A business is actually run by the customers that it serves. It is essential that the customer’s expectations are fulfilled and the perception of the customer is continuously monitored in order to improve the service or product quality of any organization. This study is also focusing on the same theme to evaluate and absorb the perception of the customers regarding service quality of the airlines in Cyprus.
Although the airline industry is very well spread throughout the world and there is increasing competition in the airlines as the international routes and international flight services are developing. This further increases importance of any such study that depicts the customers’ expectations and perception about the service quality of any airline.
In order to evaluate the service quality of any airline, it is essential that the factors that determine the service quality of any airline in view of a customer are first identified and realized as critical factors.
Such factors need not only be identified rather there would be a prioritization amongst them to properly analyze which factors weigh more and which elements to be given high importance while going to improve the quality of the service in an airline company.
Since all airline companies actually tend to monitor their service level and for this purpose, they manage to follow specific procedures and standards so that the quality of the service does not rely on the individuals or uncertainties.
However, there may be difference between what an airline company perceives about the customers’ expectations of the service quality and what the customer sees, this study also highlights that how this gap can be overcome to align the management of the service with the improvement in the quality as perceived by the customers.
Since there is not much literature available individually on the customers’ behaviour and perception about the service quality factors for the airline industry, however, general customer perception and some relevant literature are used to capture the theme of the study entirely.
This literature encompasses the identification and evaluation of the factors that are critical in terms of realizing the service quality of an airline company while it also refers to the studies that have been previously conducted in the same direction.
It will support in determining the service quality level perception of the customers in an airline company and also the ways that can be integrated with the management in order to improve the service quality of an airline company, particularly in the region of Cyprus.
This would help in converging the focus of the study from a general perspective of service quality of a customer to the more specific perception of customer of the service quality of an airline company in Cyprus.
Service and Service Quality Review
Services are something that a consumer buys, but does not necessarily realize it as a tangible item. Kotler refers to the services in comparison to consumer goods as intangible, perishable, inseparable, and variable.
Usually, services are offered along with some tangible items that help get the service level acquired as required and it is referred to as Service Package; however services themselves are not real and cannot be stored.
These are something that is consumed as soon as they are produced. One more important factor that differs services from the products or goods that we usually buy is that services do not result in the physical ownership of any item in contrary to the products where buying any product gives us some property of the physical object.
Services may be for satisfaction, or they may be the requirement of any individual, they may be hired for executing some task, or they may be bought to bring any change . Services may be some offering about the experience or skill set (like Barbour shop service) or they may be some provision of any place or space to carry out any task.
Thus, service is usually referred to as some act or performance of an individual or an organization.
It is important to note that the customer interaction in the services mode of the companies is quite high and therefore it further adds up to the importance of understanding and realizing the customer’s perception regarding the service quality as it is customer who rates and evaluates the quality of a service rather than a formal quality control or quality assurance department as opposed to a product or manufacturing based organization.
It is essential, therefore, to regularly gauge the service level of any company to remain in the competition in this challenging industry environment.
Since customer interaction is quite high in a service organization and this customer orientation pushes the company to acquire more and more feedback from its customers regarding the level of service they are offering. Thus it is sometimes easy to obtain the customers’ perception about the service quality if adequately managed.
In an airline industry, the customers may be asked at the time of departure about their expectations regarding the service quality or the factors they weigh more in order to be served in a proper manner, while they may be asked about the feedback too at the time of leaving the service entity or after having experience with the service about their realization of their expectations with the service quality.
Since airline industry has vast customer domain and it has to build up to accommodate several types of customers that may be different in religion, culture, values and tastes.
Competitiveness and growing profit thirst have forced the service industry to capture the parameters of the service quality to improve service. Various research has been conducted and models like SERVQUAL have been developed to determine and narrow the gap between the customer’s perception and the actual service quality of the industry.
Thus, it is essential at the first place that the customer of the airline company is identified in the region that travels mostly through the airlines and then determines the aspects of the service quality that they perceive about the airline company.
In order to be more successful in the industry as well, airline companies must realize that their services are marketed and communicated correctly to the customers as it may be the case that the airline company offers something that adds value to the service quality level while the customers are not aware of that and it results in a negative perception of service quality by the customers.
Service quality should be judged from many directions that may cover the viewpoints of several customers that tend to travel through the airline in this region. This will be properly defined by the segment attributes that an airline company anticipates about its customers as the standards and procedures need to be tailored as per the customers’ expectations and satisfaction level they perceive.
