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Mind the Gap: Understanding the Gap Between Customer Expectation and Customer Perception

July 25th 2017

Between your thoughts about the customer experience your company provides, and your customers’ actual perception of your performance, lies a gap. But this gap isn’t vacant. It contains five customer service outcomes which, depending on how you handle them, can boost or break your reputation. 

Here we explore why minding the gap needs to be a business priority and what you can do to ensure your customer experience consistently exceeds expectations. 

What are Customer Expectations?

Customer Expectations are the beliefs and assumptions of what an organisation’s products, services and all-round customer service will be like. These ideas can come from an array of sources, including the company’s marketing function - such as, adverts, website and social media - online review sites, public perception of an industry, a friend’s recommendation or previous experience, either with the organisation or similar provider.  It’s also influenced by factors such as the customers personal need for the product or service, lifestyle choices and background.

What are Customer Perceptions?

Customer Perceptions are how consumers feel and regard an organisation’s product or service after experiencing their offering first-hand.

There are several emotional and physical determinants customers apply when evaluating their experience. These include, accessibility, brand image, service promises communication, competence, courtesy, credibility, reliability, responsiveness and product or service attributes - the tangible characteristics of a product or service, for example, if buying a car, its size, colour, shape and engine size.

The Five GAP Model of Service Quality

When a customer’s experience fails to match up to a customer’s expectation, a gap arises.

The GAP Model of effective service quality developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, Berry (PZB) provides a combined view of the consumer-company relationship, highlighting five distinct gaps that contribute to an unsatisfactory customer experience. The Knowledge Gap: The gap between management perception and customer expectation.

1. The Knowledge Gap: The gap between management perception and customer expectation.

This gap occurs when management second-guess customers’ wants and needs. Only by researching what customers want at every interaction point, whether its completing an on-line loan application, or calling customer services with a payment query, can it be possible to know what customers’ truly value.

The Policy Gap: The gap between management perception and service quality specification.

2.  The Policy Gap: The gap between management perception and service quality specification.

This gap arises when management have an accurate grasp of what customers want but it isn’t translated into effective, understandable customer service policies. This lack of clarity on customer service standards can lead to employees delivering a flawed service.

The Delivery Gap: The gap between service quality specification and service delivery.

3. The Delivery Gap: The gap between service quality specification and service delivery.

This gap is one of the most common and is formed when the customer service quality specified isn’t fulfilled by employees. This can be due to inadequate staff training, poorly communicated customer service guidelines or clumsy processes which hinder delivery. Unable to deliver consistently good customer service can de-motivate employees and frustrate customers, causing them to look elsewhere.

The Communication Gap: The gap between service delivery and external communications.

4.  The Communication Gap: The gap between service delivery and external communications.

Building up a company’s products and services via online and offline advertising campaigns boosts customers’ expectations. Over-promising can leave customers disappointed and less likely to re-purchase if their service expectations aren’t met.

The Customer Gap: The gap between customer expectations and customer perceptions.

5. The Customer Gap: The gap between customer expectations and customer perceptions.

This gap lies in the difference between customers’ expectations, which are made up of a combination of company and customer-led influences (as outlined above), and customers’ perceptions after interacting with a company. If engaging with a company requires more effort than necessary, customers are likely to walk away.  

The ideal scenario is where customers’ perceptions align and even surpass customers’ expectations.

But how do you know which customer satisfaction-raising initiatives will maximise your return on investment?  

Many companies facing a drop-off in customer satisfaction, whether it manifests itself as an increase in customer complaints or a decline in visitors, turn to in-house or outsourced customer satisfaction surveys to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. And while, traditional customer research may have been the sharpest tool to extract customer opinions 30 years ago, the rise in mobile technology has led to a whole-sale shift in consumer purchasing behaviour. As well as changing the way brands engage with consumers, it’s redefined how we mine and track customer preferences.

  • Multiple Customer Touchpoints – Consumers can now encounter a brand before, during and after purchase, from reading buyers’ online testimonials pre-purchase, to live-chatting with customer service staff for product and returns support. Acquiring meaningful customer experience metrics requires evaluating every customer touchpoint and the value it provides.  
  • Social Media Monitoring – How a company handles queries and responds to positive and negative feedback on its social media feeds, drives and shapes customer perception. Gaining the complete customer experience picture requires companies to leverage and analyse social media data, and that of their most successful competitors, to get to the root of customers’ desires.
  • Self-Service Customer Surveys – The adoption of DIY customer surveys and questionnaires, each varying in quality and design, has led to many organisations reaching out to consumers to garner transactional feedback. If carried out correctly, DIY surveys can go some way to pinpoint customers frustrations, but factors, such as, inadequate survey design, poorly structured questions, need for brevity and lack of competitive insight, can led to a low response and valueless data.

Tailored Customer Gap Analysis and Insights

Recognising the changing consumer landscape and the need for companies to access detail-rich customer insights, TTi Global has developed Customer Experience Quality Analysis (CEQA) , an agile new breed of customer research.

CEQA’s success not only lies in crafting a customer satisfaction questionnaire perfectly in-tune with an organisation’s interests and goals, but in its merging of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods which breathe life into the figures, highlighting the precise improvement actions needed to make customers happy.

360° Customer View – CEQA places the customer at the centre of the research framework and looks at every step of the customer journey from their point of view. This approach allows customers to voice exactly how they expect their problems to be resolved and the limitations of current processes; enabling companies to make targeted enhancements across all touchpoints.

Competitor Benchmarking - CEQA customer experience research not only gives companies a holistic view of their performance but benchmarks their closest competitors’ customer experience, identifying where they sit in comparison and revealing best practice customer service activities.

Prioritised Action Plan – Self-service research methods often deliver a tangle of data that makes it difficult for managers to translate into effective actions. CEQA data is presented via matrix summaries which outline clearly the gap between customers’ expectations and customers’ actual experiences.

As well as showing exactly where kinks in customer service lie – right down to the business function and process responsible – results flag which items require urgent attention. Understanding which survey questions have the highest expectation also enables companies to prioritise areas where improvement and on-going tracking is needed most.

Future-proofing – A strong customer experience strategy can detect and adapt to market changes. As well as outlining areas where customers perceive over-delivery, so a company can reduce effort, CEQA outlines attributes which are likely to emerge as future priorities. For example, break-through technology customers want to give them a better, speedier service.

Ready to close the gaps in your Customer Service?

TTi Global is a Slough-based full-service market research agency, specialising in customer satisfaction and customer experience research throughout UK and Europe. Our CEQA framework has helped companies of all sizes, from break-out brands to Fortune 500 companies, strengthen their customer service experience, boosting customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty.  

For a free, no obligation quote, call our customer research experts today on 01753 214000 or email us using the form below.