Management Accounting Service Quality: What Is Most Important to Your Customers?
Assessment of management accounting (MA) service quality is important for determining areas where the quality of MA outputs, both the product and its delivery, may be improved in the eyes of users. The assessment of MA quality requires measurement of users' perceptions concerning service characteristics, including factors such as whether the information is understandable, timely, relevant, and useful for decision-making support. These assessments can lead to the design of useful metrics that management accountants can use to monitor user satisfaction. Service quality precedes customer satisfaction and therefore is critically important if management accountants want to maintain or improve their standing within the organizations they serve. Currently, there is limited research on what drives the quality of MA services, and the results of this research are contradictory. It is unclear whether providers are supporting user needs effectively or understand the expectations of their users.
To provide more evidence about accounting service quality within organizations, we first created and validated a scale to measure perceptions of MA service and information quality. Then we used the scale to explore how users actually perceive dimensions of MA service quality.
A MODEL OF SERVICE QUALITY
There are important differences in the delivery of goods vs. services. The accessibility of an intangible service and the personal interactions with customers are critical elements of service quality. Christian Gronroos proposes a framework depicting how customers view service quality. He states that quality cannot be monitored and improved unless the service provider can: (1) understand how customers perceive quality, (2) determine the ways in which service quality is influenced, and (3) identify which resources and activities have an impact on service quality. (1) Perceptions of service quality will be influenced by the individuals and resources employed when users and providers interact. Furthermore, Gronroos suggests that the perceived quality of a service is composed of two dimensions: (1) a functional dimension, or how the customer "feels" about elements of the service process, and (2) a technical dimension, which is what remains with the customer after he or she receives the service.
Functional service quality relates to the process of service delivery. This dimension is characterized by the attitudes, accessibility, relationships, and behavior of management accountants in their interactions with service users. Functional quality is equivalent to the social interactions that take place between the MA professional and the users of MA information during service delivery. Measures of functional quality have been around for a long time and are evaluated most frequently by two scales: SERVQUAL (2) and SERVPERF. (3) SERVQUAL compares customer perceptions against their expectations, while SERVPERF measures customer perceptions only. In our survey, we used the SERVPERF approach because our purpose was to assess the influence of functional quality on other dimensions, not to measure functional quality by itself.
Technical service quality relates to the outcomes of service delivery and encompasses accounting "know-how," the technical abilities of employees, and the ability of management accountants to produce good technical service for customers. Technical quality in an MA context is, in essence, information quality and represents attributes of the information provided (e.g., relevance, reliability, lack of errors, and so on). It is associated with the characteristics of accounting reports with which management accountants and their information customers are familiar.
The Gronroos framework identifies that both functional and technical MA service qualities are influenced by the image of MA in the organization. Image acts as a lens through which the customer views functional and technical quality and ultimately overall service quality. Image thus affects how customers perceive service quality, and customers use these perceptions to establish a standard of comparison for future service encounters. Image characteristics include the ability of management accountants to "sell" their services, develop positive relationships with internal customers, portray confidence, and generate a reputation of integrity and ethicality.
The three quality dimensions are interrelated. Acceptable technical quality may be a prerequisite for functional quality. But customers may overlook temporary problems with technical quality if they are satisfied with functional quality. As noted above, image serves as the context in which customers develop overall perceptions of service quality. That is, perceived image influences the relationships between perceptions of both functional and technical quality and perceived overall service quality.
When the service to be delivered is technical in nature and therefore requires specific technical training to be effective, technical issues will be viewed as more important than functional issues in explaining overall service quality. Given the technical nature of MA information, this study provides an opportunity to observe the relative importance of technical vs. functional quality in user perceptions of overall MA service quality.
We used a model adapted from Gi-Du Kang and Jeffrey James to investigate how users of MA services perceive service quality. (4) This model, which incorporates Gronroos's quality definitions as well as the SERVPERF quality scale, is shown in Figure 1.
