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Improving Service Quality Delivery by the Cabin Crew in Air Mauritius Ltd Using TQM Dissertation

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Updated: Jan 28th, 2020

Introduction

Currently, organizational or business success is pegged to quality management. The importance of this process is very vital for any organization that invests in achieving competitiveness today. Certification toward this end such as the International Standards Organization -ISO 9001 is an indication showing that total quality management (TQM) offers an advantage for any business or organization (De Cock and Hipkin 1997).

This is true especially for those organizations or businesses that want to meet the changing needs of their clients. Therefore, it becomes important to understand that this process involves a change in perceptions which eventually affects processes.

Once quality as a defined measure has been clearly understood and incorporated into management and employee perceptions and processes within the organization or business, then total quality management (TQM) can be achieved. Therefore, it remains important to realize that employees and management perceptions are important in determining the successful implementation of TQM.

Resistance to change can be considered as one vital underlying factor that contributes to the success of this process. Additionally, the success of any quality management program has been found to depend on factors such as common vision and established benchmarks, job satisfaction, self-sufficient responsibility, innovativeness, influence, and desire to change.

Change within an organization is most effectively realized if it is implemented based on pilot or phased approach. This gives a real life and practicable assessment of the process as it progresses.

Similarly, quality improvement management can be initiated as a process along departments or through quality improvement teams (QIT) that have the responsibility to set up and run quality assurance and control processes within their respective departments or sections (Leonard and Sasser 1982).

The QIT initiate and manage techniques, standards, and procedures including the associated tools used in assessing the level of quality implemented. Once this has been established, the quality assurance and control process as part of the total quality management process can be implemented.

Customer opinions of the air travel process are significantly shaped by his or her dealings with airline staff and his or her face-to-face contact with him or her (Abrahams 1983). Many airlines perceive the labour crew as frontline ambassadors of the services they offer. Singapore Airlines, for example has constructed its complete the company’s image based on the ‘Singapore girls’.

For the airline industry emotional labour remains an important ingredient for the industry’s success (Gourdin 1988). As such airlines have continued to focus on cabin crew management to identify ways of improving quality. Emotional labour was considered as a major component in the development of a total quality management process (Roberts and Sergesketter 1993).

This was ingrained in the human resource strategies that began in the 1980s. Typically, Jim Carlzon is remembered for introducing a turning point for the Scandinavian Airlines System. Carlzon indicated that the first fifteen seconds of the meeting between the passenger and cabin crew fundamentally defined the Scandinavian Airlines system terms of services.

The cabin crew were and are still considered ambassadors of the airlines where they are employed. As such the first encounter leaves a mind impression on the passenger of the type of airline and quality of service offered. This one impression could determine the passenger loyalty to the airline (Hallowell 1996).

This definitely translates into profits for that particular airline when they gain the confidence of a few hundreds of regular customers (Clutterback and Goldsmith 1998).

Therefore, it is imperative to understand how total quality management (TQM) can be used in improving the cabin crew service quality. This study focuses on this aspect and enumerates if a TQM framework can be viable in establishing quality cabin crew service in the Air Mauritius airline industry.

The literature in this section highlights looks at submissions within the professional and academic spheres related to TQM in the service sector with a focus on the cabin crew service. It is important to understand that the airline industry is governed by various standards. Primary among these are those standards that describe the quality management process within the industry.

Quality management is considered as the most crucial aspect covering any product or service provision process. Considering that the airline industry is competitive, airlines are putting in place quality management systems to curve for themselves a niche of the ever-growing customer market. The competition is further intensified as service diversity is widely achieved through travel categorization services.

With such a competitive field total quality management frameworks can be adopted within the industry to measure and improve quality standards. The main objective for organizations today involves delivering products and services that satisfy the customer and meet the required quality. It is imperative to implement a total quality management program to attain products or services that portray distinct quality standards.

In general the TQM process involves the proactive consumer throughout the life cycle from the start to the end. The process aims at positively engaging employees to improve the organization’s processes. The quality of the product or service, and process control remain primary to the TQM process. These can be implemented together with the quality assurance and improvement process all of that are needed to satisfy the customer.

Airline services are among the most expensive, and the demand for quality services remains a pertinent consideration for both the airline company and the passenger. Generally, the TQM process relies on internal self control policy.

