Category Archives: Employability Skills

Discover the five service ‘gaps’

Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry introduced the SERVQUAL framework in 1985. It is essentially a process that describes five potential service gaps that organisations should minimise if they want to be known for consistently delivering service excellence. Minimising each gap contributes to an organisation’s capacity to meet or exceed the expectations of its customers.

The gaps are described below with an examples provided to help you to understand what each gap ‘looks like’.

Gap 1 The Management Perception Gap
A gap can exist between managements understanding of customer expectations and the actual expectations of customers. If management get this wrong, everything else they do will be wrong and the service gap is likely to grow exponentially. Organisations must do everything in their power to minimise the chances that Gap 1 exists.

Cocac Cola has dominated the soda drink market for decades. yet, in the early 1980s Coca-Cola decided to introduce ‘New Coke’ (some of you will remember, many of you won’t.) The tatse for ‘New Coke’ was supposed to be a modern taste that the ‘consumers wanted.’ Nothing could have been further from the truth. Coke sales plummetted. Management had clearly misunderstood their market and had made a series of poor decisions as a result of their misunderstanding.

If you create Gap 1 then everything else you do as an organisation will take you further away from providing what your customers want. It is for this reason that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE said:

“Service. If you haven’t got it, don’t even bother getting out of bed if you want to be a senior leader. It’s such an entry level requirement it isn’t even worth talking about it.” (Jack Welch, ex GE CEO)

Gap 2 The Quality Service Standards Gap
It is one thing to be able to understand the expectations of those you serve. A gap can then emerge if your translation of those expectations into service standards is inaccurate. Service standards are effectively the systems and processes that you put into place to ensure that you can consistently meet the expectations of your customers. This is very easy to get wrong and requires a high understanding of the expectations of your customers, as well as a high level of understanding of how your organisations works if you are to minimise this gap.

An example of Gap 2 in action is provided by a quote from a research participant. The person was a fitness centre manager. In this example, niotice how it connects to the concept of Structure Drives Behaviour.

Quote (Research participant)
The members said that they wanted the gymnasium to open at 6am. So I employed the staff to start their shift at 6am. The members were still not happy. I was confused. When I asked them again why they weren’t happy they said, “We told you that we wanted the gym open at 6am, not ‘opening’ at 6am. There’s a difference!” Finally I understood. The staff would be paid to start at 5:45am so that the gym would be truly open as had been requested. I had been wrong. I had misinterpreted the expectations of the members.

Gap 3 The Service Delivery Gap
After all the systems and processes have been created, both the automated and human elements of the system must do what they are supposed to do. System errors or breakdowns and humans not doing what they are supposed to do can create immediate service gaps. No system or human is perfect or infallible. As such your organisation must consider what it will do if a Service Delivery Gap does occur.

A retail operation requires staff to work from a start time to a finish time. Usually there will be a staff member who is responsible for opening the retail outlet at a certain time. If that staff member is late then the retail outlet may not be open when customers expect it to be open. In this example, human error is responsible for creating a service gap.

Quote (Research participant)
Ultimately your staff have to do the right thing. It’s important to have the best systems and processes that you can, but ultimately your staff have to do the right thing. They have to properly implement what they are supposed to do.

Gap 4 The Market Communication Gap
If you say that you will respond to online customer feedback within 24 hours and you consistently take 48 hours to do it, then you have created a Market Communication Gap.

The local barber who cuts my hair has two signs out the front of his barber’s shop. One sign says that the shop will be open at 8:30am. The second says 8:45am. The barber is rarely there before 9am. He has no idea how many people have looked in his window when he wasn’t open when he advertised that he would be. My expectations are consistently not met. One day a new barber will move into an empty shop in the shopping strip. What do you think I will do?

Sorry mate. I know that I said sorry the last couple of times but my car broke down and I had to wait for my wife. Sorry mate.

Gap 5 The Perceived Service Quality Gap
The final gap is the perceived service quality that the customer has of their total experience in relation to their original expectation of the product or service. Ideally there is no gap here or, if there is a gap, it is in the context that the perceived service level is higher than original expectations. Unfortunately, the four previous gaps can create a significant negative gap at Gap 5.

I describe this gap like this because service providers are often unaware that this gap exists. As such they don’t do anything to close this gap. This leaves them exposed to a competitior or new service provider from appearing to ‘steal’ their customers ‘overnight’. The reality is that their customers were simply waiting for a better alternative to ‘pop up’, so when it did they ‘defected’ as quickly as they could. Do you think my barber (Gap 4 above) is at risk of this occuring?

A similar gap can exist for internal service providers. I am aware of teams of internal staff who have failed to provide high service standards to others within their organisation. When their service has been ‘outsourced’ those staff and team members have become indignant. “How dare they outsource our department!”. Yet they had not been prepared to ‘see’ other staff as their ‘customers’ and treat them accordingly.