WHAT OUR STUDY EXAMINED
We relied on the three-element model of service quality in our attempt to answer four basic questions:
1. Do users think of service quality in terms of the functional, technical, and image elements as proposed by Gronroos?
2. Are the three quality dimensions related to each other? If so, in what ways?
3. Which service quality characteristics are most important?
4. How do customer perceptions of MA's image influence perceptions of other MA service quality characteristics?
We constructed a 60-item survey that included indicators of the functional, technical, and image quality of MA services. The questions were designed to measure users' perceptions of the three quality dimensions and an overall assessment of service quality. The survey described MA services as "any reports, information, and advice provided by the accounting function to support decisions and activities of the organization."
To measure functional quality, we adapted the 22item SERVPERF scale, rewording the scale questions as necessary to reflect specific aspects of management accounting service quality. We then developed 34 additional survey items to address specific elements of MA technical and image quality. For technical accounting quality items, we relied on the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Conceptual Framework, with a focus on the FASB Statement of Financial Accounting Concepts No. 8, "Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting," that describes the qualitative characteristics of accounting information. (5) We derived image-related elements of MA service quality from prior studies of accounting service delivery. Finally, we asked four high-level questions to capture perceptions of the overall functional, technical, image, and summary service quality.
In analyzing the survey data, we determined that 20 scale items were not statistically related to the relevant service quality dimensions. Details of the remaining 40 survey items, organized by dimension or factor, are shown in Table 1.
COLLECTING AND MEASURING THE DATA
We administered the survey to business professionals enrolled in Master of Business Administration (MBA) accounting courses. A summary of demographics information about survey respondents appears in Table 2. The 116 respondents averaged more than 34 years of age and five years in their current positions. All had experience in their areas of functional responsibility with their organizations, including general management, administrative services, accounting and finance, information technology (IT), human resources (HR), marketing, customer service, production, and distribution. Fifty-five percent of participants reported experience with supervising and managing an average of 25 subordinates.
WHAT OUR ANALYSIS SHOWED
Average responses to the 56 MA quality items ranged from a low of 4.8 to a high of 5.8 (on a 7-point scale). The overall item mean of 5.3 (with a scale midpoint of 4) indicates that participants were generally satisfied with the level of MA service quality at their organizations.
Next, we used exploratory factor analysis (EFA) to determine if the dimensions that we were seeking to identify exist. EFA is a statistical technique designed to analyze questionnaire responses so that relationships and patterns in the data can be interpreted and understood easily. The result is usually a limited set of "clusters" of identifiable concepts. As we anticipated, our analysis produced three factors or dimensions of service quality. We identified the nature of each dimension based on the source and characteristics of the questionnaire items that "loaded" on each factor. Dimension 1 included 18 items corresponding to technical accounting information quality, as shown in Table 1. We labeled this feature the technical dimension. Eighteen items combined to form a second factor. All but one item were from the adapted SERVPERF scale, which describes functional quality aspects of MA. Accordingly, we labeled this factor the functional dimension. Four items loaded on a third factor. All these items were questions describing MA image quality; thus, we labeled this factor the image dimension.
A statistical summary of the loadings of survey items onto the three EFA dimensions appears in Table 3 and supports the expected three-factor structure for our MA information-quality items. The information in the table shows that the technical dimension accounts for about 49% of the variance in responses, with the remaining two factors collectively accounting for another 11%. Thus, the three-factor solution explained 60% of the variance in service quality as reported by our respondents.
We also looked for common characteristics among questions that did not load on the three factors to see if we could learn anything about what users do not think is important. To do this, we ran EFA on the nonloading items, which resulted in two factors with seven and six items, respectively. The first factor was composed of image-related characteristics (i.e., MA personnel who add value, have a good image/reputation, build loyalty, are cooperative/relational/interactive, understand user needs, have good communication skills, and are ethical). These nonloading items might be interpreted as more passive elements of MA provider quality vs. the more active tone of professional competence for the items that did load (see Table 1). The other factor consisted of items that did not reflect any common theme of service quality (i.e., MA has physically appealing facilities, the facilities are appropriate for the services, personnel are knowledgeable, information is broad in scope, information is timely, and personnel informally provide useful information).
