An application of SERVQUAL to determine customer satisfaction of furniture retailers in Southern Africa : a cross–national study
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Africa, and Southern Africa in particular, has been identified by both South African and international retail chains as an area for growth. Because conflict on the continent has all but dissipated, economic growth naturally follows political stability. Africa, with its wealth of resources, provides attractive markets for international investors. This increased investment leads to a growing middle class, with growing needs for goods and services. The reason for the interest from organised retail is therefore obvious. The challenge, however, is that, given the size of the individual markets in Southern Africa, it is not financially viable to have an independent marketing strategy for each market. There is no cross-national empirical research that has measured customers’ expectations and perceptions, allowing marketers to develop financially viable marketing strategies. This research, which can be considered an exploratory study, attempted to fill that void. Quality is an elusive and indistinct construct, and as such, it is difficult to measure. A large body of customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction literature acknowledges the importance of expectations in the customers’ evaluation (perception) of their service experience. Although there are several models which have been used to measure service quality, SERVQUAL remains the most popular. It has been successfully adapted to a range of service and retail environments, more especially in emerging markets. This study also employs an adapted SERVQUAL instrument to measure customer satisfaction levels in Southern Africa. The main objective of this study was to investigate the similarities in and differences between the perceptions and expectations regarding service quality of the customer groups of retail stores in different Southern African countries in order to develop financially viable retail strategies. In order to achieve this, the following secondary objectives were identified: *To determine the applicability of the adapted SERVQUAL model in Southern African countries. *To determine, by means of a cross-national study, whether other dimensions of service quality are relevant in the development of a service quality model in a Southern African context. The research population constituted all the existing and potential customers of Beares, Ellerines and FurnCity stores in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa. Six hundred questionnaires in total were distributed, one hundred being sent to different stores in each of the six countries. Stores were chosen from both rural and metropolitan areas. This was a convenience sample and an interviewer-administered survey. Existing and prospective customers were intercepted in the store and interviewed by store managers. The findings indicated that there were statistically significant differences between expectations and perceptions in two factors of the measuring scale. Although the measuring instrument SERVQUAL was found to be both valid and reliable, only two factors were loaded during the analysis stage, and, as a result, the adaptability of SERVQUAL is questionable. The effect of culture does not form part of the SERVQUAL measuring scale yet service quality literature indicates that national cultures affect both the perceptions and the expectations of service quality.