Quote (Research participant)
You know they don’t really have to do all that much. If they just met my expectations I’d be happy. But they really don’t seem to care. And as soon as I get a chance to go somewhere else I will. And they won’t even know what happened to me. It’s a shame, really. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Your challenge is to be aware of these five gaps and to be pro-active in managing them. This is a never-ending activity because customer expectations can change ‘overnight’.

Please share your experiences with relation to how you have managed the five service gaps.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Do you listen ‘…with your answer running’?

Last night I was facilitating a workshop for mentors for Monash University, Australia’s largest university. Throughout the workshop the participants had been holding a conversation regarding the importance of listening. One participant suggested that if you listen, “…while your answer is running in your head, then you are not listening at all.”

I had never heard this description for not listening and it struck me a s a clear example of what really does go on when people are supposed to be listening.

Often people are simply waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that they can ‘take their turn’ and now say what they have been preparing to say. Recently I facilitated a development half day for an executive team and one of the activities that I facilitated was called Turning Points. In that activity participants share significant events in their lives that, if they had not occurred the person believes that they would not be in the physical room on that day; they would be somewhere else in the world because their life would have travelled a different path.

Due to the personal nature of the stories I ask the participants to, “Do whatever it takes to listen with one hundred percent attention”. After people have shared their stories we then talk about the quality of listening that was occurring throughout the conversation.

Participants commonly report that they couldn’t believe how much they ‘heard’. When asked why they heard so much, the regular reply is, “I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to give them my full attention. I didn’t have any opinions about what they were saying so it made it easier to listen”.

I then ask team members if the quality of listening that they just experienced is regularly present in their team meetings. “Rarely, if ever” is the normal response.

Listening is regularly listed as one of the most important characteristics of effective leaders. So how do you listen with 100 percent attention when you do have an opinion about what the other person is saying?

A couple of techniques to consider are to consciously make the choice to listen to someone. You might even say to yourself, “I am going to listen to this person with one hundred percent attention.” Choosing to listen to someone from the perspective of trying to understand fully what they are saying is a powerful way to enhance your listening. It re-enforces that your own opinion is not worth saying of even fully formulating until you have understood the other person to the best of your ability.

Statements such as, “What I think you just said was…” are ways of checking your understanding.

Listening is not easy. In fact my view is that it is the most difficult of all the skills of effective leadership. yet it is also a critical skill to master. So it is worth making the effort to:

  1. Make the conscious choice to listen; and
  2. Listen first to understand.

What practical tactics to you use to enhance the quality of your listening, particularly when you are in team meetings and you do have strong views about the topic?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

What Really Matters! Volume 2, No 1, 2010 ebook

What Really Matters! Volume 2, Number 1, 2010 is now available to be downloaded as a gift to you.

This ebook is a collection of selected articles from January 1st 2010 through to March 31st 2010.

I am confident that you will enjoy it and find it to be a useful resource for quickly accessing articles for your personal & professional development.

Please feel free to provide any feedback about the ebook.

You can download the free ebook here.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

How to leverage part time and volunteer work

Holiday seasons are terrific for many reasons. None the least is the opportunity to catch up with friends and family as well as the opportunity to relax. For many people, especially students, holiday season means that you have the chance to earn some money. If you aren’t taking extra classes over your break, then the opportunity to work and earn some extra dollars is huge. Many students relish in the opportunity to work not only because of the money but because of the social side of work life too, depending of course on the industry that you are working in.

Unfortunately, many students don’t take full advantage of their holiday work. Oh, by the way, when I say work, I also mean volunteer work. Of course this means that no extra money will be earnt, but something far more valuable than money (unless you are starving!) can be learnt! Yes, that’s right, learnt!

Too often I hear students say that they are ‘just a check-out chick’, or “I just work at a cafe”, or “I just provide meals to homeless people.”. There is no such thing as “Just a part time job”! Not if you are prepared to consider the employability skills that you are developing while doing your work. Below is a short list of ten skills that part time / volunteer work develops:

1. Communication skills
2. Problem solving skills
3. Initiative
4. Teamwork
5. Using various forms of technology
6. Planning and organising skills
7. Service excellence skills
8. Leadership skills
9. Learning skills
10. Self management skills

Let’s look briefly at some examples of how you might develop these skills in practice:

1. Communication skills
If you have to communicate with your boss, other team members and/or the general public, then you have the opportunity to develop communication skills. It doesn’t matter whether the predominant form of communication is via a telephone (as in a contact centre) or face to face (as in a cafe). You still have the opportunity to test whether you are communicating effectively. Here’s a tip – good communicators are good listeners, which also means that you are good at asking questions. So, develop your questioning skills and your communication skills will skyrocket!