In our next set of tests, we used linear regression models to examine the relationships between the responses to the questions we asked, output from the three factors extracted from the EFA analysis, and each of the four outcome measures from the survey. We wanted to determine:
* Whether the dimensions were interrelated,
* Whether any dimension is considered by users as dominant, and
* How image quality influenced perceptions of functional, technical, and overall quality.
As detailed in Table 1, the four outcome measures were: (1) perceived MA functional service quality,
(2) perceived MA technical service quality, (3) perceived MA image quality, and (4) perceived overall MA service quality.
Regression analyses of the four outcome measures (i.e., perceptions of functional quality, technical quality, image quality, and overall service quality) showed the following four relationships:
1. Scale items for technical quality were significantly related (p < .001) and items for functional quality were marginally related (p = .05) to functional quality outcomes (F = 49.4, p < .001, R-squared = .56).
2. Technical and functional quality items were significantly related (p < .001; p = .048, respectively) and image quality items were marginally related (p = .06) to technical quality outcomes (F = 41.1, p < .001, R-squared = .51).
3. Scale items for all three quality dimensions were significantly related to image quality outcomes (technical, p = .01; functional, p = .02; image, p = .01; F = 38, p < .001, R-squared = .49).
4. Technical quality items were significantly related (p < .001) and image quality items were marginally related (p = .11) to overall service quality outcomes (F = 36.0, p < .001, R-squared = .48).
Technical MA quality was strongly related to the outcome measures for functional and image quality, suggesting that the technical quality dimension is the most important characteristic of perceived MA quality regardless of the outcome quality metric used. Survey participants appeared to attribute functional, image, and technical quality characteristics to their perceptions of MA technical service quality outcomes. Taken together, these findings suggest that users of MA generally considered the perceived quality of its technical information as the primary indicator of MA service quality.
Regression results for a model using perceived overall MA image quality as a dependent variable and perceived technical, functional, and image quality as independent variables (taken from our exploratory factor analysis) were significant (p < .001). In addition, MA technical quality was significantly positively related to perceived MA image outcomes. This finding illustrates the prominent role of perceived MA technical quality in positive perceptions of the image and reputation of the MA function in the organization. Additionally, functional quality considerations were positive and significantly related to perceived MA image quality outcomes.
These results indicated that all three quality dimensions contributed to users' perceptions of the MA function's positive image and reputation. Also, there was evidence that the effects of both functional and image quality influenced perceptions of MA technical information quality outcomes. As suggested by our service quality framework shown in Figure 1, perceptions of image quality influenced the relationships between perceptions of both functional quality and overall service quality and technical quality and overall service quality.
OVERALL PERCEPTIONS OF SERVICE QUALITY
The last question in our survey asked respondents to rate their perceptions of the overall quality of the MA function in their organizations. The overall quality outcome measure specifically identified both MA information and personnel as elements of MA quality. The regression results for the overall quality item using the three EFA factors were significant (F = 36.0; p < .001, R-squared = .48). Consistent with the previous regression results, technical quality was significant and positively related to overall perceived MA quality outcomes. But neither functional quality nor image quality was significantly related to overall MA quality outcome perceptions. This finding underscores the preeminence of technical quality to users, which has important implications for management accountants who want to evaluate and improve service quality.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Our results indicate that overall perceptions of management accounting service quality are explained adequately by the three dimensions of service quality (functional, technical, and image) included in Gronroos's model. It is important that survey participants placed the greatest emphasis on the technical quality of MA information and reports when communicating their perceptions of quality MA services. Given the highly technical nature of the accounting process and outputs, nonaccounting users rely heavily on qualified management accountants to provide them with technical information that is both useful in making decisions and that accurately describes the underlying financial and nonfinancial activities that generated the information.
We also found that users tended to recognize the secondary roles of both functional and image quality when evaluating the overall quality of management accountants' services. Generally, users perceived that these quality factors were more important in the narrower contexts of interactions with MA personnel (i.e., functional quality) and considering the reputational image of the MA function within their organizations (i.e., image quality). In particular, perceived image quality significantly influenced how respondents viewed the relationships between perceived functional and technical quality and their overall perceptions of the quality of MA service delivery, information, and personnel.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANTS
Our results have practical implications for management accountants who want to identify important characteristics of MA service quality to their customers and for improving services. We know very little about perceptions of MA service quality, so our investigation may provide a starting point for accounting managers to survey accounting service users to uncover other aspects of MA service quality that will contribute to high-quality information, customer-centric service, and effective decision making. Our survey questions were generic by design and explained about 60% of the variation in perceptions of quality among our respondents. The remaining 40% is likely to include a variety of other shared dimensions as well as situation-specific characteristics.
