Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of change pressure exerted by the “market” on governmental services in quality improvement processes. Two research questions are investigated. How can the role of external pressure exerted by customers and users, for quality improvement, be described and understood in governmental services? How can we understand the internal response (to external pressure exerted by customers and users, for change and quality improvement) as a strategic and cultural process?
Design/methodology/approach – This study focuses on two main levels: the operational level, where we analyse how the service offerings (or concepts) are designed to meet the needs (and changing needs) of the customers/citizens, the design of the service process, and the formation of the service system in terms of resources, organisational structure and culture; and the strategic level, where we analyse the interdependence between service strategy and service culture. Three cases originating from governmental services in Sweden form the empirical basis for the study.
Findings – First, the service concept must be in line with, and match, the target group to be served. If there is a gap the organisation will have an inherent quality problem. The second lesson is that the service process must be understood and accepted by both the employees and the users/customers. The results show that a lack of flexibility is a common reason behind quality problems. Involving customers more is one way of designing more flexibility. The third lesson is that the service system is also a question of the norms and values forming the basis for a service culture that supports the service process.
Research limitations/implications – The article is based on just three cases from one country. More case studies are needed, and in different cultural contexts.
Practical implications – The pressure for change exerted in governmental organisations is not very different when compared to commercial service companies. Customers are most often the same people, with the same – or similar – needs, expectations and requirements. Quality is assessed in more or less the same way. The differences seem to surface when we take into consideration how external changes exert pressure for change within the organisation, and in the design and delivery of governmental services.
Originality/value – This article contributes to a theoretical point of departure for describing and analysing service quality improvement in a dynamic perspective, where both the key aspects of service strategy and service culture are taken into consideration. The empirical study shows that the framework is useful and produces fruitful empirical findings.
Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2006. Vol. 18, no 1, 7-21 p.