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E-service quality: comparing the perceptions of providers and customers


Emmanouil Stiakakis and Christos K. Georgiadis
Department of Applied Informatics, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece
Abstract
Purpose This study aims to identify the similarities and differences between the perspectives of providers and customers regarding the important dimensions and attributes of e-service quality (e-SQ). Design/methodology/approach Ten criteria are proposed for assessment of e-SQ in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions. Conrmatory factor analysis conrms the validity of grouping these criteria into ve proposed dimensions. The e-SQ dimensions and criteria are then ranked in terms of their importance by a survey of respondents from small and medium-sized enterprises with experience in conducting e-business in Greece. The results are compared with selected surveys of customers perceptions from the literature. Findings The results indicate that the providers perceptions are in agreement with customers perceptions with regard to e-SQ dimensions, but not with regard to specic criteria (items) within those dimensions. The study also nds that providers have similar perceptions of the importance of the suggested e-SQ criteria in B2B and B2C electronic transactions. Research limitations/implications The ndings should be generalised with care if extrapolated to other socio-cultural settings and specic industries. Practical implications Managers should recognise that there might be differences between their views of e-SQ and those of their customers. Originality/value This is one of the few studies to have focused on the perceptions of providers in assessing e-SQ. Keywords Services, Customer services quality, Electronic commerce, Business-to-business marketing Paper type Research paper

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Managing Service Quality Vol. 19 No. 4, 2009 pp. 410-430 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0960-4529 DOI 10.1108/09604520910971539

1. Introduction Most studies of the concept and measurement of electronic service (e-SQ) have identied the dimensions of the construct from either the customers perspective or the providers perspective (Heim and Field, 2007), and the majority of these have focused on the priorities and needs of the customer. Although it is unquestionable that the concept of e-service quality is inherently associated with the perceptions and expectations of customers, it is also true that these perceptions of what constitutes e-SQ might differ signicantly from those of the service provider (Ghosh et al., 2004; Surjadjaja et al., 2003). In a similar vein, some authors have contended that few companies are able to understand and manage e-SQ from the user perspective and that a holistic view that takes into account both perspectives is therefore needed for a full understanding of e-SQ (Auer and Petrovic, 2004; Halaris et al., 2007). Against this background, the present study contends that a comparison of the two perspectives would provide useful insights into the nature of the dimensions of e-SQ

and the delivery of superior quality. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to investigate the similarities and differences that exist between the customers view of e-SQ and the providers view of the construct. Because the providers view has not been examined to the same extent as the customers perspective, the present study also suggests and tests several proposed criteria for determining e-SQ from this perspective. Another research question addressed in this study is whether (and, if so, to what extent) service providers perceive e-SQ differently in B2B and B2C electronic transactions. There is evidence that the different priorities and experiences of corporate buyers (B2B) and individual buyers (B2C) could lead service providers to perceive e-SQ differently in the two contexts (Field et al., 2004; Dowling, 2002; Turban et al., 2008). The study therefore also examines this question. The remainder of the paper is organised as follows. Section 2 reviews the relevant literature on: the dimensions and criteria (items) of e-SQ; differences between perspectives of providers and customers; and differences between perceptions of e-SQ in B2B and B2C transactions. Section 3 presents the conceptual framework of the study, including proposed quality criteria and propositions for examination in the empirical study that follows. Section 4 presents the methodology of the empirical survey conducted among e-business companies. Section 5 compares the present research ndings with the results of previous surveys from the customers point-of-view. Finally, Section 7 presents conclusions, managerial implications, limitations, and directions for further research. 2. Literature review 2.1 Quality dimensions and criteria Electronic services differ from traditional services in several important respects. According to Boyer et al. (2002, p. 175), e-services can be dened as:
. . . all interactive services that are delivered on the internet using advanced telecommunications, information, and multimedia technologies.

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One of the rst denitions of quality in such e-services was suggested by Zeithaml et al. (2000, p. 11), who dened e-SQ as:
. . . the extent to which a web site facilitates efcient and effective shopping, purchasing and delivery.

However, this denition has been criticised by several authors (Gummerus et al., 2004; Fassnacht and Koese, 2006) because it encompasses only a rather narrow eld of e-services in restricting itself to issues of internet shopping. Cristobal et al. (2007) took a wider view in noting that the various studies of e-SQ could be divided into two major categories: online retailing services; and web site design and quality. Among the studies in the rst category (online retailing services), the e-SERVQUAL model developed by Zeithaml et al. (2000) is noteworthy. In this model, Zeithaml et al. (2000) analysed why most online companies fail to respond effectively to their customers requirements. The result of their analysis was the e-SERVQUAL model, in which the reasons for failure were depicted as internal business weaknesses and shortages. The authors also identied 11 e-SQ dimensions: (1) Access (to the web site or the company when needed). (2) Assurance/trust (customer feels condent dealing with the site).

