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Finding Out Customers Expectations
Finding out what customers expect is essential to providing service quality. The following description present some useful methods to find out what customers really expect from our services.

Even though listening to complaints is rarely sufficient to understand customers' expectations, complaints can become part of a larger process of staying in touch with customers. In particular, they can provide important information about the failures or breakdowns in the service system. If compiled, analyzed, and fed back to employees who can correct the problems, complaints can become an inexpensive and continuous source of adjustment for the service process.

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To truly understand customers' needs, companies can encourage and facilitate customers' feedback about problems. British Airways, for example, installed customer-complaint booths at Heathrow Airport where disgruntled passengers could air their grievances on videotape. Besides giving customers immediate relief from their annoyances, British Air found that the complaint videotapes gave vivid information to management about customers' problems and expectations.

Hospital patients and customers of hotels, for example, expect many of the same features when using these two services. Besides expert medical care, patients in hospitals expect comfortable rooms, courteous staff, and food that tastes good—the same features salient to hotel customers. In these and other industries that share common customers' expectations, managers may find it helpful to seek knowl¬edge from executives in these other service industries. Because hotels have used marketing and marketing research longer than hospitals have, insights about hotel guests' expectations can inform about patients' ex¬pectations. Hospital administrators at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, for example, asked a group of nine local hotel executives for advice in understanding and handling patients. Many improvements re¬sulted, including better food, easier-to-read name tags, more prominent information desks, and radios in many rooms.

When the firm sells to businesses or to intermediate customers, rather than to end customers, some clients are large and important enough to study individually and in depth. To General Electric Company's (GE) aerospace group, for example, key clients included the Army, Navy, Air Force, and several airframe and electronics companies. To fully under¬stand these clients' needs, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the aerospace group vis-a-vis its competitors, the GE group interviewed 600 customers at all management levels of these key clients. In a similar but more extensive effort, IBM Corporation created a customer council com¬prised of its top 50 clients. The company and the council meet regularly to determine where IBM will go in configuring and redesigning computer architecture.

These in-depth research studies can also be appropriate for end cus¬tomers when key clients, who are larger or more important than others, can be identified. Law firms, for example, could focus on clients involved in major cases, banks could study their top depositors or borrowers, and airlines could research key corporate clients.

Firms can use customer panels to represent large segments of end customers. J. Bildner and Son's, a company that owns specialty food stores in Manhattan, keeps in touch through a customer advisory panel composed of 15-20 customers randomly selected in the stores. The panel meets three or four times a year to talk about products and services.Similarly, New York State Electric and Gas Corporation formed a cus¬tomer advisory panel of 15-21 members to represent a cross section of its small user customers (e.g., farmers, homemakers, consumer education.

A research trend gaining in popularity in service businesses involves transaction-based customer surveys. In this method, customers are surveyed immediately after a particular transaction about their satisfaction with the contact personnel with whom they interacted. Immediately after Sears, Roebuck & Company employees deliver furniture to homes—after they assemble the products, if necessary—they ask customers to complete five-item surveys measuring helpfulness, friendliness, and professionalism. Immediately after American Express customer-service representa¬tives handle billing problems, they mail customers surveys that measure employees' courtesy and competence, and the customers' overall satisfac¬tion.

This type of research is simple, fresh, and provides management with current information about interactions with customers. Further, the re¬search allows management to associate service-quality performance with individual contact personnel so that high performance can be rewarded and low performance corrected. It also serves as an incentive for employees to provide better service because they understand how and when they are being evaluated.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York markets personal insurance to policy holders, group health and life coverage to corporations, and pension plans to both groups. The company developed a comprehensive program of measuring the expectations of all its customers, including both external and internal (employee) customers.

Using company wide employee surveys, focus group interviews, and SERVQUAL, Met Life regularly monitors the expectations and perceptions of their customers. The 22-item generic SERVQUAL question¬naire, customized by adding questions covering specific aspects of service they wanted to track, formed the foundation for the comprehensive customer-expectation study.

Source of Reference:
Valerie Zeithaml, Delivering Quality Service, Free Press. You can find this excellent book here

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