The downside of concentrating solely on conformance quality is that the focus is internal and may not match customer expectations or preferences. Although conformance standards are desirable, they should not be used in isolation.
The second dimension is customer expectations. Expectations are influenced by factors outside the control of management, such as customers’ prior experience, word of mouth, and competitor behavior. Performance that repeatedly, or in some particular way, fails to meet customers’ expectations is a clear signal to management that improvement is needed. Such improvement can be facilitated by training, technology, or conformance standards. Sometimes, however, customers have erroneous or unrealistic ideas about the service. In these cases, customers should be told why their expectations cannot be met.
The third dimension of service quality is market perception—evaluation against competitors. Libraries realize they have competitors beyond just other libraries. These competitors include, for instance, bookstores where customers can read without buying and enjoy food and drink; Redbox, Netflix, and iTunes for movies; iTunes, Blip.fm, Last.fm, and Pandora for music; and search engines such as Google for information and for creating the impression that the Internet offers everything. Amazon.com is also a competitor because of its vast offerings and ability to fill many orders promptly. This dimension forces libraries to ask the following questions: Why don’t more people use us? What do we do better than other service organizations (including other libraries)? How do we alert customers to this? Do their patterns of use realign and tip in our favor? The key is not just to ask these questions but to develop innovative ways to answer them—persuading customers to make greater use of libraries.