Prof A. Parasuraman holds the James W McLamore Chair in Marketing (endowed by the Burger King Corporation) and is Director of PhD Programmes at the School of Business, University of Miami. A B.Tech from IIT Madras and an MBA from IIM-A in 1972, Parasu, as he’s known, obtained his Doctor of Business Administration from Indiana University.
Parasu teaches and does research in the areas of services marketing, service quality measurement and improvement, and the role of technology in marketing to and serving customers. He was selected as one of the ‘Ten Most Influential Figures in Quality’ by The Quality Review, co-published by the American Quality Foundation and the American Society for Quality Control. A ‘distinguished alumnus’ awardee of IIT Madras, Parasu was in his home town, Chennai, recently for a workshop on service excellence. In this interview, he talks about establishing a Service Excellence Centre in collaboration with IMT Ghaziabad and developing a service excellence index as well.
At most Indian companies service sucks. What message do you have for them?
Service by and large stinks across the board, though there are pockets of excellence everywhere, even in the Indian context. There is no platform right now to change the status quo from a ‘stinking’ type of service to an acceptable level of service. There’s tremendous opportunity to generate India-centric knowledge. India is unique as there are infrastructure problems and lots of different variations and complexities within the country.
On the positive side, this offers a rich laboratory to take some of the general principles that we know, and which I have personally developed over the years, on what good quality means and what contributes to lack of it. So, this laboratory opens up a window of opportunity for an institute such as IMT Ghaziabad to capitalise on by setting up an India-centric Centre for Service Excellence. It won’t be a sector-specific centre because there’s a great need for the entire business community to be made aware of the status of quality of service.
What can companies do to make the change?
That’s where the pedagogy and the industry-academia collaboration, under the platform of this Centre come in. As the first initiative we want to establish a service excellence index. We will take from the knowledge that we already have about service quality in developing the index. We want to measure it across individual sectors and compare it. There will be variations, banking may be better than the retail sector and even within retail, perhaps e-commerce may be worse than in-store service … The idea is to publish this index, make it publicly available and this can then generate discussion across companies and across sectors. The same thing can apply to geographical differences in service quality. It can create more awareness and sensitivity to service excellence. The data that is generated can serve as further fodder for what should be done to change the scenario.
Will it be a common index or sector-specific?
It will be a common methodology and measure the service as experienced by customers. It will be a robust indication of what the levels of service excellence are in different sectors. It will be based on a survey of customers and the service experienced by them. Our goal is to do all the data collection and methodology done over the next few months, and have the index ready by the first quarter of next year. The sample sizes will be 200 to 300 for each of the verticals, but more important is how representative the sample is than how large it is.
What are the key issues confronting marketing today?
There are a lot of technologies available today to collect all kinds of data from different customer touchpoints. The problem is of companies drowning in data. A lot of information is being gathered in different formats, in videos, audio, behavioural information, online activities and so on but trying to combine all of these and making sense of this is a challenge to the marketing discipline.
So, do senior managers have to re-learn the rules of marketing?
Some of the basics are still the same, the 4 Ps are not going to go away. You cannot be an excellent marketer if you cannot offer excellent service. You can have features, bells and whistles, but the key to differentiating yourself and breaking away from the pack, in a marketing sense, is dependent on your quality of service.