The Applicability of the Human Sigma Model to Service Quality Management in the UK Tourism Industry: an operational analysis

Sutton, Carley orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8790-1711 (2014) The Applicability of the Human Sigma Model to Service Quality Management in the UK Tourism Industry: an operational analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of Central lLancashire.

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The dominant focus in the service quality literature in general, and within the tourism and hospitality sector service literature in particular, has been on the drivers of customer-perceived service quality. That is, although the role of front-line employees in service quality has been acknowledged, few studies have actually identified the factors linked to the service encounter from the perspective of both the provider and customer. In practice, the role of front-line employees in service firms tends to be underappreciated, with the lowest paid, less experienced and trained ‘put’ on the front-line. Therefore, managing and measuring the employee-customer encounter becomes a vital determinant of service quality management. Consequently, there is need for more in-depth research from the perspective of both parties in service encounters.
Traditionally, research into service quality has been undertaken from the perspective of a person’s (customer’s) satisfaction within service encounters through the expectancy-disconfirmation theory. Indeed, this has been one of the main concepts for assessing satisfaction (Oliver, Rust and Vark, 1997), including the well-known SERVQUAL scale for measuring service quality (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, 1988). However, a more recent focus on measuring and managing service quality through the service encounter and, ultimately, on business improvement has adopted a new approach: Human Sigma (Fleming and Asplund, 2007). This new approach has signified a shift away from isolated employee and customer satisfaction scales, described as meeting expectations, to an examination of the more powerful and emotional dimensions of engagement which are holistically measured and managed. This, in turn, can facilitate organisations in remaining highly competitive in attracting and retaining both customers and employees.
Given, therefore, that this new approach has the potential to have a positive impact on service organisations in their quest to improve service quality, the purpose of this thesis is to explore the concept of Human Sigma within the context of the hospitality sector. More specifically, focusing on the UK tourism industry, which is primarily comprised of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the purpose of this thesis is to appraise critically the philosophy of the Human Sigma concept of business improvement and to apply the Human Sigma model in a single service context, a UK tourism SME.
Subsequently, in order to fully determine the applicability of Human Sigma, a postal questionnaire survey is first conducted amongst the managers of tourism SMEs to establish the extent of the utilisation and contribution of service management tools, techniques and approaches within contemporary small to medium businesses. Following, in-depth interviews are conducted with two key informants in order to enhance knowledge and understanding of the principles and practices of Human Sigma. Building on these results, the third and principal stage of the research applies the Human Sigma model in an operational analysis within a tourism SME. As a consequence, the research not only identifies potential limitations inherent in the Human Sigma model but also, and most significantly, enables the development of a new conceptual model and instrument for measuring and managing the service encounter. The thesis concludes by exploring the implications of this research for service managers and the future of service quality management.

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