Service Quality-Examination and Measurement
Clifford et al. (1994) have assessed the service quality deciding factors in the airline industry and this fact is elucidated that factors like flight times, food quality, cabin crew and other factors can be monitored to assess the service quality of the airline company, which is important for the business.
Service quality is no doubt one of the deciding factors for the businesses to run profitably and with customer loyalty in today’s competitive world. Responding to customers is something customer expects from the service provider and this builds up the relationship with the customer.
Quality of the service is not always precisely quantifiable; however, in order to evaluate and monitor the service levels, the companies form the parameters that can be inferred to the service quality attributes and monitoring of which can depict a picture of service improvement in the company. It is thus difficult to define and measure the quality of the service is a definite way with an overall consensus.
It is evident that the service quality is the comer stone for the profitability and overall efficiency of the business and hence crucial to manage in order to meet the customer’s expectations and fulfill their desired satisfaction level. Service quality in the airline company is generally perceived as the satisfaction level a customer acquires after experiencing the flight of that airline company.
It can be seen as a level where it is anticipated that how much a customer is willing to return to the same airline after once experiencing the flight of that airline company. This can give the right way of judging about how much a customer is satisfied with the service quality of the airline company.
One more important thing that a company needs to realize that there should be a minimum gap or ideally no gap between what the company efforts to deliver to its customers and what the customers perceive from them.
There should be a proper way of communication about the service level so that the customer is not deceived or unaware due to lack of information and leading him to perceive wrongly about any value-adding aspect of the service in turn.
Service quality is thus an important, but difficult thing to measure as there may be customers who may not interpret the service quality as it should be interpreted while there may be cases that the technical aspects of the service are entirely ignored by the customers as they are not aware of the technical constraints or advantages/disadvantages of any service level.
Particularly in an airline company, customers may not be very much aware of the technicalities of the flight design or safety parameters that should be taken during service and they may perceive them negative having a wrong impression of the service quality.
Hence, it is essential that the quality aspects of the airline service are communicated and customers are made aware in such a way that it does not bother them to a dissatisfaction level.
At the same time, while it is difficult to make the customers realize about the actual service quality of airline industry, it is a fact that it is a customer who has the sole power to rate the airline service quality and the company relies on his satisfaction level. The perception he builds upon the service quality level of the airline company is the deciding factor on which the airline company decides to improve in specific directions.
Therefore, it can be commonly said that the service quality is defined as the difference between the customer’s expectations about the service and perception that is actually taken by the customer about a service. If the expectations are greater than the performance, then it is clear that the perceived quality is less than satisfactory and therefore results in customer dissatisfaction.
Examination and Measurement of service quality
As already mentioned that the service quality is not simple to be quantified and thus it is difficult to evaluate or monitor it. In the case of products or goods, it is easy to measure and control the quality as the parameters are easy to capture and quantify.
Therefore, most of the manufacturing or virtually all manufacturing companies hold quality control and quality assurance departments that have already specified attributes that are kept in consideration while assessing the standard quality of a product.
While in case of services, since they are highly volatile in terms of customer’s expectations and they need to be tailored as per the customer’s perception. Thus, services are harder to evaluate and in turn, difficult to improve without continuously monitoring the opinion of the customers about the service quality.
In order to capture the customer’s perception about the quality of the service, every aspect of the service must be kept in consideration and involvement with the customer must be seen as the prime part of the job, Several companies use different algorithm and techniques to capture the level of satisfaction that a customer may achieve from their service as it is difficult to quantify the customer’s satisfaction level precisely.
Such tools involve building up the house of quality, Kano Model, etc. As service demand varies with the customer’s wants, needs and expectations; thus, it is essential to cater to this variability while determining the perception of the customer about the service quality.
Since service is difficult to measure and there are no fixed rules that can determine whether the customer is satisfied with eh service level or not. However, there may be factors or parameters that can be considered to evaluate the effectiveness and quality of service to an extent. Such factors may include many factors, but a good service may be,
- Cost effective
- Value Adding for customers
Thus, in order to focus on the service quality, airline companies must focus on the customer’s perspective, range of the service, interaction and involvement with the customer, training of the staff, procedures and monitoring for sustainability in the quality of the service. The importance to measure the service quality comes from the fact that the customers are the buyers of the service that in turn runs the business.