As such the employees responsible can be allowed to incorporate corrective measures to the processes they carry out. This enables the company to address the customer needs proficiently. Broadly total quality management may include a quality management process guided by the need to achieve customer satisfaction. Alternatively TQM may involve ways of implementing participative management within the organization.

This understanding has distinguished Japanese organizations from American ones (Hiam 1992). The former focus on customer satisfaction to implement TQM programs. The latter concentrates on non conference and employee needs to meet the requirements for every process. Total quality management (TQM) will also cover improvement and assurance processes.

Quality assurance focuses on the organization’s attainment of pre-established standards. Quality improvement is the process intended to meet customer expectations. Quality assurance encompasses all inputs that make a particular process efficient.

This is supposed to guarantee good quality service or products for the customer. The procedure implements a measurement of the service product versus the process and performance conditions.

During the 1970s and 80s companies around the world were striving to beat low trade, downsizing, deregulation, and improved consumer prospects. During this period, most companies incurred substantial losses. During and after this period total quality management (TQM) gained more attention.

Japan made strides when companies began to focus on TQM. Eventually, TQM as a process provided the framework that could be scientifically determined and improved based on data that could be collected. This eventually led to improved processes and products for those companies that painstakingly implemented the total quality management framework.

The process also introduced tools and techniques that could be used to improve processes and products. Quality was henceforth considered important for such organizations regardless of whether it was a service or a product. Implementing TQM caused Japanese companies’ product demand to improve worldwide.

The Japanese industrial success forced America to reassess their industrial culture giving focus to quality (Hunt 1992). The aspect of total quality management cannot be underestimated, especially while looking at high cost service industries like the airlines industry.

Ultimately TQM from the airline industry point of view can best be discussed as a system for integrating the quality development, maintenance, and improvement as concerns various components of the airline system. This is intended to enable services at the most economical level are therefore able to achieve customer satisfaction.

Airline companies have a greater role to play in meeting the needs and expectations of the passengers. It is unarguable that passengers are a prime component in the success of the airline industry. Therefore, the more people who fly, the higher the returns accruable to the airlines. This also translates to more revenue for the regulatory bodies and agencies.

Toward this end therefore meeting passenger expectations is not only the airline’s role but will also involve other stakeholders as well. A particular focus on cabin crew service within the process of TQM would require a number of considerations. This requires an inclusion of a rigorous pursuant of standardization of the cabin crew jobs that will also require a careful analysis of the tasks and functions.

This requires that work be compartmentalized and assigned o respective groups of people each of which performs a defined task. Although there may be diverse industrial processes to product or service provision, the general TQM framework remains the same for all these processes. This is because quality remains the underlying factor regardless of the process under focus.

Among the known researchers was Joseph Jablonski who identified the basic characteristics necessary for TQM to succeed in any industry (Jablonski 1992). These factors encompass continuous process improvement, participative management, and use of teams.

According to Jablonski (1992), the success attributes to a TQM program that can also apply to the airline industry include the process focus wherein particular cabin crew services are under focus, fact-based decision making where the cabin crews make decision based on facts gathered previously and used to build a facts base that can be relied upon.

An exhaustive analysis of TQM in the airline industry with particular focus on cabin crew service is necessary to expound on service quality.

Service quality models

Gronroos 1990 defines service as relating to performance or experiences provided by equipment or personnel. Vargo and Lusch (2004), indicate a close-knit relationship between goods and services. However, according to Vargo and Lusch (2004), services are defined as the process of applying specialized competences through processes to benefit an entity. However, research on service quality began in the 1980s (Oliver 1993).

Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry (1985), were able to postulate service quality’s strong impact on business performance.

Guru (2003), Newman (2001), and Silvestro and Cross (2000), indicated that service quality also showed in lower costs and consumer satisfaction leading to loyalty.

Parasuraman, Berry, and Zeithaml (1991), postulated that service quality would be described as the gap between the perceptions and expectations of the consumer against the service performance. The study here borrows from a library of literature related to various aspects that contribute to the TQM process. As such there is an urgent need to understand in brief that various service quality models pertinent to this study.

