Measuring Customer Service Quality with the RATER Framework
Customer service can be difficult to evaluate, especially when only 1 out of every 26 unhappy customers complain (and the rest leave you wondering where you went wrong). Learning from the 4% who do report their problems is crucial for preventing churn. And collecting data is only the first step - once you have weeks and months’ worth of complaints and feedback, how do you use that information to produce an actionable plan for improvement?
The RATER framework eases the transition from information to action by dividing service issues into the five service dimensions customers care about:
- Reliability: do you deliver as promised?
- Assurance: does your organization inspire confidence?
- Tangibles: does your company present itself professionally?
- Empathy: are your team members understanding and empowered to solve problems?
- Responsiveness: does your team address queries within the expected time frame?
By using questionnaires designed with the RATER metric, you can discover the gaps between what your company delivers and what your customers expect, then use that information to make changes that increase retention.
Where does RATER come from?
The RATER framework evolved from the SERVQUAL study designed by psychologists A. Parasurman, Valarie Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry in 1988. They designed it to measure the difference between what customers expected a service to be like and how they afterward perceived the service. Later, the authors used this methodology to develop the RATER framework and continue their studies of customer relations and service improvement.
The work they’ve done has paved the way for businesses to better understand, meet, and exceed customers expectations. At SimpleSat, our surveys are built upon these principles to quickly identify how your customers perceive your services.
Understanding the RATER Metrics
The RATER metrics - reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness - are the five service dimensions in which your customers (consciously or not) evaluate your business. Each of these metrics is broken down in the following paragraphs so you can understand the types of expectations each category addresses.
It’s hard to imagine a better example of reliability than Amazon shipping: you order a Prime delivery and it’s on your doorstep two days later. When something does go wrong - inadequate packaging or the rare late shipment - Amazon reps are quick to respond.
Say you take a pair of jeans to the tailor: when you return to pick them up, you expect them to fit and to be ready at the promised time. If the jeans didn’t fit, or weren’t ready when you arrived, you would view the tailor as unreliable. Why? The service delivered (jeans that fit) was not up to par and not within the expected timeframe.
Your reliability is your ability to deliver the service a customer expects, when the customer expects. Reliable service is regular, accurate, timely, and consistent. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most important of all the service dimensions.
For your tailor, reliability might mean the following:
If your customers report that you have a reliability issue, it could mean that you fail to deliver as promised on your service, or it could mean that your customers misunderstood what your service is.
If you’re in the market for a new home, finding a realtor you trust is a crucial step towards making a purchase you’re happy with. The realtor must demonstrate that she knows the local market and will deal with you fairly. Inspiring your confidence in her ability is crucial for her success, and will make you feel better about your experience.
In order to do so, she might show you credentials, maintain a website with her listings, show you a variety of homes that fit your main criteria (not only homes she’s listing), and give you helpful advice regarding each home’s benefits and downsides. All of these actions affect your assurance in her service.
Assurance is the aspect of customer service that causes your customers to trust you. To meet their expectations, you should prove that you are credible and address their concerns competently.
For example, if you want to open an online banking account, you’d want to know how your money is protected. A bank can build assurance by featuring short videos and FAQ that discuss your rights, the measures they’ve taken to secure sensitive information, and what you can do if someone hacks your account.
By taking steps to ensure your customers know why they should trust you, then solidifying that trust with reliable service, you can improve your customer’s confidence in your service. Doing so pays for itself many times over - loyal customers are on average worth at least 10x the value of their initial purchase.
Tangibles is the RATER metric perhaps most difficult to define. It encompasses how your customers respond to the environment you create. If you have a brick and mortar location, it’s easy to think of businesses with good tangibles.
Think about a few of the tangibles a chain like Whole Foods or Target offers:
- Knowledgeable, uniformed staff
- Clear, organized shopping aisles
- A small cafe where customers can relax between shopping trips
- Clean, easy to locate restrooms
All of these practices contribute to a professional look and set of services that meet the needs and wants of their customers. For an online business, tangibles might be how well the website design comes together, how easy it is to navigate the site, how accessible the FAQ are, etc. At a spa, tangibles might include the decor, soothing aromas, and warm towels.
Tangibles aren’t something your customers will necessarily notice and point out unless it’s a negative, such as a website that looks too cheap to be from a reputable company. Listening to customer complaints - or just noting frequent requests for something you could provide, but aren’t - can go a long way to improving your tangibles. For online businesses, it can be helpful to work on promoting a strong customer service image.
Just like tangibles is one of the more difficult RATER metrics to explain, empathy is one of the easiest. Empathy governs exactly what it sounds like: do customers feel as though your team is empathetic?
A great example of empathy in action is having customized responses to customers who contact your company. Adding a few sentences that acknowledge the specific problem mentioned by a customer, then describing how that issue is being addressed, is a wonderful way to make them feel like you care about them.
Responsiveness governs how quickly, how well, and where you respond to your customers. Good responsiveness involves being available for customers during the times and channels that they prefer.
Imagine you signed up for a free trial and decided to cancel the day before the company would have charged you for full membership. If the company failed to respond to your cancellation request and charged your credit card anyway, you’d be upset. You might even warn your friends that such-and-such company is a scam, even if they fixed the situation a few days later.
If that company had responded right away, they would have avoided the negative word of mouth and might have even salvaged the membership through a one-on-one conversation.
Consider the following:
- Do your customers perceive you as being willing to help?
- Do you acknowledge the receipt of complaints and inquiries immediately?
- Do you address inquiries within 24 hours?
- Do you use multiple customer service channels (email, phone, social media…)?
All of those situations make an impact on your responsiveness. If you want to work on driving response times down while maintaining quality communication, you can read our advice here.
Making RATER Work for You
While you can benefit from applying the RATER metric internally, it’s most useful as a way to evaluate and categorize customer feedback. Using surveys that score your service according to the RATER metric will help you quickly identify which of the five metrics needs the most work. Once you know what your customers experience, it’s much easier to close the gap between their expectations and the service you provide.
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