2. Problem solving skills
Problems occur all the time. In every job. A computer won’t work. The electric doors are stuck shut. Another staff member didn’t turn up for their shift. The delivery that was meant to come in hasn’t arrived yet and customers are waiting for their orders. The list goes on. Each of these examples is a wonderful opportunity for you to consciously practice your problem solving skills. Not only that, you have a wonderful opportunity to create a bank of stories about how you solve problems. Can you imagine any of your future employers not wanting a problem solver? Neither can I!

3. Initiative skills
Showing initiative is when you do something that is helpful without having been asked to do it. Every time a problem arises at work you have an opportunity to show initiative. Every time you see that something could go wrong (like someone slipping on a banana peel) and you take action to stop that from happening (like picking up the banana peel) you are showing initiative. Opportunities to demonstrate initiative are everywhere. Keep your eye out for them and grasp them with both hands when they pop up. They also create great stories that can be used in interviews.

4. Teamwork
There is hardly a job that exists that does not involve teamwork. Even if you work alone, you are probably still part of a team. A night shift worker at a convenience store is part of a team with their manager and other staff, even if they rarely see each other. How? What is your response when another team member rings you and asks you to cover their shift? One of the reasons why you might say yes is because you are in a team and when you are in a team sometimes you have to cover for each other. Imagine the interview when you are asked about your experience of working in teams. It may be your stories that relate to covering for teammates (notice the deliberate use of language!) that you use to answer such a question. The beauty is that your answer would be both true and genuine. Perfect!

5. Using technology
Technology is everywhere, but it isn’t just using electronic devices such as computers, scanners, point-of-sale and other devices. It can be writing on whiteboards, driving forklifts (providing you have a license) and whatever else you have to use to do your job. You may be a volunteer who plants trees along freeways or in parks. The shovels, picks and other tools that you use are all forms of technology. The purpose of having a range of stories about your capacity to use different types of technology is to demonstrate that you are a fast learner and can quickly adapt to a range of technologies. Most students don’t even think about these things as being relevant to their future. But, they are!

6. Planning and organising skills
In whatever work you are doing be on time. Full stop. Employers like it and they expect it. Full stop. Practice it and practice it now. Full stop. Get it?

7. Leadership skills
For those of you who have responsibility for a team or other staff, then you have the opportunity to develop your leadership skills. How do you treat the people who you lead? What are your mental models about leadership? How are your personal values reflected in how you treat the people you are leading? Conscious thought about these questions can create wonderful leadership experiences for you as well as the opportunity to make relatively ‘safe’ mistakes. Think about your personal theory about formal leadership. Try it out. See if it works. Most of all, learn how to lead by doing it when the opportunity arises.

8. Learning skills
Part time and volunteer work always involves learning some of the following:
• a new set of technical skills
• policies and procedures
• cash management processes
• customer service procedures
• people’s names
• how to work in a team
• how to communicate the ‘company way’ (e.g. contact centres often have their ‘formula’ that you are expected to follow)
• how to make food and drinks (e.g. cafes and fast food outlets)

This list could go on and on but I think you get the picture. The point is, notice what you have to learn to do your job. Imagine if you were ever asked (in an interview), “How do you learn outside of university?”. You’ll have a mountain of examples from which to draw your answer!

9. Service excellence skills
No job is worth its salt if you aren’t able to practice developing your service excellence skills. Quite simply service excellence is like oxygen. While we don’t exist for it, we can’t live without it. It is a basic requirement for any job. So, you must understand it and consciously practice it. The simplest and best practice to adopt is, “Everyone is my customer; my boss, my colleagues and my customers” (and if you don’t have ‘customers’ just insert whatever word works for you). If you wouldn’t choose to be a customer of yourself, then you need to improve whatever it is that you are doing. It’s a smart practice to develop this skill because while it is like oxygen it is surprising just how many people are ‘suffocating’ themselves (in a career sense!) because they haven’t developed it.

10. Self management skills
In order to consciously practice the above skills you have to practice self-management skills. For example, you will have all had a ‘first day on the job’ experience. How did you handle it? What happened? How did you overcome any ‘bad’ experiences? A ‘first day on the job’ can also mean performing a new role at work. Often these types of days require a significant amount of positive self-talk, time management, problem solving and communication skills. Self-management is, in many ways, a reflection of all the skills above. Oh, by the way, self-management skills in this context can also considered self-leadership skills. So, if you don’t have a job where you formally ‘lead’ other people, your self-management skills can provide examples of self-leadership, which is critical for building the capacity to lead others.

Part time and volunteer work are goldfields as far as developing your employability skills are concerned. However, just like walking through a goldfield and not stopping to ‘mine for gold’ will produce nothing of any great value, not consciously developing your employability skills while working part time or volunteering is crazy! Don’t be crazy. Take full advantage of your opportunities. The gold in this sense will come in the future when you get the job that you really want. So, enjoy your holiday season and enjoy developing yourself even more!

Please feel free to make a comment or to ask a question about this article.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at