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(3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)

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Ease of navigation (moving easily and quickly through the web site pages). Efciency (site is simple to use, minimal data required as input by the customer). Flexibility (in accomplishing an electronic transaction). Customisation/personalisation (based on customers preferences and purchase histories). Price knowledge (concerning total, shipping, and comparative prices). Security/privacy (site is safe from intrusion, personal information is protected). Site aesthetics (appearance attributes). Reliability (correct technical functioning of the site, keeping promises made to the customer). Responsiveness (quick response to customers requirements).

Other models worthy of note in this category are the e-S-QUAL and the e-RecS-QUAL scales suggested by Parasuraman et al. (2005). These authors decreased the number of dimensions to seven in their more recent studies: (1) Efciency (accessing and using the site easily and quickly). (2) Fullment (keeping promises about order delivery and item availability). (3) System availability (correct technical functioning of the site). (4) Privacy (site is safe, customer information is protected). (5) Responsiveness (effective handling of problems). (6) Compensation (site compensates customers for problems). (7) Contact (assistance through telephone or online representatives). The rst four dimensions were said to constitute core quality (e-S-QUAL scale), whereas the last three were said to constitute recovery quality (e-RecS-QUAL scale). With regard to studies in the second category (web site design and quality) suggested by Cristobal et al. (2007), it is apparent that web site design is clearly the most commonly examined dimension in research efforts in this eld (Gehrke and Turban, 1999; Barnes and Vidgen, 2002). In this regard, Loiacono et al. (2000) developed a comprehensive scale of 12 dimensions: (1) Informational t-to-task. (2) Tailored communications. (3) Trust. (4) Response time. (5) Ease of understanding. (6) Intuitive operations. (7) Visual appeal. (8) Innovativeness. (9) Emotional appeal. (10) Consistent image.

(11) Online completeness. (12) Relative advantage. However, it should be noted that this scales primary purpose is to generate information for web site designers, rather than measure e-SQ per se (Parasuraman et al., 2005). Other approaches to the assessment of web site design and quality include academic web sites (Olsina et al., 1999), commercial web sites (Kim et al., 2006), and web sites for non-protable organisations (Bauer and Scharl, 2000). However, a common method for determining the quality attributes of a web site has not yet been established. Table I summarises (in chronological order) a review of the most signicant studies on the conceptualisation and measurement of e-SQ. 2.2 Differences between perspectives of providers and customers As noted above, most studies of the concept and measurement of e-SQ have studied the construct from either the customers perspective or the providers perspective, but not both (Heim and Field, 2007). The majority of these studies have focused on the priorities and needs of the customer, which is clearly important, but it is also true that the customers perceptions of what constitutes e-SQ might differ signicantly from those of the service provider. For this reason, some researchers have also examined e-SQ from the perspective of the provider (Ghosh et al., 2004; Surjadjaja et al., 2003). According to these authors, many service providers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are constrained by their available resources from integrating all the determinants of e-SQ into service processes and must therefore focus on a limited number of critical determinants. In these circumstances, these authors contend that it is of importance to evaluate e-SQ from the service providers point-of-view. In a similar vein, Auer and Petrovic (2004) contended that few companies are able to understand and manage e-SQ from the user perspective and that a holistic view that takes into account both perspectives is therefore needed for a full understanding of e-SQ. Halaris et al. (2007) adopted a similar view when they identied the differing criteria of e-SQ as assessed by the customer and by the service provider. Following Ishikawas (1991) approach, Halaris et al. (2007) referred to the customers view as true characteristics and the providers view as substitute characteristics; moreover, they contended that matching the two perspectives ultimately determines customer satisfaction. 2.3 Differences between quality perceptions in B2B and B2C transactions As previously noted, another research question to be addressed in this study is whether (and, if so, to what extent) service providers perceive e-SQ differently in business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) electronic transactions. According to Field et al. (2004), e-SQ does differ, depending upon the type of web site (for example, B2B versus B2C sites). In this regard, it is important to recognise that a distinguishing characteristic of B2C offerings is that they are actually intended for personal consumption, whereas the offerings on a B2B web site are often intended to create or add value to other products or services. According to Dowling (2002), this makes the B2C domain more complicated than the B2B domain because a direct

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Researcher-author and model-instrument

