By Eric Strickland, Safety Manager, Advanced Integrated Technology (AIT)
Members of the Virginia Ship Repair Association (VSRA) strive to provide quality products and services to the maritime industry. The challenge of meeting and exceeding expectations with regard to quality can become more daunting if you are a service provider, because service quality may be intangible and based on a customer’s perception.
What criteria might our customers use to form an opinion about a service provider? According to the Handbook for Measuring Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality: “Customers expect a consistent, reliable and timely provision of service, a service provider who possesses the skills necessary to provide the service and an accessible service provider who is polite and respectful, and who communicates with the customer in a language the customer is able to comprehend.” The authors of this publication suggest there are six components of service quality: tangibles, service reliability, responsiveness, assurance, safety and empathy.
Tangibles are the physical assets that a customer may see, feel or touch. A good example is replaced structural metal in the fuel tank of the USS Carter Hall.
The service reliability dimension is the ability to work within the time constraints that the customer imposes during the negotiation period. If a decommissioning or dry-docking is scheduled for two months, the customer has a reason for that timeline. Maybe it’s based on operating funds available or maintaining a certain amount of fleet readiness. Either way, completing the work within the required timeline will put VSRA members in a favorable position with its customers that will result in more follow- up work.
The responsiveness dimension in service quality is the ability to provide flexible service when job parameters or timelines change. For instance, if the customer decided that they wanted to remove a ship from dry-dock a week earlier or open additional tank work to a company, the VSRA members would have to respond in a collaborative way to meet their customer’s needs.
The assurance dimension is based on providing the right materials, worker certifications, paperwork and inspections necessary to prove that the completed work meets the required material and customer specifications and can be used as objective quality evidence. This is a very time-consuming process but one that is necessary to provide the guarantees the customer uses to justify the cost of the repairs.
The safety dimension provides for personnel and asset protection against damage or injury. These aspects are a major concern to our customers’ insurance costs and overall sustainability. Not being able to provide proper safety or assurance services provides no customer value and no competitive advantage for the VSRA’s members.
The last service quality dimension is empathy. Empathy relates to our understanding of the customer’s needs, budgets and responsiveness for the negotiated jobs. Sometimes our customers’ scopes of work, budgets or timelines are changed based on national defense measures or emergent problems. We have to understand how the problems affect the customers and collaborate with the customers to provide effective, efficient and sustainable solutions.
By focusing on these concepts and course-correcting as necessary, service providers may be able to enhance how they are perceived by customers.
About the Author
Eric Strickland is a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who spent 20 years in the Navy on nuclear submarines. He earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Regent University in 2014, and is married with four children. Eric currently works for Advanced Integrated Technology (AIT) as their Safety Manager.
 Eric J. Miller, Ricardo Byrd and David S. Kriger, A Handbook for Measuring Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality, (National Academy Press, 1999).