The Role of Webite Service Quality
Regina Connolly
Dublin City University Business School, Dublin 9, Ireland
Keywords: eGovernment, citizen trust, website service quality.
Abstract: The emergence of the concept of e-government in the 1990s, the use of information and communications
technology in the public sector turned from being inward looking and administration-focused to outward
looking and service-focused. One aspect of this has been on-line tax filing which in Ireland takes the form
of the Revenue Online Service (ROS). The purpose of this paper is to outline a research project that is
currently being undertaken with the Irish Revenue Commissioners to evaluate the quality of ROS and the
relationship between these e-service quality dimensions and citizen trust in the Revenue Commissioners. It
describes the application of a newly developed website service quality measurement instrument in the
unique context of electronic government. It is anticipated that the findings from this study will provide
insight regarding the dimensions of website service quality that are most valued by users of ROS and also
identify the dimensions of e-service quality that engender, or in their absence inhibit, citizen trust in this
service. The application of this recently operationalised website service quality instrument will also provide
evidence regarding the degree to which it is culture independent.
Governments the world over are seeking to increase
citizen adoption and usage of their e-government
services, particularly in view of the potential of
those services to reduce the cost and increase the
efficiency of public service provision.
Benchmarking studies consistently report revenue
collection as being one of the most developed areas
of e-government, both in terms of availability and
sophistication (see for example, Accenture (2006),
CapGemini 2006). Ireland is no exception. The
Revenue Commissioners in Ireland were pioneers in
the deployment of information technology in the
Irish public sector in the 1960s (Pye 1992) and, in
many ways, they have maintained that leadership
position over the intervening four decades. Online
revenue collection offers many potential benefits to
the state from faster collection of cash to error
reduction and administrative cost savings. On the
other hand, making tax returns and paying taxes is
mandatory. The purpose of the Revenue On-line
Service (ROS) and similar services in other
countries is not, as it might be for other services, to
attract more customers. To be effective, online tax
services need to be attractive to citizens and to offer
benefits that outweigh the perceived advantages of
paper. While the online delivery of a government
service may appear to be more user-friendly than
that delivered by traditional means, the Information
Society Commission report (2003) repeatedly
emphasizes that those charged with implementing e-
government need to give careful consideration to the
perceptions and expectations of its users. This is
particularly true in the case of revenue collection
where a manual filing may result in a slower
payment cycle or cause less concerns about
confidentiality. This emphasis on user perceptions
and expectations is appropriate as perceived service
quality has become a critical determinant of website
success. However, studies show that many
consumers view the service quality delivered by
commercial websites as unsatisfactory (Lennon and
Harris, 2002: Gaudin, 2003) and there is no evidence
to suggest that citizens’ views of e-government
service quality differs. Accenture (2005:4) comment
While governments have certainly seen some value
in terms of increases in citizen satisfaction and
internal efficiency and some reductions in costs,
none has been transformed by eGovernment alone.
Connolly R. (2007).
CITIZEN TRUST IN E-GOVERNMENT IN IRELAND - The Role of Webite Service Quality.
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 66-71
DOI: 10.5220/0001262600660071
eGovernment simply has not led to the reinvention of
service delivery”.
It is therefore important that government bodies
seeking to encourage citizens to use their online
services, and particularly to use such sites to pay
taxes and other charges, understand the dimensions
of website service excellence that their citizens value
as website excellence has the potential to improve
the uptake of services and increase citizen
satisfaction with public administration.
Over the past decade, governments, world-wide,
have invested heavily in e-government services. The
scale of this investment can be gauged from the
various benchmarking reports on e-government (e.g.
Accenture 2005; CapGemini 2006, UNPAN 2005).
Having invested in this technology, governments are
naturally interested in both the extent and the nature
of the use of online services made by citizens and
business and they have employed a variety of
instruments to try to measure this, from crude hit
rate counts to citizen surveys.
While there are differences from country to
country, there is a core group of public services that
are available, to varying extents, online in most
countries measured in the aforementioned
benchmarks. These range from registration services
(birth, car, company) to licence/document
applications (driver, dog, passport) to tax and social
welfare services. As already noted, when looking at
progress to date, it is not surprising to find that the
aspect of e-government which tends to be most
developed and most widely used is online tax filing.
