Service Quality in the Public Sector: Seoul Service Index

Youjae Yi, Seoul National University, Korea
Suna La, Korea National Open University, Korea
[ to cite ]:
Youjae Yi and Suna La (2005) ,"Service Quality in the Public Sector: Seoul Service Index", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 180-187.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 180-187


Youjae Yi, Seoul National University, Korea

Suna La, Korea National Open University, Korea


Recent trends in public administration emphasize quality management, citizen orientation and performance results (Alford 2002; Heinrich 2002; Kadiret al. 2000; Laszlo 1997; Rowley 1998; Wisniewski 2001). Korea is not the exception. For example, Seoul City, the capital city of Korea, has assessed citizen satisfaction annually since 1996 and it has reported the survey results to the public via mass media. Seoul City has offered monetary incentives to the several top organizations by using the citizen satisfaction scores every year.

However, the annual citizen satisfaction survey has its limitations since it has been used like a beauty contest. The survey measures, for instance, could hardly assess the citizen's long-term attitude toward a certain public service or provide information about the quality dimensions requiring improvement. It is difficult to compare sub-indices across industries because of inconsistent measures. Thus, there is a need for more appropriate criteria for public service quality which will provide accurate analyses of status quo, suggest ways for effective improvement, and capture the relationship between service quality and city performance from a macro perspective. We also need a system that allows one to compare indices, dimension scores, and component scores across industries. On this background, we have developed a new model of service quality in the public sector and named the model as Seoul Service Index (SSI).

There are several objectives in developing a new quality model for the public service sector. First, the model should facilitate broad understanding and easy adoption for an immediate institutionalization of the quality management system in the public sector in Seoul. Second, we need a model that guides the way of obtaining the world-class public service of Seoul City by considering various international quality criteria. Third, the model should be useful as an instrument for diagnosing and solving the quality problems for each public service organization by developing internal indices for organizations as well as external ones for their customers (citizens). Fourth, the model should give a comprehensive view by integrating relationships among internal quality management, citizen's perceived quality, and macro results of city performance.



SSI consists of two quality indices. One is SSPI (Seoul Service Potential Index), and the other is SSQI (Seoul Service Quality Index). SSPI assesses back-stage quality or the potential for future SSQI, which represents the level of quality management inside the public institution. SSQI is the citizen's perception of public service quality, which can be restated as on-stage quality. SSQI is based on the concept of perceived service quality (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry 1988) that is delivered at every service encounter and constitutes the total experience. SSQI is an instrument for observing the symptoms of the current state of service quality and providing information on which dimensions of quality need improvement. In contrast, SSPI detects the underlying problematic dimensions of quality, which citizens cannot perceive or evaluate directly. SSPI indicates the potential to be an excellent quality organization in the future.

The SSI model integrates the consequences of public service quality from the macro perspective. Undoubtedly, the ultimate goal of public administration is citizen loyalty and citizen happiness. Thus, the model should incorporate the ultimate goal as the construct of city performance (Anderson et al. 1994; Berman and Wang 2000; Bernhardt et al. 2000; Grapentine 1999; Wagenheini 1991). By incorporating city performance measures, the SSI model breaks the myopia of existing quality criteria for the public sector. The framework of the SSI model is shown in Figure 1.

SSPI Model

We reviewed existing quality criteria in both private and public sectors. There are various quality awards and models in many countries. We had reviewed the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the President Award, and the modified model of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for the County of Los Angeles (Harwick and Russell 1992) in USA. The Deming Award and Total Integrated Management (Azhashemi and Ho 1999) checklists had been reviewed for understanding the Japanese quality criteria. The EFQM Excellence Model (Eskildsen, Kristensen, and Juhl 2002; Sandbrook 2001) and the Charter Mark criteria were reviewed for understanding the European way of quality management. Besides, Canadian Quality Criteria for Public Sector, the Service Excellence Award in Singapore (SEA) were also reviewed. Many quality criteria were found to be modifications or specifications of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In Korea, the KS-SQI model sponsored by Korean Standards Association proposes five drivers of service quality (Yi and Lee 2001). As Seoul City used several criteria in diagnosing and analyzing public organizations' performance in 2001 and 2002, we also reviewed these criteria developed by Seoul City.

