In the ever competitive and dynamic economic climate today, service quality is becoming more important, as businesses are competing hard to gain customer loyalty and enhance customer satisfaction. Such a situation is indeed valid for the cafeteria businesses operating in universities around the world. Today, students have more choices outside the campus, and they are more willing to travel outside the campus to enjoy the food or beverages they like. Customers, students included, are simply becoming more demanding and choosy.
In this research, the service quality of the Yuan Vegetarian cafeteria inside the campus of University of Beijing will be researched, so that strategies and actions to be taken to further enhance the service quality of the cafeteria can be done.
There are several rationales leading to the need to perform such a study on Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria. Firstly, none of such kind of study had been performed for the cafeteria prior to this study. The management simply does not understand how the cafeteria fare in terms of service quality delivered to the students. Secondly, although the students that enroll in University of Beijing have been increasing steadily in the recent years, the revenue of the cafeteria remains constant. It is believed that something had gone wrong, leading to a situation of stagnant revenue. Thirdly, and most importantly, the management of the cafeteria desires to enhance the service quality of the cafeteria. Without a proper and organized study on the service quality of the cafeteria, it is hard for the management to understand which dimension of service quality should be improved, and thus will not be able to formulate relevant strategies for service quality improvement purposes.
Following from the discussion we had presented above, several research objectives can be formed. The research objectives of this study are to:
- To investigate the performance of four dimensions of service quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria. The four dimensions include: food quality, food variety, ambience and interaction with cafeteria personnel.
- To investigate the ways in which the service quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria can be further improved.
Guided by the research objectives outlined above, several research questions can be formulated. At the end of this study, these research questions will be answered. In this study, the research questions are:
- How is the performance of the service quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, judging from four facets of service quality as follow: food quality, food variety, ambience and interaction with cafeteria personnel?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the services quality provided by Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria to the customers?
- What are the relevant strategies that can be implemented to further strengthening the core competencies of the services quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, while mitigating or eliminating the weaknesses that had drag Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria’s revenue performance in the recent years?
In the context of management and marketing, the discussions of customer related issues are not something uncommon. Particularly in such a competitive business environment, no corporations will be able to achieve competitive advantages in the marketplace without seriously considering the voice of customers (Thomson, 2009). This is no hard to understand, as according to Rice et. al. (2009), when the business environment is becoming more competitive, to find a new customer can be really hard, if compared to the efforts required to retain an old customer. He further argued that the financial costs required in finding a new customer far exceed the costs required to retain an old customer. Not only that, it is also found that customer-oriented culture of a firm is often the key success factor leading to extraordinary performance of a firm. For this, Mereles et. al (2009) found that customer orientation culture is significantly correlated to the brand equity, financial performance and growth of a firm. This is not hard to understand, as it is also often mentioned that customer services is one of the critical dimensions of quality management in a company (Karna et. al., 2009). It is also worthy to mention that customer services are critical for both public and private organization. Mansor & Razali (2010) argued that it is important for private organizations because excellent customer services are the sources of competitive advantages of the firm, while good customer services at the public sector will enhance the reputation and public perceptions on the government.
In a comprehensive review of the literature, it is found that most of the researchers are targeting the training and development of employees as the key method to improve the quality of customer services. Instead, employees are often regarded as the internal customers of an organization. This is because only when the employees are happy, motivated and being served properly; they will be able to deliver similar excellent services to the customers outside the firm (Bouranta, 2009). Under such context, Alston-Watkins et. al. (2010) argued that it is in order to enhance the quality of customer services of an organization, it is crucial that the employees are being trained properly in the following areas: inter-personal relationship, an understanding on the needs, wants, and desires of customers, and how to act conforming to customers’ expectations. Many other researchers have similar ideas as well. For example, Madriz et. al. (2009) performs a research and found that properly train employees can significantly enhance the brand name, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty for the company. All these are simply not achievable is the employees are not properly trained to provide excellent customer services to customers. Rosa et. al. (2009) had similar findings as well. Overall, it is widely argued that only through well trained, motivated and passionate employees, the quality of customer services can be enhanced, which in turn will enable the firm to enhance customer satisfaction level as well as customer loyalty in the competitive business environment.
