Buying a product or service can be seen as a problem-solving or desire-satisfying process, in which customers seek to match its attributes with their needs or wants. In this process, they look at the available products to see which is most likely to offer the benefits they seek.
There are five elements that customers take into account when considering quality. They can be thought of as five questions:
Specification: 'What can I expect when I buy or use the product?' The specification should enable potential customers to determine whether the product is likely to meet their needs.
Conformance: Will it do what I expect?' Any shortfall in conformance to the specification is bound to lead to dissatisfaction.
Reliability: 'Will it continue to do what I expect?' Clearly, customers will value a car that always starts first time.
Delivery: 'When can I have it?' It is important to distinguish between two aspects of delivery: availability and dependability. Availability is about when a product will be ready for a customer. Dependability is concerned with the adherence to a delivery time once that is agreed.
Cost: 'How much do I have to pay?' A purchase is as an exchange, in which a customer obtains goods or services by offering something of value in return. Customers will be satisfied if the price they pay, whether in money or in some other form equates to the value they place on the goods or service.
We can use the five elements of specification, conformance, reliability, delivery and cost to judge the quality of the experience, but at each restaurant different elements will be emphasised. When you eat at a Japanese restaurant you may be more concerned with specifications (what can I expect when I eat there?), whereas when you eat at your local Italian restaurant you may be more concerned with conformance (is it what I expected?).
If you are eating at a Pizza Hut you may be more concerned with reliability (is it the same as last time?). However, in reality expectations are likely to comprise a mixture of these elements, in different combinations in each case.
Customers are likely to have different expectations, even of the same product or service, and this may compound the provider's difficulties. Also, customers may perceive the same product or service quite differently.
Returning to the restaurant example, some customers may see a meal as a means of enjoyment with family and friends, while others may be using it as a business opportunity to entertain their customers.
In short, the quality of a product or service is whatever customers perceive it to be; this makes it essential that providers understand quality from their customers' point of view. In some situations, customers may not be able to judge the technical aspects of a product or service specification.
For example, you may be unable to judge the quality of the medical aspect of an examination and diagnosis you receive at a visit to your doctor. You may therefore judge the experience by the doctor's manner, the receptionist's attitude, or even whether you had to wait longer than you expected.
Shortfalls in quality are likely to arise when there is a gap between what customers expect and what they consider they are getting. When such gaps exist it is almost bound to lead to customers’ dissatisfaction.
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