Perceptions of MA service quality are complex, are tricky to measure, and probably are influenced heavily by circumstances in each organization. In order to address service quality in individual organizations adequately, managers should consider designing customized surveys with questions that reflect both common and organization-specific MA information, service delivery, personnel, and overall quality issues. While our results show that basic functional quality measures contribute to overall perceptions of service quality, by themselves these measures are less important to MA service users than their perceptions regarding technical information quality.
We also found that users view accounting services as different from other internal services such as human resources, marketing, and IT. Users rely on the technical knowledge and expertise of accountants who "speak their own language" based on professional standards and established rules. Because of accounting's status as a recognized profession, users appear to value management accountants' technical knowledge and abilities. Our results show how technical service elements can be integrated into a general model of service quality.
Another notable finding is that provider reputation and image play an important role in explaining overall service quality. We expect that most management accountants are focused on providing high levels of technical (information) quality and likely need assistance to better deliver and communicate this information to users (functional quality). Given the traditional emphasis of management accountants on technical quality, it is likely that few of them spend much time and effort considering their internal image and reputation. Our expanded service quality framework highlights the importance of explicitly enhancing MA's image, which should help elevate the role of management accountants in the organization. Our results suggest that users, at least those in our sample, pay the greatest attention to traits associated with competency rather than soft skills. Nevertheless, MA professionals must ensure that their reputation is also supported by high-quality information.
Accounting managers have many opportunities to investigate the functional, technical, and image dimensions in greater detail to discover more "refined" attributes of service quality that may be used to diagnose service problems or identify avenues for improving MA service. Also, research into MA service quality may be expanded to include comparisons of expected and perceived service and the direct effects of functional and technical quality and image on overall and transactional customer satisfaction. Narrowing differences between expected and perceived quality is necessary to achieve MA customer satisfaction.
This study shows the importance of seeking feedback from customers concerning current practices and the perceived quality of MA services, reports, personnel, and reputation. Increasing management accountants' awareness of the service quality elements that their customers value most can help management to establish effective programs to improve customer experiences, enhance customer-user interactions, and solidify management accountants as key players in identifying and achieving organizations' strategic goals.
Kenton B. Walker, Ph.D., is the George Johnson Distinguished Professor of Accounting and director of the School of Accountancy at the University of Memphis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Eric N. Johnson, Ph.D., is the Clara R. Toppan Professor of Accounting at the University of Wyoming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary M. Fleischman, Ph.D., is professor of accounting in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article is a professionally oriented version of Fleischman et al., 2017. Gary Fleischman, Eric N. Johnson, and Kenton B. Walker, "An Exploratory Examination of Management Accounting Service and Information Quality," Journal of Management Accounting Research, 29 (2), Summer 2017, pp. 11-29.
(1) Christian Gronroos, "A service-oriented approach to marketing of services," European Journal of Marketing, 12 (8), December 1978, pp. 588-601.
(2) A. Parsu Parasuraman, Valerie A. Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry, "SERVQUAL: A multiple-item scale for measuring consumer perceptions of service quality," Journal of Retailing, 64 (1), January 1988, pp. 12-40.
(3) J. Joseph Cronin, Jr., and Steven Taylor, "Measuring service quality: A reexamination and extension," Journal of Marketing, 56 (3), July 1992, pp. 55-68.
(4) Gi-Du Kang and Jeffrey James, "Service quality dimensions: An examination of Gronroos's service quality model," Managing Service Quality, 14 (4), 2004, pp. 266-277.
(5) Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Statement of Financial Accounting Concepts No. 8, "Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting," September 2010, http://www.fasb.org/jsp/FASB/ Document_C/DocumentPage ?cid= 1176157498129&accepted Disclaimer=true. Downloaded January 9, 2016.
