Quantifying service quality

Service quality is typically measured using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), defined in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Not exactly an approach destined to explore the depth and breadth of the human emotional experience, is it? But if numbers don’t matter to the individual and their experience, how do you quantify service quality?

I’ll start with the fundamentals, in the realm of IT Service Management what is ‘quality’?

Quality: The ability of a product, service or process to provide the intended value.

ITIL® Glossary of Terms English v.1.0 © AXELOS Limited 2011

Defining service quality this way removes some of the subjectivity, which makes easier to measure. People may not be sure about what ‘Good’ means, but they can be clear about “This did what I intended it to do”. That could be more accurately expressed as “This did what the organisation intended it to”, but it should be the same thing (and if that is not the case then service quality is just one of many problems ahead of you!) You might already have spotted a possible flaw in this method though; does everyone agree on the ‘intended value’ of a service?

What was the service intended to do?

This is a service design problem. Service Design is where quality starts (not after the finished service is transitioned to live). Your Service Design should include meaningful KPIs for capacity, availability, incident resolution, request fulfilment etc. Those KPIs then quantify intended value; this is what we are trying to achieve. Measuring whether those KPIs are hitting a specific target gives you part of the service quality picture.

I say part, because service quality is not just about what you delivered, it’s also about how you delivered it, and as a consequence how it was received. The first element is harder to measure in itself, but it’s important to try because the second element almost defines ‘quality’ for the user. Let’s break this down further.

How is the service delivered?

Positive interaction with the Service DeskCustomer feels they’ve been listened to, even if the resolution time wasn’t met their satisfaction is still high.
Well presented Service CatalogueCustomer is able to request a new user account quickly and easily, and spend more time on their day job.
Transparent and clear outage report to all usersWhilst uptime targets may have been missed, visibly taking responsibility reinforces the integrity of the provider and the customer’s trust in them.

What you’ll notice about the examples above is that they’re all about human interaction and communication. As any good Service Desk knows, sometimes you can’t fix the problem, but you can fix the user. This sounds manipulative, but it isn’t. What it means is that by communicating with integrity, honesty, and empathy (whether face to face, by phone or written communication) you have more impact on someone’s attitude, their wellbeing, and ultimately their job, than if you just focus on the technical.

It can help to think about this as something which exists at two levels; the macro (the organisational level) and the micro (individual interactions).

The macro level

This is the measures we’re familiar with; incidents responded to or fixed within the service level agreement targets, requests fulfilled within the target, service uptime, network performance etc. These can be measured relatively easily as long as your service is designed and implemented with that in mind. What this defines is how good the product works, and that will have an impact on service quality.

The micro level

You are probably a consumer of multiple services; banking, mobile networks, broadband, utilities etc. Every interaction with those service providers informs your attitude towards them, and a good interaction will have a significant impact on your willingness to extend that relationship past the end of the current contract.

macro level + micro level = relationship level

The relationship level

Ultimately the way to think about service quality is to think of it as a facet of your relationship with the customer. That relationship is informed by the efficacy of the services you deliver (measured as KPIs) and also the impact those services and service interactions have on the customer (measured as satisfaction).

Now you can quantify service quality

Therefore, to measure quality you should capture both the macro level (service KPIs) and the micro level (interaction). Most organisations already measure the former but struggle to justify measuring or effectively measure the latter. Bear in mind the transaction cost of feedback keep that cost proportionate to the perceived value to the customer;

  • Micro feedback (e.g. HappyOrNot) after any customer interaction. It will take literally a second, they’ll feel like they’ve had an opportunity to feedback but with almost no effort on their part.
  • Surveys, scheduled or triggered by a resolved incident or request. Get the frequency right, and if they’re well pitched, and optional, you should gather more detail when the user is ready to provide it.
  • Meetings. Never underestimate the value of just talking to people and asking them how it’s going. Ideally face to face (but by video or phone conference by necessity), this is where you can both capture and influence the state of the relationship.

If you can bring all this data together, with the value of face to face interactions to wrap it all up, you will have been able to genuinely quantify service quality, and improve your relationship with the customer, without any actual change to the service itself.

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