Most of the criteria mentioned above have enablers (or drivers) and results. As SSPI is defined as quality d rivers in the present study, we extracted enablers from various models and categorized them initially into ten categories on the basis of similarity in conceptual definition and measurement while considering the characteristics of public institutions. These ten categories were named as components of SSPI. After all models were scrutinized, four upper constructs were also developed that can embrace all ten categories. These four constructs were named as dimensions of SSPI. Each dimension was designed to reflect two or three components. To-ensure the careful and logical model building of SSPI, 22 experts in the relevant areas were asked to verify the model. The final hierarchical model of SSPI is shown in Figure 2.

SSQI Model

We conducted an extensive literature review on perceived service quality. The most popular and widespread model of SERVQUAL has been criticized in that most of its quality dimensions were excessively focused on process quality (Powpaka 1996; Richard and Allaway 1993). Some recent studies emphasized a need for more balanced and structural perspectives into service quality (Brady and Cronin 200 1; Rust and Oliver 1994), and some have developed industry-specific quality dimensions (Asubonteng et al. 1996; Dabholkar et al. 1996).

Balanced emphasis on both process and outcome quality could overcome the shortcomings of SERVQUAL model. Furthermore, a new dimension of service environment quality seems to be needed in order to reflect the recent consumer tendency to become more sensitive to amenity, convenience or aesthetics of physical evidence of service providers (Brady and Cronin 2001; Gronroos 1984; Rust and Oliver 1994). Considering the characteristics of public service, such as protection of minority, citizen safety, distribution equality, etc., we added a new dimension of social quality. Thus, SSQI has four dimensions of Process, Outcome, Servicescape, and Societal Quality. We expect that these four dimensions can be applied to any type of public service.

Sub-components of each dimension were then developed by investigating, collecting and categorizing various quality components and measures in the literature including the KS-SQI model developed in Korea (Yi and Lee 2001). The SSQI model consists of four quality dimensions and ten components with multiple measures. The final hierarchical model of SSQI is presented in Figure 3.





CP Model

The last stage is the development of city performance dimensions. After reviewing public administration research, we finally found out the most appropriate aspects of city performance: Citizen Loyalty and Citizen Happiness. In the private sector, quality service companies are rewarded with customer satisfaction and loyalty such as positive word-of-mouth, advocacy, and patronage (Yi and La 2004). With the similar rationales, it can be argued that the public service institutions' performance should be evaluated as Citizen Satisfaction and Citizen Loyalty (Alford 2002; Donnelly 1999; Sureshchandar et al. 2001; Wilson and Collier 2000; Wisniewski 2002).,Citizen Satisfaction could be viewed in the macro perspective so that the CS concept could be extended to Citizen Happiness. The sub-components of Citizen Happiness were developed to be Subjective QOL (Quality Of Life) and Feeling of Happiness. We developed 'Advocacy of Seoul City Policy' and 'Intention to Reside in Seoul' as the components of the Citizen Loyalty dimension and 'Subjective QOL' and 'Feeling of Happiness' as the components of the Citizen Happiness dimension. The final hierarchical model of SSQI is presented in Figure 4.








I. Method

We tried to develop at least two measures for each construct. For the test of SSPI, evaluation sheets were developed that can be assessed by experts based on the field research, observations and documents. For the test of SSQI and CP, citizen survey questionnaires were developed. Measures included one item for 'overall perception' in addition to several items for 'attributes perception.' We selected representative, mutually exclusive, and industry-specific attributes. Subjective weights on dimensions and components were also measured. In sum, we developed 43 items for SSPI and 58 items for SSQI and CP.

Finally 22 experts including public officials and professors were recruited for the verification of the models of SSPI, SSQI and CP. A citizen survey was conducted for two public services of subway and civil affairs administration. The sample consisted of 200 citizens for subway and 220 citizens for civil affairs administration. All the questions were measured with 7-point scales.

2. Results

Exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis were conducted. The results showed that each dimension had two or three components and each component had one or two measures. All the path coefficients were acceptable, and model fit indices of the CFA looked very satisfactory: X2(121)=271.54, the non-normed fit index (NNFI)=.98, the comparative fit index (CFI)=.93, and the standardized root mean-squared residual (SRMR)=.05. To check the reliability of measures, we assessed Cronbach's a. All the measures showed a satisfactory level of reliability; Cronbach's a of each component ranged from .82 to .91. Subjective weights were also asked and calculated according to the formula shown in Figure 5.

