SERVQUAL - Thirty years of research on service quality with implications for customer satisfaction," in Marketing - from Information to Decision, [Proceedings of the International Conference], Cluj-Napoca: Babes Bolyai University, 2011, pp 420 -429
  18. ^ van Dyke, T.P., Kappelman, L.A. and Prybutok, V.R.,"Measuring Information Systems Service Quality: Concerns on the Use of the SERVQUAL Questionnaire," MIS Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1997, pp. 195-208, <Online:>
  19. ^ Smith, A.M., "Measuring Service Quality: Is SERVQUAL now redundant? Journal of Marketing Management, [Special Issue: Marketing in the Services Sector], Vol 11, no. 1, 1995, pp 257-276
  20. ^ Parasuraman, A.; Berry, Leonard L.; Zeithaml, Valarie A., "Understanding Customer Expectations of Service," Sloan Management Review, Vol. 32, no. 3, 1991, pp 39 - 48
  21. ^ Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V. A., Berry, L. L., "Reassessment of Expectations as a Comparison Standard in Measuring Service Quality: Implications for Further Research," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 January 1994, pp 111–124
  22. ^ Johnson, C. and Mathews, B.P. , "The influence of experience on service expectations", International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 8 no. 4, pp 290-305
  23. ^ Boulding, W., Kalra, A., Staelin, R. and Zeithaml, V. A., "Dynamic Process Model of Service Quality: From Expectations to Behavioral Intentions," Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 30, no 1, 1993, pp 7-27
  24. ^ Cronin, J. J. and Taylor, S. A., "Measuring Service Quality: A Re-examination and Extension," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 56, no. 3, 1992, pp 55-68.
  25. ^ Cronin J.J., Steven, J. and Taylor, A., "SERVPERF versus SERVQUAL: Reconciling performance based and perceptions-minus-expectations measurement of service quality," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58, January, 1994, pp. 125-131
  26. ^ Carman, J.M., "Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality: An assessment of the SERVQUAL dimensions," Journal of Retailing, Vol. 66, no 1, 1990
  27. ^ Lam, S. K and Woo, K. S., "Measuring Service Quality: A test-retest reliability investigation of SERVQUAL," Journal of the Market Research Society, Vol. 39, no. 2, 1997, pp 381-396
  28. ^ Niedricha, R.W., Kiryanovab, E. and Black, W.C., "The Dimensional Stability of the Standards used in the Disconfirmation Paradigm," Journal of Retailing, Vol. 81, no. 1, 2005, pp 49–57
  29. ^ Miller, R.E., Hardgrave, B.C. and Jones, R.W., "SERVQUAL Dimensionality: An investigation of presentation order effect," International Journal of Services and Standards, Vol. 7, no. 1 DOI: 10.1504/IJSS.2011.040639
  30. ^ Ladhari, R., "A review of twenty years of SERVQUAL research", International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, Vol. 1 no. 2, pp.172 - 198
  31. ^ Nyeck, S., Morales, M., Ladhari, R., & Pons, F., "10 Years of Service Quality Measurement: Reviewing the use of the SERVQUAL Instrument," Cuadernos de Difusion, Vol. 7, no 13, pp 101-107.
  32. ^ Asubonteng, P., McCleary, K.J. and Swan, J.E., "SERVQUAL revisited: a critical review of service quality", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 10, no 6, 1996, pp 62-81

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Luis Filipe Lages & Joana Cosme Fernandes, 2005, "The SERPVAL scale: A multi-item instrument for measuring service personal values", Journal of Business Research, Vol.58, Issue 11, pp 1562–1572.
  • Deborah McCabe, Mark S. Rosenbaum, and Jennifer Yurchisin (2007), “Perceived Service Quality and Shopping Motivations: A Dynamic Relationship,” Services Marketing Quarterly, 29 (1), pp 1–21.