Findings

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Chaffey and Williams Edgar (2000) The most signicant features of online service quality are identied through an application of the SERVQUAL instrument dimensions to web sites and e-mail communications. Although not all the individual elements of SERVQUAL can be applied to the electronic context, this application provides a fairly comprehensive determination of online service quality Liu and Arnett (2000) Four major factors leading to the success of a web site are identied: (1) information and service quality, (2) system use, (3) playfulness, and (4) system design quality A scale for evaluating web site quality with 12 dimensions: (1) informational t-to-task, (2) tailored communications, (3) trust, (4) response time, (5) ease of understanding, (6) intuitive operations, (7) visual appeal, (8) innovativeness, (9) emotional appeal, (10) consistent image, (11) online completeness, and (12) relative advantage A scale for measuring e-service quality, consisting of 11 dimensions: (1) access, (2) ease of navigation, (3) efciency, (4) exibility, (5) reliability, (6) customisation/personalisation, (7) security/privacy, (8) responsiveness, (9) assurance/trust, (10) site aesthetics, and (11) price knowledge. Four gaps (information, design, communication, and fullment) are identied between customers expectations of a web site and their perceptions by using it Six determinants to assess service quality are found to be equally applicable to e-commerce and physical services: (1) accessibility, (2) communication, (3) credibility, (4) understanding, (5) appearance, and (6) availability A scale for assessing web site quality on four dimensions: (1) ease of use, (2) aesthetic design, (3) processing speed, and (4) security A method for assessing web site quality is developed, based on three dimensions: (1) usability, (2) information quality, and (3) service interaction quality A synthesis of 15 dimensions for assessing the quality of a virtual service or operation: (1) performance, (2) features, (3) structure, (4) aesthetics, (5) reliability, (6) storage capability, (7) serviceability, (8) security and system integrity, (9) trust, (10) responsiveness, (11) product/service differentiation and customisation, (12) web store policies, (13) reputation, (14) assurance, and (15) empathy Five broad sets of criteria are identied as relevant to e-service quality perceptions: (1) information availability and content, (2) ease of use, (3) privacy/security, (4) graphic style, and (5) reliability/fullment (continued )

Loiacono et al. (2000) WebQuala

Zeithaml et al. (2000) e-SERVQUAL

Cox and Dale (2001)

Yoo and Donthu (2001) SITEQUAL Barnes and Vidgen (2002) WebQualb Madu and Madu (2002)

Zeithaml et al. (2002) Table I. Review of studies of e-service quality

Researcher-author and model-instrument Santos (2003)

Findings Five dimensions (labelled as incubative dimensions) of online service quality are identied: (1) ease of use, (2) appearance, (3) linkage, (4) structure and layout, and (5) content A scale for measuring quality of online shopping sites, having four dimensions: (1) web site design, (2) reliability/fullment, (3) privacy/security, and (4) customer service An 11-factor model for measuring service quality of application service providers is suggested: (1) tangibles (two items) reliability (two items), (2) assurance (two items) trust, (3) tangibles (two items), (4) reliability (six items), (5) responsiveness, (6) business understanding, (7) conict, (8) assurance (four items), (9) commitment, (10) benet and risk share, and (11) empathy Two major aspects of online services customer service quality and information systems quality are integrated into a conceptual framework. Based on this framework, 16 quality dimensions of online services are identied: (1) responsiveness, (2) reliability, (3) ease of use, (4) competence, (5) access, (6) system reliability, (7) timeliness, (8) security, (9) content, (10) courtesy, (11) service portfolio, (12) continuous improvement, (13) communication, (14) aesthetic, (15) credibility, and (16) system exibility Six dimensions (related to three generic categories) for measuring the quality of e-banking portals are identied: (1) security/trustworthiness, (2) basic services (core services category), (3) cross-buying services, (4) added value (additional services category), (5) transaction support, and (6) responsiveness (problem-solving services category) Four dimensions of e-service quality are suggested through modifying the SERVQUAL model in the online shopping context: (1) web site design, (2) reliability, (3) responsiveness, and (4) trust A scale for assessing e-service quality with four dimensions: (1) efciency, (2) fullment, (3) system availability, and (4) privacy. Another scale for assessing the quality of recovery service provided by web sites, having three dimensions: (1) responsiveness, (2) compensation, and (3) contact Five quality dimensions, which cover all the stages of an online service transaction process: (1) functionality/design, (2) enjoyment, (3) process, (4) reliability, and (5) responsiveness A conceptualisation of service quality in the context of online retailers, consisting of three second-order dimensions: (1) process quality, (2) outcome quality, and (3) recovery quality. Each of these dimensions is determined by rst-order dimensions: process quality by (a) functionality, (b) information accuracy, (c) design, (d) privacy, and (e) ease of use, outcome quality by (a) order accuracy, (b) order condition, and (c) timeliness, recovery quality by (a) interactive fairness, (b) procedural fairness, and (c) outcome fairness (continued )

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Wolnbarger and Gilly (2003) eTailQ Sigala (2004) ASP-Qual

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Yang and Fang (2004)

Bauer et al. (2005)

Lee and Lin (2005)

Parasuraman et al. (2005) e-S-QUAL e-RecS-QUAL

Bauer et al. (2006) eTransQual Collier and Bienstock (2006)

Table I.