Thus, if the service quality is not up to the customer’s expectations or demands, there would be no business at all. Therefore, the prime concern, particularly in the service industry, is customer.
Especially in airline industry where the customer perception builds up very strong on very first flight and ruining of this perception is easy if a single flight service has not been to the customer’s expectations. Therefore, it is vital to keep measuring and improving the service quality and gauging what the customer is expecting.
While talking about perception, it is a difficult thing to handle. A customer may be happy on little stuff and he may not be delighted even the company is spending a lot on something. This all depends on whether the investment by the company is in alignment with the customer’s focus or not. Thus, service industries need to be customer-focused rather than anything else.
Customers actually perceive a service quality from the viewpoint of their own expectations. Few customers may have very high expectation level while others may not have that expectation and they may return delighted while served above their expected level. From marketing point of view, it is essential that the customers are attracted by increasing their inspiration towards a service; this, in turn, elevates their expectation level as well.
Thus, it is challenging for the companies to portray themselves what they can actually serve to the customers.
As, if the expectation level is elevated too high through the advertising and marketing campaigns and the company is unable to serve its customers as per the level it has escalated and attracted to the customers, then there would be highly negative perception conceived by the customer after being served and this would ultimately result in customer loss and business loss.
There may be many factors that influence the quality of the service in the airline industry, including flight safety, good appearance of flight crew, more significant number of flights and comfort level to the customers. In an airline company, service quality is directly proportional to the passenger’s satisfaction as more satisfied are the passengers; the better quality is perceived by them for that airline company.
Airlines in today’s world do not merely mean a way of flying across, but the airport facilities, hotels, food and other tangibles are now considered the crucial part of the airline service that determines the customer’s expectations and satisfaction level towards the airline company.
Airline industry has done much research in this field in order to determine the critical factors though which they may improve their service quality.
As passengers make different expectations and conceive different perception throughout the journey and airline company has to serve them in a better quality within a constraint amount of passenger fee.
Food, comfort level, services during the journey, safety of the service and easy access to the needs of the passengers during journey are some of the key factors that are considered to monitor in order to assess the service quality level in an airline company.
Identification and Prioritization of Service Quality Factors
Since no organization can succeed in today’s challenging environment without considering the perception of the customers. Thus, it is important that there should be some factors or measurements that can guide a company to focus on the overall improvement.
Same applies to the service industry and more particularly in airline industry where the customers have diversified thinking process and their expectations and perceptions may be widely different from each other. However, there should be some parameters and factors that can count on the customers’ satisfaction level and help the airline company to invest in that area for the service improvement.
Customer perception is strongly influenced by the service level more, particularly during the journey, as it is the moment when the customer is wholly focused on the journey attributes away from his or her routine activities. Thus, capturing the customer during this period can enhance the perception of the customer about the service quality.
Quality of food, beverages, seats, ease and comfort in sitting postures, response to the passenger’s calls, assurance of safety through robust and quick safety systems, individual focus and presentation style are most of the critical factors that influence the overall travel quality of the passengers. Therefore, focusing on these areas can improve the customer’s perception about the quality of the service by that airline company.
It is also crucial that the airline company determines the present level of satisfaction and perception by the customers so that it can identify and prioritize the areas where it needs improvement.
As to keep improving in an area where the customer is already satisfied and the perception of the customer is quite positive is not beneficial if other areas are not considered and where the customers may not be fully satisfied. Since it is the fact that customers are attracted through the delivery of high-quality service, thus, it is essential to take it into serious consideration for the competitiveness.
There have been numerous research in this domain in order to identify and prioritize the key factors that can build up a customer’s perception of the service quality of an airline company. Such studies focus on the identification of factors important concerning customer’s perception where several studies contributed to the SERVQUAL model.
Nevertheless, there have been a limited number of empirical studies on the priority of those factors. Many studies and research have also been conducted in order to determine the relationship between what the management strives and counts on as the service parameters and what the customers perceive about it.
There have been some studies as well that highlight that fact about the gaps between the customer’s perception and the procedures that the management connive in an airline company about the customer’s expectations. Many managerial strategies may not be aligned with the perception of the consumer and this may result in dissatisfaction by the customer.
