The terms satisfaction and service quality are frequently used interchangeably; this mistake has led to confusion and to mislabeling (or misrepresentation) of study findings. Satisfaction is an emotional reaction—the degree of contentment or discontentment. Satisfaction may or may not be directly related to the performance of the library on a specific occasion. A customer can receive an answer to a query but be unsatisfied because of an upsetting or angry encounter. Conversely, although the query might remain unanswered, another customer might feel satisfied because the encounter was pleasant and the helper interested and polite.
Service quality, as used in this book, is a global judgment relating to the superiority of a service as viewed in the context of specific statements that the library is willing to act on if customers find them of great value. The implication is that a number of transactions or encounters that an individual experiences with a particular organization fuse to form a positive impression of service quality for that person. The collective experiences of many people create an organization’s reputation for service quality.
Marketing consultant George E. Kroon offers other ways to look at service quality: conformance, expectation, market perception, and strategic. (Because the last of these measures applies only to commercial establishments, we will not consider it here.) Conformance requires that standards for quality be set for many processes and functions. The intent is to reduce mistakes (e.g., shelving errors), streamline workflow (e.g., cut backlogs), and establish required behaviors on the part of staff (e.g., ask if the customer got what was desired). Setting standards for service quality, as opposed to targets for work productivity in technical services or restrictions on the time allowed to answer reference questions, is rather a novel idea for libraries, but one whose time has come. The library has considerable control over quality as conformance to standards that it can use to improve service in many areas.