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Researcher-author and model-instrument Kim et al. (2006) e-A-S-QUAL

Findings The e-S-QUAL and e-RecS-QUAL scales are modied by eliminating the compensation dimension and adding three other dimensions. Thus, the following nine dimensions are used for measuring service quality of online apparel retailers: (1) efciency, (2) fullment, (3) system availability, (4) privacy, (5) responsiveness, (6) contact, (7) personalization, (8) information, and (9) graphic style A scale for measuring the perceived e-service quality, comprising four dimensions: (1) web design, (2) customer service, (3) assurance, and (4) order management. This study also deals with how perceived quality has a direct effect on satisfaction, which in turn acts directly on consumer loyalty Six dimensions of service quality are identied in online travel settings: (1) navigability, (2) playfulness, (3) information quality, (4) trust, (5) personalization, and (6) responsiveness E-service quality in academic and public libraries is determined by three dimensions: (1) timely response, (2) reliability, and (3) courtesy

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Cristobal et al. (2007) PeSQ

Nusair and Kandampully (2008)

Shachaf et al. (2008) Table I.

relationship with the end consumers involves the individual attitudes of people. In this regard, the provider has to take account of such variables as gender, educational level, knowledge, age, marital status, motivation, personality, lifestyle, values, individual consumer resources, and socio-cultural variables all of which inuence the individual consumers decision-making process (Turban et al., 2008). In contrast, the buyers in a B2B context are making decisions on a corporate (rather than an individual) basis, and the nature of the methods used by such buyers to evaluate products and services are obviously different from those of individual end consumers. Other differences between the B2B context and the B2C setting relate to the greater interoperability and accountability that are inherent in B2B compared with B2C. In the B2B context, related business services (such as nancing or logistical support) are often required, and these usually depend on the existence of formal relationships between providers and customers. Such relationships are gradually cultivated and strengthened over time (Rust and Kannan, 2003). The process of conducting trade among companies thus requires signicant administrative overheads in terms of procurement (Laudon and Traver, 2004). The present study therefore conjectures that the different priorities and experiences of corporate buyers (in B2B transactions) compared with individual buyers (in B2C transactions) could lead service providers to perceive e-SQ differently in the two settings. 3. Conceptual framework 3.1 Development of suggested quality criteria As revealed in the literature review, little commonality exists among the scales that have been developed to measure the dimensions of e-SQ (Kim et al., 2006). For the

purposes of the present study, a concise framework has therefore been developed on the basis of the literature review, with particular emphasis on the theoretical models of Nusair and Kandampully (2008) and Chaffey and Williams Edgar (2000). The criteria of e-SQ thus developed for the present study are shown in Table II, in which they are grouped on the basis of the ve dimensions (reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness) of the SERVQUAL instrument (Parasuraman et al., 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994). The SERVQUAL dimensions were retained as the main categories for the conceptual framework in this study because the SERVQUAL instrument is recognised as a well-established model of service quality that can provide useful insights if the model is rst adapted to the particular features of the context within which it is applied (Sigala, 2004; Pitt et al., 1997). Moreover, although the attributes of the SERVQUAL dimensions have been modied in accordance with the particular domain or industry under examination, the basic set of the ve standard determinants remains largely as nroos, 2001). Indeed, according to Bauer et al. (2000), the ve originally identied (Gro SERVQUAL dimensions are closely related to some of the critical e-SQ criteria such as constant availability of information, interactivity, individualisation, and so on. SERVQUAL has been successfully applied in a number of surveys of service quality associated with information systems (Barnes and Vidgen, 2002; Jiang et al., 2002), web-based service (Kuo, 2003; Negash et al., 2003), and search engines (Xie et al., 1998).
SERVQUAL dimensions Reliability e-Service quality criteria 1. Information accuracy 2. Purchased product to be identical with delivered product 3. Correct technical functioning and availability of the web site 4. Product availability 5. Customers condence in the company 6. Security 7. Price knowledge and assurance of the total price 8. Protection of customers personal information 9. Web site aesthetics 10. Ease of use and navigation 11. Promptness of web site downloading and provision of required information 12. Frequent updating of web site 13. Use of web site tools and technologies (HTML, XML, PHP, web services, search engines, user-generated content. . .) 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. Provision of customised information Accessibility Possibility of selecting method of product dispatch Possibility of selecting method of payment Use of personalisation tools Prompt response via web site to customers requirements Help when a problem arises during the transaction process Prompt dispatch and delivery of products After-sales service

