The strategic management of service quality is a relatively new and evolving concept. With the service sector accounting for nearly two-thirds of the workforce, increasing emphasis is being placed on quality as managers become aware of the relationship between quality and profitability. This paper addressed the specific issues of professional service quality. The intention was to develop a strategic management model for professional service quality and a means of evaluating it.
An overview of quality management since its inception in the 1940's provided an historical perspective which emphasises conformance to production standards. A review of definitional issues in service and service industries, professional service, service and professional service quality was completed. It revealed that services need to be treated differently from manufactured products due to essential differences (intangibility, inseparability of production and consumption, and heterogeneity).
To strategically manage professional service quality, managers need to follow a strategic framework, and develop an appropriate mission. This mission focuses on one of a number of quality strategies which meet the requirements of management, consumers and competitors. The selected strategy is then expanded upon in all strategic components. An examination of two of these components (strategic control and organizational development) allows for the development of specific recommendations for managers.
Consumers evaluate quality using eleven quality attributes. A matching of perceptions with expectations implies a quality service and a satisfied consumer. In terms of organizational considerations, it appears that all components (including style, structure, and culture) of organizational effectiveness are closely inter-related. A successful professional service organization is one which stays close to its clients and develops a genuine service outlook.
To evaluate how consumers perceive professional service quality in a practical setting, a survey incorporating quality attributes was developed for physiotherapy patients in a large suburban Brisbane practice. The responses indicate that the practitioner-patient interaction, the quality of communication, availability, and responsiveness all contribute to the overall consumer perception of professional service quality.
Professional service quality is a case of matching the expectations of consumers with the perceptions of the quality of service they receive. Considerably more research is needed in the area to clarify the attributes consumers use in evaluating quality so that these attributes can be incorporated in the overall strategic management of professional service quality.