As one senior civil servant observed, it is easier to
persuade finance ministers to fund IT investments
that increase income, than it is to fund activities that
are likely to increase expenditure. According to the
US Internal Revenue Service, 68 million taxpayers
filed online in 2005 and this number is expected to
exceed 70 million (out of 135 million returns) in
2006 (IRS 2006). There is one important difference
between a country like the USA and Ireland. In the
USA, self-assessment of taxes has a long history. In
Ireland, self-assessment, particularly for those on
pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) is a relatively recent
innovation. Furthermore, countries, including
Ireland, which are former colonies, can exhibit a
cultural bias against payment of tax which
exacerbates a natural antipathy to taxation that is as
old as history. Nonetheless, tax authorities have
tended to be at or near the leading edge of IT
deployment and to gain maximum leverage from
this, self assessment is highly desireable. In Ireland,
as already noted, use of IT for automation of revenue
collection has been around for several decades, so it
is not surprising that with the move to online
services, the Irish Revenue Commissioners would be
at the leading edge of on-line service provision in
Ireland. In 1993, the Irish Revenue Commissioners
(hereafter simply referred to as Revenue) initiated a
major review of their IT strategy and architecture.
At the time, this process was expected to take up to
ten years though arguably it is still continuing. The
provision of online tax services, entitled Revenue
Online Service (ROS), was initiated as a separate
project in 2000 (Revenue Commissioners Annual
Report, 2000). ROS was set up in a separate
physical location and given its own budget and its
own staff. The initial target market for ROS was the
business sector, the self-employed and certain taxes
such as value-added tax (VAT). The large, PAYE
sector was not included initially, in part because of
the high cost of digital certificates at the time and in
part because of the relatively limited penetration of
PCs and Internet access in the customer base at that
The design of an online tax filing system must
address a number of specific challenges that do not
usually apply in other online types of government
service applications. Two that are notable are a high
level of security and the ability to handle large peaks
in traffic and processing. The latter in particular can
be a cause of problems (indeed the ROS system had
a problem with managing traffic volumes in its first
year of operation). Furthermore, taxation is, by its
nature, a complicated subject and most businesses as
well as many self employed individuals and even
citzens on PAYE use intermediaries, such as
accountants, to complete and file their tax returns.
An online system must reflect these complexities.
At the same time, any such system has to be
sufficiently clear and simple to use that an ordinary
tax payer, who might not have a high degree of
computer or even tax literacy, can complete and file
their taxes without undue difficulty. These are
considerable challenges for any online service and it
is notewothy that the ROS website and service had
been one of the successes of Irish e-government and
has won a number of awards (Revenue
Commissioners Annual Report, 2005: 39). If, as
suggested above, usage rates are an important
measure of success, then ROS has been highly
successful with 53% of self-assessment taxpayers
CITIZEN TRUST IN E-GOVERNMENT IN IRELAND - The Role of Website Service Quality
using the system in 2003 and a total of €8.3 billion
of revenue being collected via the system (Revenue
Commissioners Annual Report, 2005).
Furthermore, ROS reports significant savings of
€600,000 in postage and 30 man-years per annum in
processing effort (Accenture, 2005).
This study currently being undertaken has three
objectives. Firstly, it examines the dimensions of
website service quality that are valued by Irish
citizens who use the revenue online service to file
their tax returns. Secondly, it examines the degree to
which website service excellence influences
consumer trust in electronic government. Thirdly,
by applying the newly operationalised e-S-QUAL
measurement instrument, it explores the relevance of
this instrument in the evaluation of e-government
website service quality.
Service quality in is one of the most researched
topics in the area of service marketing. Although
research into the dimensions of website service
quality that are valued by online consumers is in an
embryonic stage, it is a subject of growing
importance. In part, this is due to the fact that as
competition for online consumers intensifies, service
quality has become a key differentiator for online
vendors and thus it has become necessary to have a
reliable means by which to measure it. This is
particularly true in the business to consumer
electronic commerce marketplace where web
vendors compete for a limited number of consumers
and where consumer loyalty has become a key
indicator of success.
Service quality has been defined as the difference
between customers’ expectations for service
performance prior to the service encounter and their
perceptions of the service received (Asubonteng et
al., 1996). When performance does not meet
expectations, quality is judged to be low and when
performance exceeds expectations, the evaluation of
quality rates it as high. Thus, in any evaluation of
service quality, customers’ expectations are key to
that evaluation. Moreover, Asubonteng et al.,
(1996) suggest that as service quality increases,
satisfaction with the service and intentions to reuse
the service increase.
Meeting customer service requirements is both a
performance issue (i.e. whether the service satisfies
the customers requirements) and a question of
conformity to measurable standards. For example,
Swartz and Brown (1989) distinguish between the
consumers post-performance evaluation of ‘what’
the service delivers and the consumers evaluation of
the service during delivery. The former evaluation
has been termed ‘outcome quality’ (Parasuraman,
1985), ‘technical quality’ (Gronröos, 1983) and
‘physical quality’ (Lehtinen and Lehtinen, 1982).