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Assurance

Tangibles

Empathy

Responsiveness

Table II. Initial list of suggested e-service quality criteria

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Other authors who have extended the SERVQUAL instrument to e-services include Gefen (2002), who incorporated the dimensions of reliability, assurance and responsiveness into a combined dimension while retaining the other two dimensions, and Lee and Lin (2005), who used a modied version of SERVQUAL to identify the main factors that inuence customer perceptions of e-SQ in online shopping (web site design, reliability, responsiveness, trust, and personalisation). From the initial list of criteria shown in Table II, only those that could be evaluated by e-service managers were retained in the nal set of criteria for the present study. The criteria that required evaluation (either exclusively or mostly) by the service recipient were excluded from the present study because managerial opinions about these criteria (which are the primary focus of the present study) would be meaningless. The nal set of criteria for the study is shown in Table III. A comparison of the quality criteria of Table II with those of Table III reveals that the present study suggests that the criteria (or items) within the dimensions should be modied as follows when e-SQ is evaluated by online providers. 3.1.1 Reliability set of criteria. These are reduced from four criteria (or items) to two as follows: (1) Information accuracy remains. (2) Correct technical functioning and availability of the web site is renamed correct functioning of the web site. (3) Purchased product to be identical with delivered product is deleted because it can be evaluated only by the customer. (4) Product availability is incorporated into the information accuracy criterion because product availability constitutes one of the essential items of information required by the customer. 3.1.2 Assurance set of criteria. These are reduced from four criteria (or items) to two as follows: (1) Customers condence in the company remains. (2) Security remains.
SERVQUAL dimensions Reliability Assurance Tangibles e-Service Quality Criteria RL1: Information accuracy RL2: Correct functioning of the web site A1: Customers condence in the company A2: Security T1: Web site design (appearance and operation) T2: Use of web site tools and technologies E1: Customisation/personalisation E2: Accessibility RE1: Prompt response RE2: Customer service

Table III. Suggested e-service quality criteria from the service providers perspective

Empathy Responsiveness

(3) Price knowledge and assurance of the total price criterion is deleted because it is mainly evaluated by the customer. (4) protection of customers personal information (privacy issues) is incorporated into both: customers condence in the company (because protection of customers data instils condence in the company); and security because privacy technologies are important aspects of the overall security infrastructure. 3.1.3 Tangibles set of criteria. These are reduced from ve criteria (or items) to two as follows: (1) use of web site tools and technologies remains; and (2) the other four criteria (web site aesthetics, ease of use and navigation, promptness of web site downloading and provision of required information, and frequent updating of web site) are unied to produce one new criterion: web site design (appearance and operation). 3.1.4 Empathy set of criteria. These are reduced from ve criteria (or items) to two as follows: . provision of customised information and use of personalisation tools are unied to produce customisation/personalisation; . accessibility remains; and . possibility of selecting method of product dispatch and possibility of selecting method of payment are incorporated into the new customisation/ personalisation criterion. 3.1.5 Responsiveness set of criteria. These are reduced from four criteria (or items) to two as follows: . prompt response via web site to customers requirements is renamed prompt response; . help when a problem arises during the transaction process and after sales service are unied to produce customer service; and . prompt dispatch and delivery of products is incorporated into the prompt response criterion. 3.2 Propositions As previously noted, it is the contention of the present study that the relative importance of these quality criteria might not be the same for the customer (due to his/her preferences) and the service provider (due to limited resources and technological constraints). Moreover, because it is reasonable to suggest that any gaps between the two perspectives will have an adverse effect on the efforts of the provider to adjust its offerings to customers preferences, a comparison between the two perspectives would be useful to service providers. The following null propositions are thus proposed for the dimensions (proposition P1) and the criteria (proposition P2) of e-SQ in this study:

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P1.

The perceptions of providers in this study do not differ from the perceptions of customers (as reported in previous studies) with regard to the importance of e-service quality dimensions. The perceptions of providers in this study do not differ from the perceptions of customers (as reported in previous studies) with regard to the importance of the suggested e-service quality criteria.

P2.

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As noted above, another research question addressed in this study is whether (and, if so, to what extent) service providers perceive e-SQ differently in B2B and B2C electronic transactions. According to the literature review, the different priorities and experiences of corporate buyers (B2B) and individual buyers (B2C) could lead service providers to perceive e-SQ differently in the two contexts (Field et al., 2004; Dowling, 2002; Turban et al., 2008). In view of this, the following hypothesis is proposed: P3. The perceptions of providers with regard to the importance of the suggested e-service quality criteria are different in B2B and B2C transactions.

