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Special Issue On Service Excellence

Special Issue On Service Excellence by Barbara Lewis
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It has been argued (Dale et al., 2001) that quality management has not been very well implemented in many service organisations. Every one of us has his or her own experiences with service failures and it seems that service organisations have various problems and difficulties in developing a sustainable approach towards service excellence. Examples of these difficulties are:

. Customers are important; however, to whom?
. Employees show a high turnover rate; so, how do we continue investing in appropriate training and development of staff?
. Measurements of customer satisfaction or employee satisfaction quite often show changes which are more closely related to external and environmental factors than to the quality approach of the service organisation; so, what are we really measuring?
. Expectations of customers and employees are rising continuously; so, are the wowfactors of today, which give customers and employees excitement above the level of satisfaction, becoming the hygiene factors of tomorrow?
. Process control is one of the starting points or cornerstones of the excellence approach; however, how should we link and balance control with empowerment to be able to customise as much as possible?

Managers and researchers struggle with these issues. It seems easy to take a chain of excellence as a starting point for the reasoning of a change process towards service excellence (Heskett et al., 1994). It is stated that service excellence in a broad sense, including excellent business performance in financial terms, can be reached through leadership that focuses on employee satisfaction, and expecting as a consequence that employee satisfaction leads to customer satisfaction, which in turn ultimately will deliver better business results. Major issues in relation to these concepts are first of all the practical questions of how to do it, how to implement it and which best practices can be applied in a specific context and situation. Second, there is the need to make changes in the steps of the chain of excellence visible to convince people who show resistance to change in the organisation. Third, there is also the theoretical questioning around these models because most often research is only related to specific elements or links in the chain.

In this special issue of MSQ we bring together various contributions in the field of service excellence, from a practical point of view, from a philosophical point of view and also from a theoretical point of view. This issue starts with a Guru’s view from Valerie Zeithaml, entitled ‘‘Service excellence in electronic channels’’. This is followed by the case of Start Flexcompany (Hesselink and van den Assem). Start has realised that in a world in which competition is becoming stronger, the only way to be able to differentiate from one’s competitors is through building relationships with all one’s stakeholders. Start started some years ago a long-term organisational change process which is built on the concept of the chain of excellence and taking an approach in which leadership plays a central role in implementing the change towards excellence. Leadership is important in any change process. Professor Kondo, in his contribution, develops the importance of managers developing a business philosophy that is an appealing and attractive dream, providing human satisfiers and motivating people because of its intrinsic and spiritual character. Conti gives attention to the integration of the societal impact and societal contribution into the excellence models often used by companies to support their business excellence journey (e.g. the business excellence model of the EFQM/Europe or the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award model of NIST/USA).

Den Hartog and Verburg shift the focus of leadership towards the first line supervisor. Based on an empirical study, they come up with conclusions regarding the importance of specific human resource practices that impact on service related outcomes.

Boselie and van der Wiele report on the employee morale survey data of Ernst & Young and show the links in the empirical data between employee perceptions of human resource and quality management practices in the organisation and the effects on satisfaction and the intention to leave the organisation. Stauss develops a conceptual model of customer complaint satisfaction, which has been tested in an empirical study, leading to the development of two satisfaction dimensions: one related to objective facts (cold fact complaint satisfaction); and the other related to more emotional reactions (warm act complaint satisfaction). Van der Wiele, Boselie and Hesselink use empirical data from Start Flexcompany on customer satisfaction and link these data to business performance indicators. Evidence is found of a positive relationship between customer satisfaction and business performance.

In a critical contribution by Williams and Visser, the authors question the importance of customer satisfaction to various stakeholders of the organisation. Their conclusion is that behaviour of customers should become the focus, not customer satisfaction.

Barbara Lewis and Ton van der Wiele

Previously published in: Managing Service Quality, Volume 12, Number 3, 2002

Emerald Publishing Limited; Read online
Title: Special Issue On Service Excellence
Author: Barbara Lewis; Ton van der Wiele

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