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Importance-performance analysis as a strategic tool for service marketers: the case of service quality perceptions of business students in New Zealand and the USA John B. Ford
Professor of Marketing and International Business, College of Business and Public Administration, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Associate Professor of Marketing, School of Business, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, Georgia, USA.
Adjunct Lecturer in Marketing, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Keywords Customer satisfaction, Higher education, Performance measurement, Service quality, Services marketing Abstract Intense competition in higher education in many different countries mandates the need for assessments of customer-perceived service quality for differentiation purposes. An instrument developed specifically from a business education setting was employed utilizing an importance/performance approach with seven determinant choice criteria groupings. A sample of business students in New Zealand and the mid-Atlantic region of the USA participated, and some important problems in perceptions were noted. Strategic implications for the universities involved and suggestions for future research are provided.
Introduction and background Marketing orientation Intense competition forces companies to adopt a marketing orientation in order to differentiate their offerings from those of their competitors. Service industries have been reluctant to adopt this kind of focus, and nowhere has this been truer than in the case of higher education. For many years colleges and universities were in the luxurious position of seeing ever-increasing enrollments and resultant budgets, but the boom of the 1970s and 1980s has been replaced by the bust of the 1990s. Universities are facing intense competition from heretofore non-threatening technical institutions which are now offering virtually identical courses at competitive prices. Never before have colleges and universities in the USA as well as in many other countries had to focus on asking what society values in the skills and abilities of their graduates (Ginsberg, 1991; Lawson, 1992) nor have they been concerned with asking their students what they feel about their educational “experiences” (Bemowski, 1991). This type of focus would require a careful assessment of the perceptions of the relevant constituencies. Educational institutions must now get inside the heads of their target markets, assess their needs, modify their offerings to meet those needs, and thereby enhance the perceived quality of the service which they provide. Firms in many industries have attempted to enhance their customers’ perceptions of quality through adoption of total quality management (TQM) THE JOURNAL OF SERVICES MARKETING, VOL. 13 NO. 2 1999, pp. 171-186 © MCB UNIVERSITY PRESS, 0887-6045 171
systems. Variations of the TQM framework, including total quality service (Albrecht, 1991) and the total quality process (Coffey et al., 1991), have been adopted by educational institutions to bolster eroding competitive positions. Some universities have attempted to get ISO 9000-type quality process designations to attract students for particular degree programs. The key theoretical linkage here is that customer satisfaction is affected by perceived quality (Anderson and Sullivan, 1993; Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Oliver and De Sarbo, 1988) which in turn affects corporate profitability (Anderson et al., 1994; Rust and Zahorik, 1993). What is clear from the literature is that perceived quality of service in higher education is of paramount strategic importance (Peters, 1992; Bemowski, 1991). While there are a number of relevant markets that the university must consider when assessing perceived quality, this study will focus on the perceptions of...
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