There has been a Gap model that was proposed by Parasuraman, which quite widely and comprehensively focuses on understanding the service quality in an airline industry. Also, there is a use of the SERVQUAL scale in airline industry in order to judge the service quality and customer perception.
It is also termed as RATER model for the acronym of Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy and Responsiveness, considered the pillars of determining the service quality and customer’s perception.
In order to reach a point where the management knows about the customer’s perception, it is important that they understand the levels of customer expectations and their fulfillment. Customer satisfaction level can be broken into,
- Desired service – what customers hope to receive
- Adequate service – the minimum level of service customer will accept.
- Predicted service – the anticipated level of service based on experience.
- Zone of tolerance – this falls between the desired and adequate service levels. – it is the threshold level a customer may accept service
SERVQUAL scale has undergone many phases and has proved to be one of the most widely used tools to determine the level of service quality and its monitoring. This model gives understanding of the customer expectation and perception of the service quality that can be measured or rated in order to support companies to identify improvement areas.
Airline industry also uses this tool so that the consumer’s perception is understood and steps can be taken in order to enhance this perception.
This involves coping up with the customer’s expectation about the airline service and giving them what they want at an economical cost. As this is the fact that a customer perception would be positive about an airline company only if the services rendered by the airline company meets or exceeds the customer’s expectations that he or she had built about the quality of the service provided.
Researchers have shown that the airline industry bears many factors more than just the cultural background, rather it is a set of perceived factors that build up the customer attraction towards quality.
In the airline company, each step must be considered crucial that builds upon the customer’s perception. From the reservation department to the telephone ticketing, from baggage handling to the cabin crew, all contribute in building up the customer’s perception of the service. Thus, it is important to monitor each step and standardize the service at a better quality level through proper controls and procedures.
Similarly, for prioritizing, there are various models in research. Such models include Multiple Criteria Decision Making or MCDM that uses techniques to prioritize the factors that influence the perception of service quality by the customer.
Through these models and research studies, airline industry is able to reach the point where customer perception is somewhat clear to the management and management can then identify and prioritize the areas where improvement can be sought in order to enhance the customer perception about the service quality.
Service Quality in the context of the Airline Industry in CYPRUS
Since airline industry plays a vital role in the world’s economy and thus individual countries and states are also very concerned about it. Cyprus is an island country and in the Eastern Mediterranean, remains the travel point.
Thus, emergence of airline industry is evident for this region and it is vital for the airline industry in Cyprus to consider the customer perception in a global perspective so that improvements can be brought into this challenging environment.
It is important to note here that most of the passengers traveling through airline in Cyprus would be with the purpose of tourism or leisure journey. Thus it is essential to care about the comfort and satisfaction level of the customers at utmost level.
Neglecting the customer satisfaction may cause loss of customers by the airline companies and tough competition would stress the airfares to downwards. In airline industries, management is very interested in determining the customer’s perception as the profitability in the airline industry lies actually with the customer’s loyalty.
A study about the airline companies in Cyprus and the loyalty factors that attract the customers towards them highlighted various factors that can influence customer’s perception about the service quality of the airline company.
These may include, quality of catering service, cleanliness of the plane seats, comfort level of the passengers, air conditioning in the plane, cleanliness of the toilets, reliability of the security control room, effective sign system, availability of trolleys in the airport, employees attitude towards customers, error-free reservations, tangible items to the customers on their way to the journey, number of flights and the conditioning of the waiting areas.
In this study conducted by the Eastern Mediterranean University and school of hotel and Tourism Management, statistical tests evaluated that among various quality dimensions of an airline industry, airline tangibles was found to be the most important and significant in terms of customer satisfaction and their loyalty towards the airline company.
This indicates that the factor that influences customer’s perception may have various factors, but the tangibles that are given during the airline journey are conceived as the most important factor by the customers while they rate the airline service quality level. This forces the airlines to focus on this area where they may improve to enhance the consumer’s perception in factor of the airline company in Cyprus.
Other factors including the responsiveness of the service during traveling, ease in reservation, empathy towards the consumers, reliability of the service and assurance of good quality and sound safety to the customers count as the major parameters that bui8ld up the customer’s perception about the service quality of the airline company.
Since it is essential for Cyprus airline industry to capture the customer’s perception about the service level; therefore, they are using different models and tools as discussed above in order to evaluate the consumer satisfaction level. This is vital as the business profitability and economy relates directly to the customer satisfaction and loyalty towards their airline companies.
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