There are also other methods widely proposed by other researchers in improving the quality of customer services in the marketplace. According to Goldstein (2010), one of the key methods to enhance customer service is to establish multiple service channels to connect to the customers, while at the similar time to reduce the waiting time for customers. Jaska et. al. (2010) however, suggested that the use of technology equipments and devices can enhance the quality of customer services. They proposed that RFID can enhance customer services in many instances, as follow: the use of RFID to reduce car theft, to identify customers’ baggage for an airline company, to implement Customer Relationship Management program, or even for transfer of critical data of patients in health care related services.
There are also various researchers being performed to investigate the ways to further improve the quality of customer services for a firm or industry. For example, Dominici and Guzzo (2010) had performed a research on how to enhance customer services and satisfaction in the hotel industry in Sicily. Petruzzellis et. al. (2006) performed a research on the student satisfaction and quality of services in Italian universities. With the research, they able to formulate several strategies to further enhance the quality of customer services in the Italian universities. In the similar vein, Liang and Zhang however, performed a research to investigate the level of customer satisfaction as well as proposing the ways to enhance customer services in student food service in universities in China. Similarly, Shaikh (2009) had a research on the restaurant industry in Pakistan. His research concentrates on studying the impacts of service quality to customer satisfaction in the industry. Kumar, Johnson and Lai however presented a report and study on possible methods to improve the performance within the US airline industry, by comparing the best airline operators to the rest.
In this study, a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies will be used. Both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies are used because each research methodologies have respective strengths and weaknesses. A combination of the two different while complementary research methods will enable us to understand the subjects under researched in greater details.
In the first part, quantitative research design will be used to investigate the perceptions of students on four facets of services quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria. Likert scale research questionnaire will be designed, distributed to randomly selected students. The reason quantitative research is useful in this context is that many research of this kind had already been performed to study the service quality of restaurants. Thus, by adopting and referring to those research questionnaires derived from peer-reviewed journals in the academic literature, a more reliable and acceptable research findings can be yielded.
In the second part, qualitative research questions will be used, in order to understand the complex psychological perceptions and responses of students towards the services quality provided by Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria. Open-ended questions will be useful here, as this study is designed to understand a previously unexplored phenomenon. The situation or the perceptions of students are largely unknown, and the key feedbacks from students are not understood. Thus, exploratory research questions will be useful to elicit critical information from the students.
In order to understand the level as well as the dimensions of services quality delivered by Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the Service Quality Model employed by Lian and Zhang (2009) will be adopted. According to the model, services quality can be decomposed into four dimensions as followed: food quality, food variety, ambience and interaction with cafeteria personnel.
In this model, the first facet of services quality is about food qualities – that include factors such as the appearance of the food, the taste of the food, freshness of the food, quality of the ingredients used to serve the food, as well as the consistency of the food quality from time to time. The second facet, namely, food variety include several factors as follow: adequate types of food provided, availability of food to cater for people from different culture, religions or for those with certain health issues, as well as if special cooked meals are available from time to time. The third fact is ambience. In this facet, several factors as follow are considered: availability of seat, reasonable opening hours, decoration so the cafeteria, comfortable seating arrangement provided, noise level in the cafeteria as well as cleanliness of the cafeteria. The last facet is about the manner the customers interact with the cafeteria personnel. In this facet, several dimensions to be surveyed include: friendliness of the staffs, cleanliness of the staffs, attitudes of the staffs (i.e., if they are smiling always, or easy to talk to), and if the servicing line move fast.
This study will be conducted for 6 days in a week (i.e., whenever the cafeteria open); for a period of 2 months. In each of the day, 2 randomly selected students will be asked to answer the research questionnaire in the morning, and another 2 in the afternoon and 2 more in the evening. Thus, a total of 6 set of sample will be collected for each day. Only those students that are willing to cooperate in this research design will be interviewed. No coercive forces will be applied to persuade them to participate in the research design.
