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Customer service research helps companies discover key services expected and desired by customers and how the company measures up in those areas. Many companies make false assumptions or have misperceptions about customer feelings; research helps give direction for change or improvements. There are many steps between knowing what customers want and delivering it to them, which is why understanding the commonly used Gap Model for Customer Service is beneficial.
Gap 1: Knowledge
The first gap that companies must address is the difference between what customers expect and what the company and its management think they expect. False assumptions by management cause problems in every other step toward delivery of service. Effective survey research, focus groups and other customer feedback tools are useful to more accurately know what customers expect.
Gap 2: Standards
Defining service standards helps fill the second important gap, which exists between management perception of service expectations and defining of standards. Customer service policies, handbooks and other communication tools help management establish clear service standards for employees based on what customers expect.
Gap 3: Delivery
Delivery of expected, or greater, service is essential for customer satisfaction. The third gap exists between defined standards and follow-through delivery by service representatives. Poor hiring, low morale and poor training are among common factors that lead to delivery of inadequate service. Reviews of employees and ongoing feedback from customers about their experiences are effective research techniques to fill this gap.
Gap 4: Communication
Poor communication to customers can cause them to have inaccurate expectations of service. Many companies oversell or overpromise the level of service they offer in marketing and advertising. Customers come to expect more than the company actually delivers on a consistent basis, which again leads to customer service problems. Research to avoid this issue would involve marketing and advertising research to determine what impressions customers are taking from these communications and how customer expectations relate to actual service delivery.
Gap 5: Customer Experience
Some representations of the Gap Service Model note only four gaps. However, adding Gap 5 more specifically addresses the difference between a customer's perception of service after receiving it and expectations prior to the visit. Customers expectations are formed by viral marketing, advertising and other communications. You can research the gap between pre-visit expectation and post-visit experience with point-of-sale surveys or after-the-sale research.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.