(6) Christian Gronroos, Strategic Management and Marketing in the Service Sector, Report No. 83-104, Marketing Science Institute, Cambridge, Mass., May 1983.
(7) Christian Gronroos, "A service quality model and its marketing implications," European Journal of Marketing, 18 (4), 1984, pp. 36-44.
By Kenton B. Walker, Ph.D.; Eric N. Johnson, Ph.D.; and Gary M. Fleischman, Ph.D.
Caption: Figure 1: A Model of Service Quality: Based on Parasuraman et al., (2) Cronin and Taylor, (3) and Gronroos; (7) adapted from Kang and James. (4) The authors obtained permission to reproduce the above model from Emerald Group Publishing (License #3751560709280). Full citations are available in the End notes.
Table 1: Service Quality Items by Dimension Technical Quality Items (Factor 1): 1. MA information faithfully represents business activities. 2. MA information is complete. 3. MA information is reliable. 4. MA information is decision-relevant. 5. MA reports are prepared at an appropriate level of aggregation. 6. MA information fits with firm environment and business context. 7. MA information contributes to user learning, knowledge, and performance. 8. MA information reduces risk and task and environmental uncertainty. 9. MA information exhibits value and quality. 10. MA reports contain an appropriate level of detail. 11. MA information has predictive value. 12. MA information is flexible and user-friendly. 13. MA information is customized to the user. 14. MA reports use consistent, understandable language. 15. MA information aids in strategy implementation. 16. MA information is unbiased. 17. MA information is free from error. 18. MA IT resources are up to date. Functional Quality Items (Factor 2): 1. MA personnel deliver promised services on time. 2. MA personnel give prompt service. 3. MA personnel are dependable. 4. MA personnel are willing to help. 5. MA personnel are interested in solving problems. 6. MA users feel safe in transactions with MA personnel. 7. MA personnel are never too busy to respond. 8. MA personnel deliver services when promised. 9. MA personnel instill confidence in users. 10. MA personnel are consistently courteous. 11. MA personnel have users' best interests at heart. 12. MA personnel tell when services will be performed. 13. MA personnel give users personal attention. 14. MA personnel are well-dressed and neat in appearance. 15. MA personnel insist on error-free records and reports. 16. MA personnel give users individual attention. 17 MA department operating hours are convenient. 18. MA personnel have a clear understanding of firm's business. Image Quality Items (Factor 3): 1. MA personnel have relevant certifications. 2. MA personnel have relevant degrees. 3. MA personnel have relevant experience and expertise. 4. MA personnel minimize conflicts in communications with users. Outcome Quality Measures: 1. Overall, the quality of service provided by the MA department in my organization is extremely high. (functional) 2. Overall, the technical quality of information provided by the MA department in my organization is extremely high. (technical) 3. Overall, the MA department in my organization has a good reputation and image. (image) 4. Overall, I am satisfied with both the personal services and the information provided to me by the MA department in my organization. (overall) Table 2: Respondent Demographics Gender and Work Experience Users Gender Male 75 Female 41 Total 116 Work Experience Less than one year 1 1-5 years 70 6-10 years 26 11-15 years 15 16 years or more 4 Total 116 Number of Employees Supervised No. None 54 1-5 20 6-10 11 11-15 7 16-20 4 More than 20 20 Total 116 Functional Areas Represented Functional Area N Production 4 Sales and Marketing 6 Human Resources 5 Customer Service 6 Finance and Accounting 18 Administrative Services 24 Information Technology 9 Other or Not Specified 44 Total 116 Education Highest Degree Earned No. Bachelor's 105 Master's 8 Doctorate 3 Total 116 Table 3: Exploratory Factor Analysis: Variance in Quality Explained by Items Included in Each Factor (see Table 1) % of Cumulative Factor Total Variance % 1 20.28 49.5 49.5 2 2.70 6.6 56.1 3 1.63 3.9 60.0
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|Author:||Walker, Kenton B.; Johnson, Eric N.; Fleischman, Gary M.|
|Publication:||Management Accounting Quarterly|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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