Supporting Internal Service Quality with the Service Profit Chain: 9 Critical Dimensions

As we have written in previous blogs, the Service Profit Chain first hypothesized in 1994 by Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser and Schlesinger in the Harvard Business Review has become a mainstay of well-managed, successful companies. One of the fundamental conditions of the Service Profit Chain is a focus on Internal Service Quality.What is Internal Service Quality?

It has been said that organizations only have two types of employees: those who serve the customer directly, and those who serve the employees directly serving the customers. (We recently wrote about this in an Infosurv Insider blog.) While this might be simplistic, it underscores the importance of those individuals supporting the customer-facing employees. Additionally, internal service quality influences the engagement of all employees.

Internal service quality is defined as the quality of the services frontline employees are receiving from the rest of the organization. If frontline employees are hampered in delivering superior service quality to customers, the entire organization suffers. Therefore, it is critical that managers understand and measure internal service quality to achieve high levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Achieving Internal Service Quality: 9 Critical Dimensions

In 1987, David Garvin identified eight dimensions of quality: product performance, features, reliability, durability, conformance to specified standards, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. Organizations must work to maintain high levels of quality on all eight dimensions, but couldn’t similar dimensions apply to internal service quality?

Interpreting the differences between product and service marketing, as well as the differences in internal and external quality, leads to these nine dimensions (as put forth by David Ray Baca and others). Internal Service Quality requires high performance on all nine of these dimensions:

  1. Employees understand the needs of other employees within the organization. This means that employees have been trained and coached on the work of the organization.
  2. Employees can count on services being performed; individual employees perceive the importance of performing expected services. Services are reliable.
  3. Employees deliver services on time, as promised. This increases operational efficiency and improves employee satisfaction.
  4. Employees perform the services as required (by supervisors, colleagues, or subordinates) correctly the first time. Employees are given clear direction about how to perform their jobs.
  5. Internal problems are each employee’s priority. They give internal problems their immediate full attention until they are resolved.
  6. Employees plan proactively to deliver services, identifying obstacles before they become problems.
  7. All employees treat each other courteously and professionally.
  8. Employees have sufficient knowledge to answer other employees’ questions. Employees readily share their knowledge.
  9. Employees with problems receive individual attention. Employees have the authority to customize their response to employees with problems.

Summary

Once again, the key message of the Service Profit Chain is the inter-relatedness, the connectivity of employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and business performance. To achieve high levels of business performance, management must consistently and conscientiously manage quality holistically at all three levels. Without internal service quality, employee engagement will negatively impact customer satisfaction and loyalty, and business performance will suffer. These nine dimensions should guide managers in creating – and measuring – internal service quality.

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