These models will be evaluated considering their suitability to application in the cabin crew service in the airlines industry. As noted earlier the quality management process has generic considerations pertinent to any process regardless of whether it is a product or service provision process.

Such are the components that will be considered within this study. Various service models have been known to exist. Infact a total of nineteen are known so far although the study will limit the focus on those that can be applicable to the cabin crew service.

Gro¨nroos (1984), provided the technical and functional quality model of service quality. The basis of this service model was the understanding that a company can only compete successfully if it has understood the customer’s perception of quality and the manner of influencing the service quality.

Therefore, fundamental to this model is the management of service quality as aligned to equate to the anticipated and apparent service all intended to satisfy the consumer. Critically this model’s requirements can fit into the cabin crew service where the airline industry critically assesses what the passenger presumes as quality.

Once this has been carefully identified, the airline company management proceeds to model their cabin crew service along these perceptions. This process should include a benchmarking process to ensure that the alignment of the service provided meets or surpasses the benchmark. Ultimately the process can be benchmarked along world standards to cover the technical and functional qualities, and image.

According to Gro¨nroos (1984), technical quality focuses on the what of the process while the functional quality focuses on the how of the process. These are contributors to the image that can be aligned to the perceived service quality.

Of course the perceived service quality receives input from the expected service that traditionally includes the marketing activities like public relations, advertisement, and pricing; perceived services that can be based on the industry’s concept.

Parasuraman, Berry, and Zeithaml (1985), proposed the GAP service model. In this model service quality is determined as the difference or gaps involving quality, consumer, and management expectations, and perceptions. Gap one involves a determined consumer expectation versus management perceptions. This brings out a lack of understanding of what the consumer expected.

Gap two defines the management’s perception of the consumer anticipations and service quality conditions. This brings out the inappropriate service quality standards. Gap three involves service delivery and communication with the consumer about the service to determine if the promise matches the delivery. Gap four typically covers the service quality perception against the service delivered.

This portrays a service performance gap. Gap five highlights the disparity between consumers’ expectations and the apparent service. This gap is dependent on the magnitude and projection of the other four gaps that determine the service quality delivery from the marketer’s standpoint (Frost and Kumar 2000).

Haywood-Farmer (1988), postulated the attribute service quality model. The model stated that service organization such as an airline company has high quality when it meets the consumer prospects consistently. Accordingly the attributes of a service based on this model will encompass professional judgment, people behaviour, and processes.

According to Haywood- Farmer 1988 different service setting types can be mapped to the model. Those services low in labour intensity and customer contact customization map accurately to the facility and procedure components of the attribute service quality model.

Brogowicz, Delene and Lyth (1990), proposed the synthesized model of service quality. The model assumes that a service quality differential can be present even when the consumer has not received the service but acquired information about the service through other avenues like advertisement or media communications.

Accordingly Brogowicz et al. (1990), asserted that there is need to consider expected customer perceptions of service quality of his or her real perceptions of service delivery. The model combines the managerial structure, service design, and the associated operations, and promotional activities.

This model attempts to map the service quality to traditional management framework. This model covers company representation, outside influences, and conventional marketing activities. These are factors that influence technical and functional quality prospects.

Cronin and Taylor (1992), postulated the performance only model that incorporates the conceptual perspective of service quality and how it relates to consumer satisfaction. Cronin and Taylor (1992), based their argument on Parasuraman framework.

The postulation further stated that service quality is a concept akin to attitude and this can be operationalized. Toward this end Cronin and Taylor (1992), asserted that performance as opposed to performance expectation can determine service quality.

Mattsson (1992), postulated the ideal value model of service quality. This model focused on a value methodology to service quality. Initially studies indicated an expectation as a belief of the derived attributes as the measure of evaluation. This model focused on value-based representation of service quality using an ideal standard to which an experience can be compared.

Berkley and Gupta (1994), proposed the IT alignment model (Spencer and Leslie 1998). This was because initial investments in IT only focused on productivity and efficiency disregarding customer service. This model attempted to link service and organizational information strategies. Accordingly the model identifies the suitable opportunities for applying IT to improve service quality.

Dabholkar 1996 suggested the attribute and overall affect model (Dabholkar 1996). This model focused on the technology-based self-service processes. This model is related to the consumer expectations. It focuses on the cognitive approach to decision making.

