Gaps with cultural twist

The gaps model

The gaps model of service quality was developed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry in 1990. It is a useful framework for understanding service quality in an organization. The gap model consists of 5 gaps (one customer gap and four provider gaps). The most critical service quality gap is the customer gap – the difference between customer expectations and perceptions. Closing the gap between what customers expect and what they perceive is critical to delivering quality service.


Cultural differences

Cultural differences bring another seasoning to the service quality. Customer’s expectations may vary a lot depending on the culture they live in. Also emotions and moods are feelings that influence customer’s perceptions and evaluations of their experiences. Customer’s behavior may have an effect on other customers as well. Different cultures have different temperaments and ways to show their frustration or disappointment. It is said that Japanese smile all the time, and angry Japanese smile even more widely. (Keeping appearances is very important in Asian cultures.) If you open a business in the new culture, you should take some time and effort to get to know the culture your customers (and employees) live in.

How to close the customer gap?

To close the customer gap, the four other gaps (provider gaps) need to be closed. A service quality audit based on the gaps model would be a solution to reveal existing gaps (audit of service performance and capabilities of an organization). The strategies and decisions made by the management must be based on the need to close the gap between customer expectations and perceptions and to keep it closed.

Some aspects for closing provider gaps when doing business abroad

The provider gap 1: The listening gap

  • Methods to capture information about customer expectations must be developed through marketing research. A lack of upward communication can be one reason to the listening cap. Frontline employees who meet the customers, don’t bring the information to the management level. From cultural point of you, if your business and employees are in the foreign country, where problems are not spoken out so straight forward as we do in Finland, you need to find a new way to get the needed information. Also a well-defined complaint handling procedure is important. Cultural training may be needed for expatriates to handle face-to-face situations in the new country.

The provider gap 2: The service design and standards

  • Accurate perceptions and service design and customer-driven performance standards are necessary to delivering quality service. Sometimes companies have difficulties in translating expectations into service quality specifications that employees can understand and execute. Servicescape must meet the customer and employee needs. As mentioned above, a fear of losing face in Asian countries may cause the situation where employees don’t admit if they haven’t understood the instructions. Also a language barrier must be taken into account.

The provider gap 3: The service performance gap

  • The service performance gap means a difference between customer-driven service standards and actual service performance by company employees. The firm must have systems, processes and people in place to ensure that service delivery actually matches the design and standards. The standards must be backed up by appropriate resources (people, systems, technology) and they must be effective. Employees should be measured and compensated based on their performance. Companies need to take time in selecting employees and intermediaries. Many western companies have faced surprising problems with service intermediaries (retailers etc.) abroad due to cultural issues.

The provider gap 4: The communication gap 

  • The communication gap is a gap between delivery and providers external communications (promises made to customer may be something the company cannot fulfill – empty promises must never be given). If employees who promote the service do not fully understand the reality of service delivery, the communication fails. How to avoid communication failures? Avoid overpromising, inadequate horizontal communication between sales and operations and inappropriate prizing. Remember that too high price raises expectations (high-level quality is expected based on the high price).

Word-of-mouth communication has a huge impact; what customers tell others about the service, has effect on existing or potential customers.


Challenges are also caused by social media, blogs, “hate sites” that are impossible to be controlled. The best way to create positive word-to-mouth is to create memorable and positive service experiences. Negative things are remembered more often than positive. If service provider’s native language is not English, there is a good chance for misunderstandings. If the provider comes from another country, a lack of trust may exist, because the customer does not know the company. In China you need to understand the concept of guanxi (a circle of trust; trust plays the key role in the operation of guanxi circles). Also different customers have different tolerance zones (depending on the level of the service the customer has got used to). The predicted service is the level of service the customer believes to get.

A globalization has opened doors and created new opportunities, but it also requires a lot and sets new challenges.

Anne Hirvonen (first year SID student at Laurea)


Journal of marketing – Vol. 49. No. 4. Autumn 1985. A conceptual Model of Service Quality and Its Implications for Future Reasearch.

