Perceived service quality is not the same around the world

Understanding international implications when dealing with tangible products is challenging enough; developing that understanding when dealing with service, or intangible, products is infinitely more complex. Agarwal, Malhotra, & Bolton (2010) remind us that:

“Services (rather than goods) are especially good candidates for customization, but international services pose special challenges for marketing managers because of the intangibility of services, difficulties in standardizing services across national borders, and the extent of differences in perceptions of and preferences for customized services across countries and cultures.”

Agarwal et al. (2010) examined the five major constructs of perceived service quality (PSQ):

  • Tangibility – the physical side of the service, including service facilities, employed technology (for scheduling, troubleshooting, etc.), and the appearance of personnel, tools, equipment, and transportation.
  • Reliability – how the service is performed in terms of dependability, consistency, and accuracy.
  • Responsiveness – how willing the service employees are to provide prompt/accurate service and to help customers with unique or special needs.
  • Assurance – how knowledgeable and courteous the service employees are and their collective ability to inspire trust and confidence.
  • Empathy – refers to the caring and individualized attention provided to customers.

Agarwal et al. (2010) then examined these five PSQ constructs in both individualistic and collectivist cultures to determine if there were substantial, quantifiable differences between the two cultural dimension types.

The research team found that individualistic cultures placed a higher emphasis on reliability and assurance. The team postulated that “the results confirm that individualists consider reliability in service an extension of one’s consistent portrayal of self and assign critical importance to service employee assurance as a validation of their self confidence; companies in individualist countries should place greater emphasis on personal legitimacy of service employees (vs. institutional legitimacy). this means motivating employees to actively take roles, display confidence, and provide explanations of behavior.”

The team found that both cultures highly valued tangibles, likely since tangibles serve as a proxy for evaluating service outcomes. Fair or unfair, professional tangibles such as transportation, vans, tools and the like can seem to indicate that the service outcome is more likely to be successful.

Finally, as could be expected, based on the inherent traits of collectivist cultures, responsiveness and empathy factors were more highly valued in these cultures. A key factor in collectivist societies is that caring for the group is more critical than caring for oneself. In the service encounter, the collectivist culture prizes the service employee that is willing to extend himself (even to the point of overtime or extra work) to fulfill the needs of the customer group.

References:

Agarwal, J., Malhotra, N. & Bolton, R. (2010). “A cross-national and cross-cultural approach to global market segmentation: an application using consumers’ perceived service quality.” Journal of International Marketing. 18 (3), pp. 18-40.

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