The model focuses on consumer compensatory process to assess the features of a technological-oriented consumer initiated service option. The overall affect model covers the consumers’ feelings toward technology use.

Spreng and Mackoy (1996), proposed a model of perceived service quality and satisfaction. The model focuses on how perceptions of desired performance expectations, disconfirmation, and customer contentment affect customer service quality.

Sweeney, Soutar, and Johnson (1997), proposed the retail service quality and perceived value model (Sweeney et al. 1997). This model consisted of two sub-models. The first sub-model proposes that product quality and price affect value perceptions. Additionally, practical and technical service quality views also affect the value perceptions (Sweeney et al. 1997).

The second sub-model proposes that in addition to practical service quality opinions directly control consumers’ enthusiasm to purchase the service (Sweeney et al. 1997).

Oh (1999), proposed a service quality model covering the consumer’s value and approval. The model highlights the post purchase assessment process. It can be evident from the model that customer value contributes to the post purchase decision making process. The model provides the connection between customer satisfaction and repurchase intention.

Frost and Kumar (2000), postulated the internal service quality model. The focus was on a large service company like an airline company. This model analyzes the dimensions and relations that can determine service quality.

Airline Service quality with emphasis on cabin crew service

Service quality has been adopted by the airlines industry to gain competitively. Singapore Airlines for example is consistently recognized as the world’s best airline excels in business class, cabin crew service, in-flight food, punctuality, and safety among other ranking parameters. Inevitably the airline is also considered as one of the most profitable.

A careful analysis of the reason behind this performance reveals a senior management team that continues to strive to maintain quality with a focus on customer satisfaction. Presumably the TQM program at Singapore Airlines can hardly overlook customer satisfaction.

The high rankings in each of these categories indicate Singapore Airline’s conscious effort to peg its service quality on customer satisfaction and no necessarily on profitability. Air Mauritius can also induct their cabin crew to service quality process to attain exemplary results.

The proverbial is therefore true for Singapore Airlines where a satisfied passenger is a returning passenger. This aspect is reflected in the soaring profits at Singapore Airlines (Clutterback and Goldsmith 1998).

This literature review highlights a small portion of the research that has been carried out and continues to date on service quality as part of the total quality management process in the service sector. Likewise Air Mauritius is likely to benefit immensely from adopting a TQM program to govern its operations. At this point it can be inferred that a definition of quality is tedious.

This is largely so because quality, especially in the service industry in dependant on customer perception (Juneja, Ahmad and Kumar 2011). As such there may also be no known standard definition because perception is dependent on other secondary factors such as culture and economics (Cronin and Taylor 1992).

Implementing the requirements for TQM in any process requires the understanding of the principles of TQM. Therefore, it suffices at this point to mention these principles in brief. Notably these are avenues by which TQM can be incorporated in any process.

Since the focus of this study assumes TQM in the service sector and particularly the airline industry cabin crew service, it will be necessary to highlight only those areas considered relevant to this study. It is vital at this point indicate TQM tools and approaches used in the service improvement initiative. Generally TQM is based on managerial commitment employee empowerment and fact-based decision making process.

This is aimed at encouraging a continuous improvement process that is consumer-oriented. The question at this point is if TQM can be applied to the service sector (Juneja1, Ahmad and Kumar 2011; Sit, Ooi, Lin and Chong 2009). According to Milakovich (1995), there have been an increased acceptance and use of TQM in the service industry.

This means that it is economically noble to implement. TQM in the Air Mauritius Company to enhance service quality and increase profitability. According to Cronin and Taylor (1992), assert that there remains a greater challenge in exhaustively understanding service quality when the customer perception is involved. However, the general understanding is that quality is customer-oriented. Once quality is identified, it is evaluated.

TQM tools and approaches used in service improvement initiatives

Cronin and Taylor (1992), derived an alternative instrument that could measure performance (SERVEPERF) because service quality could be equated to attitude. Other instruments were also proposed. Such included QUALITOMETRO by Franceschini and Rosetto.

The quality function deployment by professor Akao gained popularity during this period. Applications of TQM remained limited to the manufacturing industries. Because service products are perishable, they are demand driven. As such a service organization time considered of assessable quality.