Journal of marketing – Vol. 53. No. 2. Apr. 1989. A Gap Analysis of Professional Service Quality.

Zeithaml, V.A.; Bitner, M.J; Gremler, D.D. Services marketing: integrating customer focus across the firm. Boston. 2006.

A Library Paradigm Shift

Someone says “library service design”, so obviously, I am interested. And what a fascinating project it was, as part of the Service Design Achievements: the turning of a university library into a learning center – for real, not just in name. The recently formed, but with old roots, Aalto University Library, is really re-inventing itself. Given that libraries have been one of the areas where a move towards service-dominant logic has increasingly meant “let’s remove all sunk costs (e.g., books) as just sunk costs”, and a strong availability heuristic bias (“my kids don’t use the library, so it’s worthless”), this is an extremely positive move. As a library manager and a service designer, I applaud the project.

Leena Fredriksson and Valeria Gryada presenting.

Leena Fredriksson and Valeria Gryada presenting.

Now, what have they done so far, if the project is not yet finished? Plenty. It appears that both by themselves, and with Kuudes Kerros, they have not only charted current services (finding out that digital ones are eight times as used as the physical ones), they have gone for a holistic design. Taking as principle the fact that the traditional library almost solely caters for the traditional learning system – cramming – they went looking for other opportunities. Continue reading

To me sound of SID is like a sound of music

How I found my inner spark of Services Innovation and Design Thinking? I was one of the lucky ones who got in to Services Innovation and Design (SID) Programme at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. We newcomers met for the first time during our 3-day kick-off session in September 2014. I had high expectations for the class but I also kept my mind open because I didn’t know if my expectations were fair.

I think Design Thinking was a good subject to start with. We had workshops during the study days and we got to know each others. I learnt a lot from my group but also of myself. For example I noticed that the passed working years in the traditional business life had moulded the standards and rules around me. And now it was time to let them go and start to think about services and business in a new and innovative way.. in a SID way.

We had inspiring lecturers leading our workshop; Gijs van Wulfen, the founder of FORTH Innovation method, and Katja Tschimmel, a researcher, coach and a famous Design Thinker.

Gijs   Katja

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Need for Service Design up in the Air?

Airline-Customer-Service-AgentHave you ever read the story about the funniest customer feedback in the world? It is the one directed to Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. It was sent by a passenger who flew from Mumbai to Heathrow with Virgin Airlines and who wasn’t too happy about the food catering or the inflight entertainment during the flight. Apparently Finnair doesn’t want this to happen to them, so they hired a creative technology company called Reaktor to improve their in-flight entertainment service. Reaktor describes itself as a constructer of well-functioning services. The reason they believe they were chosen was that they could deliver both the design and development from the same house.

Starting Point

It had previously taken a huge amount of time to navigate through the entertainment system. For the new system the aim was to have less levels to navigate, show the content on the first page and of course for it to be faster. The main goal was to improve passenger satisfaction. It was interesting to hear about the development process, which was reputedly a new way of working for Finnair and Panasonic, the manufacturer of the hardware. The displays in the planes have a computer inside and it was impossible to take them out of the aircrafts as they were flying daily. It required people from Reaktor to travel to Panasonic office in California where they had the equipment needed for the development process.

The Designing Process

Reaktor 2The team consisted of five smaller groups: Development, Coaching, Concept, UX (user experience)/UI (user interface) and Visuals. According to Reaktor the team worked seamlessly together during the process. The kick-off for the project was in June 2013 and the installation started in August 2014. They had possibility for only two plane visits, which was surprising to hear. So they decided to build a test lab where they then performed user research and tests. The process wasn’t linear, but instead went from designing, developing and testing back to beginning several times.

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Four tips to prevent innovator’s block

How to get the ideas flow? What if the others think our idea is lame? What if we fail? These are some of the reasons why people struggle with innovation and I have also find myself pondering these same questions.