4. Methodology 4.1 Sample The propositions were tested by means of a survey conducted among a convenience sample of 152 Greek SMEs engaged in e-business in a variety of industry sectors. The sample was selected using Internet search engines (Google and Yahoo) and the directories of major Greek Internet portals (in.gr; hellasdirectory.com; vres.gr). Companies with less than six months experience in e-business were excluded to ensure that the sample consisted only of experienced providers who had established clear perceptions of e-SQ. The sample size of 152 SMEs was considered appropriate for a stratied sampling method (allowing for a reasonable response rate). The companies in the sample were distributed among various sectors as follows: manufacturing industry (28 per cent); wholesale and retail trade (43 per cent); and service providers (29 per cent). These proportions were in accordance with the industry distribution of all Greek companies active in e-business. The sample consisted only of SMEs, as shown by annual sales turnover per employee (see Table IV). 4.2 Data collection Having specied the sampling frame, e-mails were sent to the prospective companies explaining the purpose of the research. The managers who responded to this enquiry were asked to complete a structured questionnaire (containing scaled or multiple-choice questions, not open-ended questions) either face-to-face (if possible) or by e-mail (if personal contact could not be arranged). After a follow-up
Annual sales turnover per company employee (e) Table IV. Companies participation in sample # 99,000 100,000-199,000 200,000-299,000 300,000-400,000 Companies sampled (%) 32 36 13 19

procedure, 61 per cent of the sample responded by personal interview and 39 per cent responded by e-mail. The response rate by e-mail was 24 per cent (59 of 250 sent). The major characteristics of the survey are summarised in Table V. Concise denitions of the ve e-SQ dimensions were provided to the respondents, who were then asked to allocate 100 points among the ve dimensions to indicate their assessment of the importance of each dimension in e-services; in other words, they were asked to provide a ranking for each dimension expressed as a percentage. They were then asked to rank the suggested e-SQ criteria (or items) in terms of importance (separately for B2B and B2C transactions). In view of the large number of quality criteria, percentage ranking (as utilised for the e-SQ dimensions) was abandoned in this case; rather, the respondents were asked to choose up to ve criteria for each type of transaction, and then to rank them in order of importance from 1 to 5 (with 1 indicating least important and 5 indicating most important). 5. Findings 5.1 Validation of conceptual framework Conrmatory factor analysis was used to validate the conceptual framework by testing whether the ten quality criteria (or items) had been grouped into distinct sets corresponding to the ve dimensions. The sample size of 152 was acceptable for factor analysis (the minimum sample size would have been 50 that is, ve times the number of variables). The homogeneity of the sample was independent of the data-collection method (personal responses and mailings). The factor analysis showed that the values of all estimates of variables common variance were high (with the smallest being 0.585). As shown in Table VI, which presents the correlations between the variables and the corresponding components (loadings), ve components were extracted. Application of the Scree test criterion (the point at which the plot changes its downward slope) indicated that the maximum number of components to extract was ve. In summary, the ten suggested quality criteria (items) were appropriately grouped into distinct sets corresponding to the SERVQUAL dimensions. 5.2 Comparison of providers and customers perspectives regarding e-SQ dimensions According to the survey results of the providers perspective (see Figure 1), reliability was rated as the most signicant e-SQ dimension (with a mean value of 25.4 of the 100 points allocated by respondents). This dimension was followed in ranking by three dimensions with similar scores: assurance (mean score 20.5 per cent); empathy
Characteristic Type of research Sample Sample size Respondents Data collection method Data collection time period Questionnaire Measurement scales Denition Descriptive research Convenience (non-probability sample) 152 SMS companies in Greece Senior managers Verbal responses-mailings October 2006-May 2007 Structured Constant sum, ranking, and non-comparative rating scales

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Table V. Major characteristics of the survey

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T1 T2 RL1 RL2 A2 A1 E1 E2 RE2 RE1

1 0.817 0.773 2 0.140 2 0.155 2 0.366 2 0.202 2 0.020 2 0.113 2 0.151 2 0.307

2 2 0.012 0.011 0.782 0.658 0.317 0.119 2 0.445 0.013 0.072 0.126

Component 3 2 0.025 0.146 0.044 2 0.003 0.639 0.629 0.357 0.086 2 0.067 2 0.361

4 0.023 0.089 2 0.082 2 0.072 0.272 0.189 0.559 0.685 0.121 0.170

5 2 0.046 2 0.047 0.130 0.161 2 0.081 2 0.001 2 0.363 2 0.081 0.694 0.566

422

Table VI. Rotated component matrix

Notes: Extraction method: principal component analysis; Rotation method: Varimax with Kaiser normalisation

