Tool Tuesdays: The Gaps Model Explained

The Gaps Model is a particularly helpful tool for service oriented businesses, but it has broad applications. The tool works based on the assumption that messages and information are transmitted along predictable paths between customers,  front line staff, and strategic management. If communication flows between the three entities and this collected business intelligence is applied in the delivery of services then the business will operate smoothly and efficiently, delivering exactly what the customer expects. The Gaps model is one of the best arguments for implementing a coordinated IMC campaign at the beginning of any venture.

Here is what a typical Gap model looks like (this one is from the book, Delivering Quality Service by Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry):

The large black line through the middle of the model signifies that there are gaps on both the company and customer side of the equation. On the customer side, there can be a gap between their perception of services and their experience with the service.

This gap (gap 5) usually occurs when marketers over-promise the service (or product). As marketers, we occasionally get a little carried away trying to get customers in the door. If the actual brand experience is not what the customer expects based on their brand perceptions, then the customer will question the brand’s reliability and they will be more likely to exhibit switching behavior after the initial trial.

On the company side, gaps are between employees’ and managers’ perceptions about the company’s performance on key indicators to deliver quality service (some Gaps models have 6 gaps, including a product R& D gap). Any broken link on this side leads directly to a gap between the customer’s expectations and perceptions on the other side of the equation.

A quick rundown of the gaps on the company side:

Gap 1: Does the company understand customers’ expectations of service quality (SERVQAUAL factors)?

Gap 2: Does the company have policies and standards in place for quality service?

Gap 3: Do employees deliver service quality standards as specified?

Gap 4: Does the firm deliver the quality of service promised?

Market research, operations management, and integrated communications all have effects on the severity of each gap and the company’s ability to address any problems. Image control, brand stewardship and team building generally help to control the size of gaps.

In practice, it is important to remember that what gets measured gets done. I have a quick story to illustrate this point. A friend of mine works front line at a retail store for a high end salon. She was trained to greet each customer and offer them a cup of tea upon entering the store. She is measured on this deliverable by “secret shoppers” who record their interactions with staff and report the experience to strategic management.

“I always do this. I don’t want to get reprimanded, but I know that during lunch hours, working women don’t want to be bothered with a cup of tea. They are in a rush. They want their stuff and to get back to the office ASAP.”

This is a great example of a Gap 3 problem. The customers perceive the store as a convenient stop to get their product. The service delivery personnel know that. The problem is that the standards are set for the front line to slow-down the customer, who in this case does not want to slow down.

What do you think? Is this helpful in understanding why there are gaps between what you expect from a product or service and what you get?

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