The weighted model and the unweighted model were compared via structural equation analysis. The overall fit indices were better for the weighted model rather than for the unweighted model: X2(18)=51.92, the non-normed-fit index (NNFI)=.95, the comparative fit index (CFI)=.97, and the standardized root mean-squared residual (SRMR)=.07. Taken together, the findings indicated that there was a satisfactory fit between the proposed model and the data (Bagozzi and Yi 1988).

Next, an analysis of causal relationships among constructs was conducted. The entire structural model was run for the total sample of subway and civil affairs administration. The results are presented in Figure 7. Overall, path coefficients and model fit indices look satisfactory.


SSI Scores

The first-year survey was conducted for 7 industries in the public sector in Seoul metropolitan city: civil affairs, public health centers, buses, municipal hospitals, cleaning, water supply and subway. SSI scores were calculated by the following formula: SSI=.6*SSQI + .4*SSPI, putting more weights on SSQI than on SSPI following experts' suggestions. SSQ1 analysis was conducted for all the 7 industries, and SSPI analysis was conducted for the first 5 industries. Thus, SSI scores were calculated for 5 industries. Figure 8 shows the scores of SSQI, SSPI, and SSI for five industries.

Causal Relationships

We analyzed causal relationships between SSQI and CP in each industry. The path coefficients and overall model fit indices for each industry look satisfactory.





We then compared the relative importance between the link of SSQI-Citizen Loyalty and the link of SSQI-Citizen Happiness. Chi-square difference tests were conducted for seven industries. The results showed that there were no significant chi-square differences between the paths for subway, cleaning, buses and public health centers. However, significant chi-square differences between the paths were found for municipal hospitals, water supply and civil affairs administration, in which SSQI had more impact on Citizen Loyalty than on Citizen Happiness. Figure 9 shows the results for municipal hospitals, water supply and civil affairs administration.

We also compared the SSQI-CP relationship across industries. The results are shown in Figure 10. Public health centers had the highest SSQI but the lowest SSQI-CP relationships. Buses had the lowest SSQI but the moderate level of SSQI-CP relationships. Subway had very low SSQI but the highest SSQI-CP relationships. These results suggest that improving service quality in some industries can enhance city performance relatively more than in other industries.





This study has a lot of managerial contributions for public administrators. First of all, if the SSI model is institutionalized in the public sector, constructive competition in pursuit of high service quality will be facilitated. Second, this model will promote service-focused management in the public sector. Third, it enables one to conduct causes and effects analysis via the link of 'SSPISSQI-CP.' Fourth, the SSI model can be used as a managerial tool for diagnosis and treatment at each organization. Fifth, this model will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of quality improvement efforts. Sixth, public institutions will acquire citizen trust via the feedback system of the SSI model. Seventh, it provides the goal-oriented assessment system.

This study also suggests several theoretical implications. First, it extends the measurement model because the SSI model was developed based on the extensive literature review, contents analysis, meta-analysis, and case analysis. Second, this study also deepens the structure of the measurement model because we developed a three-level hierarchical model of public service quality that delineates structural relationships among constructs. Third, this study enhances the availability of the model across industries, because the model has common dimensions and components adoptable to every industry. Thus, easy, reliable and consistent comparison across industries could be conducted. Fourth, an investigation into service capacity will be possible because the SSPI model is expected to measure back-stage quality drivers. Finally, as one can analyze service impact via the virtuous feedback circle of 'SSPI-SSQI-CP,' one could investigate the individual service impact and directions for further improvements in a more rigorous way.

Limitations and Future Research

Some limitations of this study should be mentioned. First, we need more concrete and industry-specific items in measures. Second, the number of surveyed industries needs to be increased. The first year survey was limited to seven industries, but there is a need for extensive research in most of public industries. Third, there is a need for enhancing the participation of each institution. To facilitate the documents submission and cooperation of institutions, we need publicity of the SSI model and education programs. Lastly, an investigation into the link between SSPI and SSQI could not be conducted in the first year because it was assumed that SSPI indicates potentials for future SSQI. If data are cumulated annually, analyses of the direct link between SSPI and SSQI will be possible.






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