WHAT IS QUALITY OF SERVICE and WHY IS IT SO DAMNED HARD

Posted on January 7, 2020 by Bill Lipner


Readers of The LAD know that “quality of service” is a hot button topic for me – because the quality-of-service (QOS or SERVQUAL ) a firm delivers is essential to its success – whether it’s a real estate practice that repeats the same process over and over, or a bespoke litigation firm that is confronted with a new set of variables with every matter.   

QOS is a subset of a “Service Delivery System” (SDS) – the term I suggest using if you’re embarking on a study of the topic.  This article discusses a useful service delivery framework which divides service into Service Culture, Employee Engagement, Service Quality, and Customer Experience.  I am focusing on Service Quality which seeks to define how quality is defined, delivered, and measured.   This is an interesting article on The Impact of Service Delivery System Effectiveness on Service Quality.  If you want the real research on the topic – start with this Wiki article on ServQual.    The wiki mentions 3 researchers in the area of Quality of Service whose teachings are worth exploring if you wish to become an expert on the topic.

Service Delivery is the ‘intangible’ to the more tangible form of law firm products typically in the form of documents, meetings, court appearances, and such.  But unlike documents as an example  – service delivery cannot be quality-controlled in advance for fact-checking, proof-reading, and editing.   Service is delivered and consumed instantaneously and simultaneously by provider and client.   Once done – its done.   Building quality into such an instantaneous and simultaneous interaction is the challenge.

Understanding what defines Service Delivery and QOS is the starting point – with decisions and practices about how your firm can achieve the best possible QOS to follow.  These decisions and practices will challenge your firm, require thoughtful planning, some creativity, and truthfulness.  But when done well, high quality service and high-quality legal documents, assure a satisfied client who will return often.

 So what is it about “quality of service” that makes it so difficult?   

Quality of Service has to do with Expectations, Perceptions, and Feelings (3) (4) or the CX (Customer Experience) (5)

Quality of Service is a mystical combination of client expectations, perceptions, and feelings about the service they are receiving.  And that makes service delivery very challenging.   Think about your own experience: 

  • when you’re at McDonalds – service means speedy ordering and food delivered quickly, with the same level of product taste and preparation as last time.  
  • When dining at your favorite restaurant, service means an attentive staff, attention to your specific food requests (medium rare please), and even the ambience of the dining room. 
  • Your experience with each of these examples has much to do with what you expect, what you perceive you have received, and your feelings about both. 

Quality of Service is often evaluated in terms of the gap between expectations and perception of the service as delivered.  How is the gap determined?  Client feedback is a very accurate way to understand the gap and its significance.  But how is the gap measured?   We’ll get to that topic shortly.

Service is Delivered Instantaneously and Simultaneously (1)

As mentioned, service is delivered and consumed instantaneously and simultaneously by provider and client.  There is no interlude between the service provider and the service consumer.  That’s the bad news – the good news is that there are many service “transactions” – a transaction being any touchpoint with a client - thus providing ample opportunity to deliver high quality service or take corrective actions. 

This instantaneous characteristic of service means that mistakes can only be used as data to prevent future mistakes.  But once a service gaff is made – there is no taking it back. 

Service Delivery Can Only be Quality-Controlled Before – Not After – It is Delivered

Companies that manufacture widgets can evaluate the widget through a set of quality control measures (weigh, test, examine) before sending it along to the consumer.  Because of the instantaneous and simultaneous nature of service delivery, each service transaction must be delivered correctly since there is no interlude between delivery and consumption.   This requires that service delivery systems assure that every service transaction meets quality standards.

But how?   Training (2)  and systems.  And more training.   And feedback which is used to refine how service transactions are executed.   Training – so that the humans involved in the transaction understand what their role is and how to execute it.  Systems – which enable humans to execute to perfection.  The simple example of the hotel switchboard answering my call with “Hello Mr. Lipner, how can I help you” – is (a) someone trained to read and use the callers name, and a system which delivers the caller’s name.

How Service is Delivered – matters.   And Humans are Fallible, but Machines are Emotionless

If we’re shooting for high quality service delivery – why not just use robots.  Humans tend to be better at expressing emotion (at least so far) – and emotion is a key to quality of service.  And this is where training can be important.  Expressing emotions like confidence, empathy, sincerity, or compassion – can each be part of the service delivery ‘package’.   Training which helps service providers express emotions at the right time and in the right way is vital.  

Quality of Service is Hard to Measure

You can’t manage what you don’t measure …  and measurement – when it comes to QOS can be .. well, challenging.  In a paper written in 1988, the team of Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry attempted to tackle the question describing a 22 item instrument called SERVQUAL which was refined just a few years later. 

Suffice to say – determining suitable measurements may be challenging – but is an essential key to managing quality of service.  My suggestion:  start with the features of your Service Delivery System you believe have the biggest impact on Quality of Service.  Systematically survey clients – and subjectively evaluate the results.  Are you focusing on the right features?  Are you asking the right questions?   

Measurement will help you see trends and determine where you need to adjust policies or practices.   The intention is to create a feedback loop which helps you continuously improve the quality of the service you are delivering to clients.  Without such – you won’t know when attitudes or expectations have changed.  Spotting these gaps and making appropriate adjustments means happy clients.

Can We Talk About Marketing

Can we talk about marketing?  It’s a vital part of everything just discussed because marketing creates expectations.  You’re a firm that doesn’t market actively because your “services speak for themselves”?  Rest assured – you are marketing albeit in a passive way.  You are not controlling your messaging and your services are indeed speaking for themselves – you just don’t know the messages being spoken.   And you have no control over client expectations of service.

For those who are actively marketing – whether billboard, LinkedIn and social media, website, your messaging is creating expectations around service.  Bear this in mind as you construct your messaging.

SUMMARY:

Yes, Service Delivery and Quality of Service are weighty topics.  Which deserve as much attention as any other vital business function in your firm.  This article has attempted to provide an overview for those who need a basic understanding of the topic, and suggested resources which will lead you to the extensive scientific research in the area of Service Delivery and Quality of Service..  


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