In order to understand the four facets of service quality related to Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the following questions are used (As mentioned above, adopted from Lian and Zhang (2009)). All of the following questions are designed as a 7-scale Likert style question, where students will be asked to circle one of the number from 1 (i.e., strongly disagree) to 7 (i.e., strong agree).
To investigate the food quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the following questions are used:
- The quality of the food is good.
- The appearance of the food is good.
- The taste/ flavor of the food are good.
- The quality of the ingredient used is good.
- Foods are always the same quality.
To investigate the food variety of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the following questions are used:
- An adequate number of food choices are available.
- The choices of foods available allow me to meet special dietary needs such as low fat or diabetes.
- The choices of foods available allow me to meet my cultural and ethnic preferences.
- Special meals and promotions are offered frequently.
To investigate the ambience of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the following questions are used:
- I always have a place to sit.
- I am pleased with the opening hours.
- I like the decorations in the cafeteria.
- The seats are comfortable.
- Noise level is OK.
- Cleanliness is good.
To investigate the ‘interaction with cafeteria personnel’ of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria, the following questions are used:
- The staffs are clean and neat.
- The staffs are friendly.
- It is easy to communicate with the staffs.
- The staffs smile and greet me when I am served.
- The serving line moves fast.
Besides, qualitative questions will also be provided. Students will be asked to provide the three most important feedbacks on how the services quality of the cafeteria can be improved.
When the data are collected from the students (in the paper format, filled up by the respective students), all these data will be tabulated and enter into Excel Spreadsheet for analysis purposes. In order to analyze the nature/ characteristics of these data, statistical tool/ software such as SPSS will be used. It is suitable for this study because SPSS is often used by researchers in investigating business and social sciences related issues. One the data is copied into SPSS software, the many statistical functions on SPSS can be used to generate descriptive statistics for all of the variables as mentioned above. Statistical variables such as mean, median, maximum value, minimum value as well as standard deviation of the variables can be generated.
In the questionnaires designed above, it is found that the higher the score of the question (from the Likert scale rating), the better the rating of services quality from that dimension is (as perceived by the students). In order to know the distribution of the variables, histogram for the variables will also be generated from SPSS. T-test can be used to compare the mean value. The ranking of the mean value of all of these variables can then be arranged, so that researcher can understand which dimensions score best (or worst) from the perceptions of customers. As that is found, management can then form strategies to correct the weaknesses exists on that particular dimension. Based on the findings, management will be required to investigate the root causes of such weaknesses and to take corrective actions accordingly. Besides, based on the answered from open-ended question provided to the students, researchers can make a summary on what is the 10 most commonly suggestions by students on how to further enhance the services quality of the cafeteria.
Three types of presentation can be provided. Firstly, table that summarizes statistical characteristics of these variables under researched can be provided as shown in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Sample of Table for Data Presentation
Besides, histogram can be provided. From SPSS, the normal curve can be generated as well. A sample of histogram is shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Sample of Histogram for Data Presentation
In the research study, several ethical issues must be aware by the researchers, so that the research will not create harm or lead to ethical issues in the future. Firstly, it is important that the researchers must find ways to protect the confidentiality of the research participants. This is important as leakages of the survey may create harm to the students participated in the research. Besides, the researchers must inform the students that they are participating in a research study used to enhance the services quality of the cafeteria, so that they understand that their suggestions may be analyzed and implemented. If that is not done, students may not aware that they are being used or involved in the marketing process of the cafeteria to lure the students to have meals more often in the cafeteria. As the research findings, will ultimately affect the students in one or another way, it will be ethical to let the students understand the objectives of the research. Thirdly, the data collected must be protected to prevent unrelated party to have access to the research findings. It is not proper to let others to obtain the data, as students are informed that the research findings will only be used for improving services quality of Yuan Vegetarian Cafeteria. Of course, that means selling the data obtained from the research is definitely unethical, and may be illegal as well. Lastly, the question if such research findings should be published for academic purposes should also be considered. It must be understood that although relevant measures have been taken to hide the name of the research participants, other smart readers or researchers may be able to guess the subject under studied.
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