Closing the customer gap through effective employees
Fourie, Johanna Maria
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This study attempts to contribute to the current knowledge to determine the factors that influence front-line employees in delivering a sustainable quality service. It is nearly impossible to deliver a quality service without loyal and satisfied front-line employees who, through a service encounter, determine the level of service quality delivered. These employees form an integral part of the competitive advantage of a service organisation and play a crucial, bridging role in company growth. However, some variables influence front-line employees’ effectiveness, for example personal and professional circumstances. Customer expectations are critical towards the evaluation of a service; therefore, customers have different levels of expectation. Factors such as front-line employee commitment, loyalty and satisfaction influence customers’ perception of the quality of service provided. In addition, customer satisfaction impacts on customer loyalty, which, in turn, directly affects the financial results of an organisation. In cases when expectations are not met, customers are dissatisfied, thus causing a gap between the customer and the service organisation. This “gap”, called the “Customer Gap” or the “Service Quality Gap” (in the Gaps Model of Service Quality), is the difference between what the customer expects and his/her perception of the service. However, in order to close the Customer Gap, the Provider Gap (consisting of Gaps 1 to 4) needs to be closed first. Front-line employees, customers and intermediaries (for example, suppliers) mostly influence the Service Performance Gap (Gap 3), which occurs when there is a discrepancy between specifications and service delivery. It is, therefore, evident that front-line employees play an important role in the closure of the Service Performance Gap; such closure depends on their attitude, competencies, skills, commitment, trust, communication and work in a complex relationship. A literature review was conducted where-after two different questionnaires were developed. Open-ended questions and Likert-scale questions were used. To this end, the questionnaires were distributed at branches within AVBOB. The sample consisted of front-line employees and managers who were in the service of AVBOB from the beginning of June 2013 to the end of November 2013. Statistical measures such as descriptive statistics were used. It was found that the following professional circumstances influence front-line employees’ effectiveness: qualification, training, rewards, organisational benefits, work stress and workload. The following personal circumstances were identified, namely “front-line employee transport system”, “residing area”, and the fact that some front-line employees do not always have clean clothes to wear. In addition, front-line employees experience conflict between their work and family responsibilities. These circumstances can, therefore, be argued as critical for the management of effective front-line employees and service quality. Although other factors might also influence front-line employees’ effectiveness, the factors identified may provide management with focal points for the management of front-line employees. To this extent, the Gaps Model of Service Quality should be used to guide management to find the reasons for quality issues. This useful model also needs to be used to identify appropriate ways in which to close the Customer Gap.