Figure 1. Rating of importance (mean % score) of e-SQ dimensions

(19.5 per cent); and responsiveness (19.2 per cent). The least important dimension was tangibles, with a mean score of 15.4 per cent. A comparison with previous surveys of customers views reveals that reliability was reported by Zeithaml (2002) to be the most important dimension in all services. Similarly, Wolnbarger and Gilly (2003), who examined consumers perceptions of online retailers, found that reliability/fullment was the strongest predictor of e-SQ. Moreover, Cox and Dale (2001) implemented the SERVQUAL dimensions in a variety of e-SQ settings and found that tangibles was the least important dimension. It is thus apparent that, with regard to e-SQ dimensions, the providers perceptions (as measured in the present survey) were in agreement with customers perceptions (as reported in previous similar surveys in the literature). 5.3 Comparison of providers and customers perspectives regarding suggested e-SQ criteria Because the respondents in the present study ranked the suggested quality criteria (or items) separately for B2B and B2C transactions, the mean values of respondents

ratings were calculated to provide the ranking order of each criterion. These were then compared with the customers view as reported in selected studies (Barnes and Vidgen, 2002; Lee and Lin, 2005, Bauer et al., 2005) that had included customer ratings for quality criteria similar to those utilised in the present study. The comparison of the two perspectives is presented in Table VII. Perusal of Table VII shows that, with regard to quality criteria (or items), there were signicant differences between the providers perspective and the customers perspective. In particular, the criteria of prompt response and accessibility received much higher ratings from the providers in the present study than from the customers in the other studies. In contrast, the criteria of customer service, correct functioning of the web site, and customers condence in the company received much lower ratings from the providers in the present study than the customers in the previous studies. Although there was agreement between the ndings of the present study and those of Barnes and Vidgen (2002) with regard to the importance of security, this criterion was not as important in the other two surveys. 5.4 Comparison of quality criteria in B2B and B2C e-services (providers perspective) As shown in Figure 2, respondents to the present study rated security as the most important e-SQ criterion in both B2B and B2C transactions. In B2B, security received a cumulative rating of 63.8 per cent for the rst three points (most important, more important, and important) of the ve-point scale. This was followed by prompt response (57.9 per cent), accessibility (39.4 per cent), information accuracy (35.5 per cent), and customisation/personalisation (32.2 per cent). The ndings for B2C transactions were quite similar (see Figure 3). The respondents again ranked security as the most important criterion. The cumulative rating (for most important, more important, and important) was 67.0 per cent. This was followed by prompt response (50.7 per cent), accessibility (35.5 per cent), web site design (30.9 per cent), and customer service (30.3 per cent). A summary of the respondents rankings of the e-SQ criteria in both B2B and B2C transactions is presented in Table VIII. The percentages refer to the cumulative assessment of a criterion (as most important, more important, and important); the ranking order of each criterion is given in parentheses. It is apparent from Table VIII that the respondents rated each criterion in a similar fashion in each of the two types of transaction. There were thus no signicant differences between B2B and B2C electronic transactions, according to the providers perspective. Spearmans correlation coefcient for each pair of ratings is shown in Table IX. All the correlations were signicant at the 0.01 level. 5.5 Limitations As with most survey research, caution should be exercised in generalising the results from the present (Greek) context to other socio-cultural settings. The size of the businesses surveyed (all of which were SMEs in the present study) should also be taken into account. It is also questionable whether one managers opinion actually reected a companys view given that the questionnaire was answered by only one person from each company. Finally, it should be noted that the study examined e-services in general, rather than a specic e-business domain.

E-service quality

423

424

MSQ 19,4

Quality criteria (1) (7) (3) (8) (6) (2) (5) (4) (9) (5) (7) (2) (8) (6) (3) (1) (4) 4.33 3.82 3.69 3.26 3.15 3.08 2.88 2.65 2.57 2.16 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) 6.17 X 4.94 5.71 4.26 5.47 5.82 5.48 5.60 3.15 5.39 5.16 X 5.63 4.69 5.38 5.57 5.70 5.52 X

Security Prompt response Accessibility Information accuracy Customisation/personalisation Website design Customer service Correct functioning of the web site Customers condence in the company Use of web site tools and technologies

Notes: The ranking order of each quality criterion is given in parentheses; Averages were used, should two or more criteria correspond to one of our suggestions

Table VII. Comparison of providers and customers perspectives with regard to the suggested quality criteria Providers perspective Our survey Scale: 1-5 Barnes and Vidgen Scale: 1-7 Customers perspective Lee and Lin Bauer, Falk and Hammerschmidt Scale: 1-7 Scale: 1-5 4.00 3.60 3.80 4.07 3.60 4.04 4.10 4.35 4.00 X (5) (8) (7) (3) (8) (4) (2) (1) (5)

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Figure 2. e-Service quality criteria ranking in B2B transactions

