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Is Service Quality More Important than Product Quality?

This past weekend, Apple released the iPad 3. My daughter and I visited the Apple store in downtown San Francisco to take a peek at their new device. Of course, the store was packed full of Apple fans, each trying out the new iPad. This particular in-store experience got me thinking about the role of product vs. customer service/tech support in driving customer loyalty to a brand or company.

Product vs. Tech Support

Figure 1. Descriptive Statistics and Correlations among Variables

There has been much talk about how companies need to focus on customer service/tech support to help differentiate themselves from their competitors. While I believe that customer service/tech support is important in improving the customer relationship to increase customer loyalty, this focus on customer service has distracted attention from the importance of the product.

I will illustrate my point using some data on PC manufacturers I collected a few years ago. I have three variables for this analysis:

  1. Advocacy Loyalty
  2. PC Quality
  3. Tech Support Quality

Advocacy Loyalty was measured using 4 items (e.g., overall sat, recommend, buy again, and choose again for first time) using a 0 to 10 scale. PC Quality and Tech Support Quality were each measured on a 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) scale. PC Quality was the average of three questions (PC meets expectations, PC is reliable, PC has features I want). Tech Support Quality was the average of six questions (tech support timely, knowledgeable, courteous, understands needs, always there when needed).

Figure 2. Path Diagram of Study Variables

Product is More Important than Technical Support in Driving Advocacy Loyalty

The descriptive statistics and correlations among these variables are located in Figure 1. A path diagram of these variables is presented in Figure 2. As you can see, when comparing the impact of each of the customer touch points on advocacy loyalty, PC quality has the largest impact (.68) while Tech Support as the smallest impact (.21) on advocacy loyalty.

As the results show, advocacy loyalty is more highly correlated with PC quality (.79) than with technical support quality (.59). Even when examining the partial correlations among these variables (controlling for the effect of the third variable), PC quality is much more closely linked to advocacy loyalty (.68) than is technical support quality (.22).

Summary

People don’t frequent a store primarily because of the service. They flock to a company because of the primary product the company provides. Can we please temper all this talk about how important service quality is relative to the product?  Ask anybody at that Apple store why they were there and they would tell you it was because of the products, not the service.

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