Service quality is defined as the difference between perceived performance and perceived expectations of consumers (Dhar, 2015). This is one of the critical factors for online businesses that influence online shopping decisions. At times, perception may differ from the actual experience. When actual service rendered by a brand differs from the expected quality, it leads to a gap.
The SERVQUAL model is one of the most renowned models explaining service quality dimensions. These days as consumers are becoming increasingly inclined towards shopping online, the SERVQUAL model explains what service-related factors should be considered to understand buying patterns. Apart from that, convenience and customer handling are other service quality dimensions that affect online shopping decisions.
Understanding the SERVQUAL model
SERVQUAL stands for service quality gap model which is used to measure the gap and identify the factors that lead to the difference between actual services and expected services. The aim of the model is to identify the gaps first and then bridge the gap so that customer service can be enhanced. This model was developed by Zeithalm, Parasuraman and Berry in 1985 (Wang et al., 2015). The five gaps which have been highlighted by this model
- customer gap,
- knowledge gap,
- policy gap,
- delivery gap and,
- communication gap.
Gaps to understand while maximizing customer satisfaction
- Customer gap is outlined as the difference between the expectation and perception of the consumer.
- The knowledge gap is described as the difference between the provision of service facilitated and the expectations of the buyers.
- Policy gap illustrates the improper translation of service policy, guidelines and rules for the workforce.
- The delivery gap reflects the negative performance of the workforce and which is not upto the expectations of the consumers. As a result, it shows that the organization has failed to train the employees to cater to the needs of the customers (Ciavolino & Calcagnì, 2015).
- Communication gap highlights when a brand is not able to meet the promises as advertised. Which consequently raises the expectations of the buyers.
These five gaps are highly significant for online shopping businesses to attract more sales. When the gaps are mitigated, firms are able to be a profitable business and have a healthy market share.
SERVQUAL model is a scale based on multiple factors that help to evaluate the perception of the consumers on service quality. Five dimensions of SERVQUAL model are empathy, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and tangibles.
- Tangibles dimension outlines the physical evidence of the business such as the personnel, physical facilities or store, bank statements, etc. In the case of e-commerce business, the website acts as the tangibles. It is important for e-commerce businesses to offer customers a user-friendly and well-designed website to build trust and confidence to take a purchase decision (Parasuraman et al., 2005).
- Reliability dimension explains the ability of the e-commerce business to deliver on the promises made to the consumers consistently. It means fulfilling the service at the right time. Moreover, companies should make sure that they are conveying relevant information to customers transparently (Lee & Lin, 2005).
- Responsiveness dimension describes the willingness of the e-commerce business to help consumers with the necessary services such as pre and post sales service to ensure the complete satisfaction of the customers (Wang et al., 2015). In fact, this dimension has been rated as one of the most important factors determining the service quality of an e-commerce business.
- Assurance dimension explains the knowledge base that employees have that translates to consumer’s confidence and trust in a brand. In the case of e-commerce businesses, this is a tricky dimension. This dimension determines whether a customer will purchase a product online or not (Zeithaml et al., 2000).
- Empathy dimension underlines the individualized care and attention being offered to the consumers by a company. The internet is a powerful medium of two-way communication.
Ecommercebusinesses make use of data on customer preferences, habits and needs from their browsing patterns as well as previous purchase records. Using this data, personalized services are created (Li et al., 2001).
With the help of these five dimensions of SERVQUAL model, e-commerce businesses are able to evaluate how service quality influences online shopping decisions.
For example, Amazon bridges the gaps in their service quality to meet the expectancy level of the customers. From the very first step in Amazon’s online platform, this e-commerce tries to understand the buying pattern of its visitors. Amazon offers a wide range of alternate options when a consumer selects a product. It prioritizes the requirements of the consumers with different options such as 30 days of return services, easy payment options and quick delivery services.
Convenience is an important service quality aspect
Another service quality aspect that plays a strong role in shaping online shopping decisions is convenience. It consists of decision convenience, benefit convenience, access convenience, post-benefit convenience and transaction convenience (Kaura et al., 2015).
- Decision convenience reflects how efficiently and quickly the consumer can shop on an online platform or store (Seider et al, 2007). Consequently, it explains that the e-commerce platform should have provisions for the visitors to make a choice of their wants such as brands, sizes, product categories, material, seller etc.
- Access convenience describes how easily the online platforms or stores of e-commerce business can be accessed (Jones, Mothersbaugh, & Beatty, 2003). It is one of the biggest reasons why consumers today prefer to shop online.
- Benefit convenience explains what core benefits an e-commerce business offer. For example, home delivery and easy returns policy convince consumers today to take online shopping decisions.
- Transaction convenience illustrates how fast payments can be made (Berry et al., 2002). E-commerce businesses offer multiple payment methods like cash on delivery, credit card payments, net banking, etc. for the convenience of the consumers. Moreover, secure payment gateways are put in place to avoid loss of critical data.
- Post benefit convenience suggests how effectively the e-commerce business is dealing with after sales issue of the consumers (Seider et al, 2000). Furthermore, it explains in the case of a product return, the e-commerce business should offer hassle-free
pickupand initiate a refundpromptly.
Role of customer handling in online shopping decisions
Customer handling involves:
- understanding the requirements of the consumers,
- fulfilling their needs,
- facilitating better quality and,
- focus on frequent interaction with the consumers.
For a business to be successful and profitable, customers should be kept at the epicentre of every operation.
Therefore, e-commerce businesses opt for effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Swiggy, a food delivery service provider uses CRM to observe needs and establish bonding with their customers. Swiggy’s rapid rise in a short span of time can be attributed to its efficient way of handling customers. For instance, even in instances when there is a surge in orders, Swiggy maintains its 36-minutes delivery promise. Since it operates its in-house delivery fleet, customers can track the live location of their order, no minimum order amount, etc.
E-commerce business has prioritized customer handling to a great extent because the cost of acquiring a consumer is almost five times higher than retaining one. With proper customer handling, services of the online firm which required more attention can be improved which would eventually increase the sales volume. Factors such as personal needs, recommendations from others and past experiences influence consumer expectations. As a result, it positively impacts the online shopping decisions.
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