Measuring Customer Service Quality in Local Government: Fulton County Human Services Shares Its Experience with Surveys and Recommends Ways to Use Them to Improve Customer Satisfaction

By Sullivan, Brenda; Estes, Cheryl | The Public Manager, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Measuring Customer Service Quality in Local Government: Fulton County Human Services Shares Its Experience with Surveys and Recommends Ways to Use Them to Improve Customer Satisfaction


Sullivan, Brenda, Estes, Cheryl, The Public Manager


This article explores how the SERVQUAL service quality model can be adopted by and applied in a human service agency. The Fulton County Georgia, Human Services Department (HSD) Office of Planning and Community Partnerships (OPCP) utilizes six modified SERVQUAL indicators--responsiveness, reliability, competence, accuracy, courtesy, and completeness--in its performance measurement system.

Established in 1990, the Fulton County HSD administers human services at the county level. The human services grants (HSG) program, administered by OPCP, is a discretionary fund established by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Currently, 135 agencies receive funding in six competitive program areas: aging services, children and youth, disability affairs, workforce development, homelessness/transitional housing, and HIV/AIDS.

HSD is in the midst of a pioneer endeavor, developing a structured method for incorporating a department-wide quality improvement framework for the first time in Fulton County. With the assistance of external consultants, the department first assessed its organizational structure and ultimately streamlined a number of functions. One of the key additions to the department was the creation of the continuous quality improvement unit responsible for, among other things, surveying customer satisfaction.

Surveys and Analysis

The SERVQUAL survey measures customer perceptions of quality in private-sector services. Customers rank services and identify the kind of service an excel lent company would provide. In its creation of the human services grantee satisfaction survey (HSG-SS), the HSD unconsciously used the SERVQUAL model, but--although it contains the core ideas of the original survey--the HSG-SS is not a true SERVQUAL instrument. OPCP first used the HSG-SS at the 2005 annual grants meeting. In this survey, grantee partners were asked to rate their satisfaction with customer contact and the importance of each phase of the grants process (see sample survey).

SERVQUAL measures the difference between what customers expect and what they thought they actually received. Calculating the difference between the expected and perceived is known as gap analysis. Organizations try to turn negative gaps into positive scores. The HSG-SS does not gather data on these gaps, but we captured these data in a service expectation survey This survey also gave us the opportunity to determine which types of quality services were most important to our grantee customers, for example, whether they value responsiveness more than accuracy and reliability more than courtesy.

We acquired new information in the analysis of the HSG-SS using the SERVQUAL model, discovering areas for improvement throughout the grants process. We then combined the HSG-SS results with the service expectation survey and used an importance-performance analysis (IPA) to clarify what grantee customers find most important in regard to satisfactory service and the grants process. Using an IPA, not only were we able to verify that we were performing well, but also the level of our performance.

Recommendations

SERVQUAL can be applied in numerous settings as long as the key tenets, mainly the SERVQUAL quality dimensions, are maintained. We recommend the follow ing for governments and nonprofits that want to adopt some form of SERVQUAL:

* On the whole, SERVQUAL or a modified version is most useful when employed to test the impact of changes made in organizational processes.

* If the organization is limited in its capacity to implement program measures, combining a SERVQUAL-type survey with satisfaction measures may be an easy way to introduce the concept.

* The survey should be developed from a process map of activities that illustrate the SERVQUAL quality dimension identified in the appendix, especially when conducting a satisfaction survey rather than a quality study. …

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