When using these tools to determine TQM and specifically service quality in the service industry it is notable that the customer is frequently involved. This introduces an unpredictable influence on the process (Teas 1994). However, for the service sector the implementation of a TQM may involve a number of steps. The formulation of a service quality strategy.

Once the strategy is in place an evaluation of the service process is pertinent after which the quality measurement can be defined. The next step would be to establish the process control system. This is necessary to identify the quality determining components of the process. Upon these components improvement strategy can be applied. This will contribute eventually to the total service quality.

Accordingly the success of implementing the TQM depends on the organizational culture (De Cock, and Hipkin 1997). Open systems are flexible and quickly can embrace change. As such these systems definitely would benefit from the TQM program.

Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1994), outlined the fundamental considerations to manage TQM implementation within the service industry. On identifying the tasks to be performed, the company can develop the essential management structures to support the TQM process.

Eventually strategies for attaining commitment and facilitated communication of the change can follow during when the needed resources can be assigned. It may not be sufficient to provide a quality product satisfying a consumer. The consumer will also derive satisfaction from what accompanies the product. This is particularly true within the service sector such as the airline industry.

The passenger in this case focuses on the service product quality and the quality of the service process. As such the passenger looks to the wholeness of the transaction involving the cabin crew and the passenger particularly the passenger is considering the expectations experience and service outcome and the delivery of regular service.

This review is only complete if the researcher also considers some characteristic weaknesses for a number of service models. The technical and functional quality model does not explain how to measure technical and functional quality although they are considered as important features of the model. This is likely to affect the empirical value of the model, especially in determining service quality.

The gap models provide no measurement procedures to determine the gaps for the various levels (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1985). The performance only model is limited in application to a few service settings. It may therefore not be precise, especially when considering quantitative relationship focused on service quality against consumer satisfaction.

The attribute service quality model does not measure service quality and therefore lacks in providing the procedure capable of managing service quality problems (Cronin and Taylor 1992). The IT alignment model only focuses on the IT impact on service quality. The model lacks in procedures to measure or evaluate service quality.

The attribute and overall affect model is limited and needs to be generalized for various consumer initiated service preferences (Berkley and Gupta 1994). Demographic variables are not considered within this model. The ideal value model of service quality is limited in the number of items used to cover customer satisfaction and value.

The internal service quality model is specific but must be generalized to include different types of internal environments. The literature review has just mentioned in part the various service quality models and their general importance. The models highlighted are suitable for application even in the airline industry.

This is important because service quality is considered as a critical component in the airline industry. Focusing on cabin crew service as one of the services as one of the service components in the airline industry it can be concluded that service quality models can apply to attain quality.

Because cabin crew service involves the passenger, the airline industry can focus on defining TQM from a customer-oriented perception (De Cock and Hipkin 1997). It is unarguable that cabin crew represents the company’s frontline representatives, a passenger’s perception of quality critically depends on their satisfaction and perception of the service rendered.

Towards this end the company’s management can utilize some of the service quality models mentioned in this review to evaluate the service quality. The airline company must have customer satisfaction and perception of quality at the core of their cabin crew service. In this arrangement the company is able to maintain service quality and eventually increase profitability (De Cock and Hipkin 1997).

Air Mauritius like all other world airlines cannot overlook the gains that come from the company implementing TQM. The company’s processes can be benchmarked against the world standards. The cabin crew service strategy can be re-evaluated to induct TQM program.

This will require a radical definition and understanding of the customer requirements. Cabin crew service quality must align to customer perception and satisfaction as defined by the various service quality models.

Conclusion

The literature review reveals that service quality is a significant consideration within the service sector. With such an understanding Air Mauritius can define a TQM for the cabin crew service by using some of the highlighted service quality models. The passenger satisfaction and perception remain important consideration in implementing TQM process to enhance service quality at Air Mauritius.

Related studies in a similar service sector indicate increased profitability for airline companies like British Airways, and Singapore Airlines. These companies are currently highly ranked because of implementing TQM. An increased focus on the passenger satisfaction and perception are the core of their TQM programs.

Air Mauritius has the option of implementing the available TQM tools to carefully identify and measure pertinent data from the cabin crew service (Abrahams 1983). The results can be benchmarked to known international standards and a process improvement procedure initiated to enhance service quality.

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