“Ideas stand in the corner and laugh while we fight over them.” -Marty Rubin

I started my Master’s Degree Programme in Customer-oriented Service Development with master class of Practical Design Thinking  facilitated by two inspiring specialists, Design Professor Katja Tschimmel and Innovation consultant Gijs van Wulfen. The theme of the course was to get into the concept of Design Thinking, test different design thinking tools and the FORTH-innovation method in a concrete case. In this post, I’d like to share some of my findings from the class. I have summarized them as the four things to remember during the ideation process.


note1The importance of preparation

Comparing some of the best known design thinking models Tschimmel (2012) presents in her article it is clear that the first step to take before ideation is to understand the customer, identify the problem or the opportunity and observe them to get inspired. She concludes that these insights are important for later idea generation session. According to van Wulfen (2013) the reason why brainstorming process don’t bring up any ideas is the lack of preparation. It’s all about getting new ideas from exploring ”customers relevant future problems”.

I must admit that it was hard to produce ideas without deeply understanding the concepts or the problems behind the given topic. And I cannot deny that the lack of preparation had an negative effect on our whole innovation process.

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There is no way round play

How does it look when you are innovating? Yes, the very moment you are in fact doing innovation? We all have our occupational hazards, mine when I bring my colourful post-its and bag of LEGO-bricks to the table. But it is in fact play, serious play if I may, and here is a shot at examining the thoughts behind the innovation practice. The practice of Design Thinking to be more precise.

Work then and now – solving complex problems

They thought they did something clever back then in the industrial age when someone came up with the scientific and waterproof separation between work and play. It might have been appropriate at the time when they needed people to have approximately the same kind of knowledge, and be functionaries or manual workers that could replicate the same work over and over again. But today, now what? In this modern age we are facing real wicked and complex global challenges, and the call for the innovators and creative problem solvers has never been bigger. There is not much need for the linear-thinking functionaries or workers, at least not in the field of innovation. But how do we create emergent practices as Dave Snowden suggests is the way to solving complex problems? How does probing, sensing and responding look?


The doing that supports the thinking

Why do I ask my clients to play out the story of how their new idea will look from a customer point of view in LEGO? Or make them build a cardboard helpdesk to test it on a user group? It’s a vehicle to get to know the motivations and nuances in a customer scenario, it helps promote narrative and visual thinking. Through prototyping, user testing and working in interdisciplinary teams we create a practice that brings forward Design Thinking and thereby more holistic, user centric and thus sustainable solutions.

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How do we get a great idea?

Well, finding the answer to that question is probably worth a fortune, but after our first course – design thinking- of the SID Laurea programme I have a much better picture of how to facilitate and enhance idea creation. In a few days a group of strangers became not merely acquainted with principles of innovation process and design thinking, – but also with one another. Simultaneously, we all co-created little innovation projects ourselves, – with the help of design thinking tools, naturally. As design thinking and innovation are complex processes, next I will present only some of the most inspirational methods for innovation and idea creation for me from this course.

The tools are there to help you

We started with a faint idea of a new service for learning and through an iterative process ended up with a new innovation. We learned the basics of design thinking – by applying them in practice. With the help of e.g. observation, collaboration and visualization we got our heads working, minds flowing and ideas running. For example with mind mapping and especially opportunity mapping our initial thoughts both expanded and narrowed. By making forceful combination of opposing subjects, our minds were forced to think differently – resulting in new, surprising outcomes. Opposites attract it seems, – better ideas that is!

Accept, or even embrace failures

Design thinking is an experimental, iterative and essentially human-centered process – needless to say, failures are inevitable. Moreover, failures can indeed facilitate learning. After all, isn’t one method in design thinking, not observing ideas, but in fact observing the challenges and problems? Observation can be used to examine challenges and thus in fact creating ideas. (In another context observation can be used as a method to learn with and from the users).

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