Figure 3. e-Service quality criteria ranking in B2C transactions

e-Service quality criteria Security Prompt response Accessibility Information accuracy Customisation/personalisation Customer service Correct functioning of the web site Web site design (appearance and operation) Customers condence in the company Use of web site tools and technologies

B2B (%) 63.8 57.9 39.4 35.5 32.2 23.6 17.1 16.5 9.2 4.6 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)

B2C (%) 67.0 50.7 35.5 28.3 30.2 30.3 16.5 30.9 5.9 4.6 (1) (2) (3) (7) (6) (5) (8) (4) (9) (10)

Note: The ranking order of each quality criterion is given in parentheses

Table VIII. Overall ranking of suggested e-service quality criteria

MSQ 19,4

426

6. Conclusions and implications 6.1 Conclusions This study has extended present knowledge of e-service quality (e-SQ) by considering the similarities and differences between providers perceptions of e-SQ (as measured in the present survey) and customers perceptions of the construct (as reported in selected reliable studies in the literature). The study has also added to understanding of the e-SQ construct by proposing ten criteria (distributed as items among the ve fundamental SERVQUAL dimensions), which were assessed by a sample of Greek companies with experience in e-business. The study has found that providers perceptions were quite similar to customers views at the dimensional level of the e-SQ construct; however, in terms of the suggested quality criteria that constituted the dimensions, some interesting differences were revealed. Certain criteria (such as prompt response and accessibility) appear to have been rather overestimated in importance by providers (as compared with the views of customers as reported in the literature). In contrast, providers appear to have undervalued some of the criteria (such as customer service and correct functioning of the web site) valued by customers. The ndings of the present study regarding providers ratings of the importance of quality criteria are in accordance with one of the few other surveys in the literature to have assessed the providers perspective (Surjadjaja et al., 2003). The present study has also provided a comparison of providers ratings of various e-quality criteria in B2B and B2C e-services. The ndings indicate that providers perceived no essential differences between these two contexts. The only differences that were found were that information accuracy seems to have been of greater importance in B2B, whereas web site design was of greater importance in B2C transactions. 6.2 Managerial implications The ndings of the present study have several managerial implications. First, to improve e-SQ, the priorities of managers need to be harmonised with customers perceptions. It would seem from the present study that certain criteria (such as prompt response and accessibility) are likely to be overestimated in importance by providers (as compared with the views of customers, as reported in the literature); conversely, providers appear to undervalue some of the criteria (such as customer service and correct functioning of the web site) that are valued by customers.
e-Service quality criteria Security Prompt response Accessibility Information accuracy Customisation/personalisation Customer service Correct functioning of the web site Web site design (appearance and operation) Customers condence in the company Use of web site tools and technologies Spearmans value 0.657 0.495 0.435 0.422 0.762 0.478 0.663 0.360 0.560 0.699 Signicance 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.001 0.000 0.000

Table IX. Correlations of the ratings of suggested e-service quality criteria between B2B and B2C transactions

In particular, managers should be aware that customers place great emphasis on the correct functioning of the web site as the fundamental criterion of superior e-SQ. They also have high expectations with respect to information accuracy and customer service support. Service providers need to ensure that they emphasise these issues, rather than those that providers might consider more important. Second, providers should be careful to distinguish certain issues when designing and implementing B2B and B2C e-services. B2B services typically require greater interoperability, accountability support, accurate information, and established business relationships than is the case with B2C transactions. It is also apparent from the present study that managers consider web site design to be a signicant issue in B2C e-services. Finally, it is the contention of the present study that providers should pay attention to even the low ranked criteria, which might still be important to the achievement of superior e-SQ, even if the responses of the managers in this study did not indicate this. A characteristic example is the criterion of use of web site tools and technologies. It is the contention of the present study that this is underestimated by both companies and customers not only in B2C services, but also in B2B services. Web service-based technologies, metadata ontologies, and semantic web concepts can provide a variety of integration solutions to distributed electronic enterprise platforms. It is the belief of the present authors that companies are not fully aware of the enormous capabilities of such web site tools and technologies, which explains the low rating of this criterion in the present study. 6.3 Directions for future research Comparisons between the perspective of providers on e-SQ and the perspective of customers on this construct could be extended from e-business in general (as examined in the present study) to focus on specic industry sectors such as banking, tourism, and so on. Moreover, further surveys from the providers perspective should be conducted using different sampling schemes and data-collection methodologies. Future studies could also be directed towards a more denite conceptualisation of e-SQ. Although there have been numerous suggestions regarding quality attributes, criteria, and dimensions, and although it can be difcult to propose specic criteria that cover all types of e-services, it remains necessary for researchers to maintain their research efforts towards greater clarity in dening this important construct.
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