The latter evaluation has been termed ‘process
quality’ by Parasuraman et al., (1985), ‘functional
quality’ by Gronröos (1983) and ‘interaction quality’
by Lehtinen and Lehtinen (1982).
The most frequently cited measure of service
quality is SERVQUAL, an instrument developed by
Parasuraman et al., (1985, 1988). Designed to
measure service quality from a customer
perspective, it consists of five dimensions that
represent the service attributes that consumers use to
evaluate service quality. These five dimensions are
tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and
empathy. As already noted, in their model,
Parasuraman et al., (1985, 1988) suggest that it is
the gap between consumer expectations with actual
service performance that informs service quality
perceptions. It is this performance-to-expectations
gap that forms the theoretical basis of SERVQUAL.
However, Parasuraman et al., also note that the
evaluation of service quality is not based solely on
the service outcome but also involves evaluations of
the process of service delivery.
Despite its popularity, a number of aspects of the
SERVQUAL instrument, such as the proposed
causal link between service quality and satisfaction
(Woodside et al., 1989; Babakus and Boller, 1992),
and the question as to whether one scale can be
universally applicable in measuring service quality
regardless of the industry or environment
(Asubonteng et al., 1996; Finn and Lamb 1991;
Cronin and Taylor, 1992, 1994; Teas, 1993) remain
contentious. Moreover, although it remains the
dominant model for both researchers and managers
in service quality evaluation, its claimed universality
and applicability is made even more questionable by
the numerous modifications to the model that have
been made in many studies that purport to use it
(Paulin and Perrien, 1996).
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Website service quality, frequently termed e-service
quality, has been defined as consumers’ overall
evaluation and judgment of the excellence and
quality of e-service offerings in the virtual
marketplace (Santos, 2003) and as the extent to
which a website facilitates efficient and effective
shopping, purchasing and delivery (Zeithaml 2002).
e-Service quality is constantly evolving due to the
pace of competition and the ease of duplicating
service features in the online world (Trabold et al.,
2006). Notwithstanding evidence of continuing
consumer dissatisfaction with service delivered
through the Internet (Gaudin 2003; Ahmad 2002),
studies of e-service quality remain limited and
frequently employ instruments that were developed
for use in a traditional environment such as
SERVQUAL. For example, some researchers (Van
Iwaarden et al., 2004) have used SERVQUAL to
examine the quality factors perceived as important in
relation to the use of websites, despite the fact that
SERVQUAL was not designed to measure perceived
service quality in an online environment and its
applicability is therefore unlikely to extend to that
context. While it is true that past conceptualisations
can be useful platforms for describing e-services
(Van Riel et al., 2001), there is an increasing
awareness (Cai and Jun, 2003; Li et al., 2003) that
the SERVQUAL instrument is limited in terms of its
ability to measure e-service quality, particularly as
there are dimensions of service quality that are
unique to the electronic context. Moreover, Cox and
Dale (2001) argue that dimensions of service quality
specific to a traditional environment such as
competence, courtesy, cleanliness, comfort, and
friendliness are not salient in the electronic retail
environment while such dimensions as accessibility,
security, communication, credibility and appearance
are of critical importance in an on-line environment.
Support for inclusion of specific dimensions unique
to the on-line retail environment is also provided by
Long and McMellon (2004) who argue that factors
such as geographic distance and the facelessness of
the experience form part of the online service
experience and therefore should be part of any e-
service quality measurement instrument.
Despite the fact that several researchers have
proposed scales to evaluate websites, many of these
scales do not provide a comprehensive evaluation of
the service quality of the website. For example, the
objective of the WebQual scale (Loiacono et al.,
2000) is to provide website designers with
information regarding the website (e.g.
informational fit to task) rather than to provide
specific service quality measures from a customer
perspective. Other scales such as that proposed by
Barnes and Vidgen, 2002 provide a transaction-
specific assessment rather than a detailed service
quality assessment of a website. The SITEQUAL
scale (Yoo and Donthu, 2001) excludes dimensions
central to the evaluation of website service quality as
does Szymanski and Hise’s (2000) study, while other
researchers (Parasuraman et al, 2005) have
expressed caution regarding the consistency and
appropriateness of dimensions used in the eTailQ
scale proposed by Wolfinbarger and Gilly (2003).
Recently, many of these concerns have been
addressed by the original authors of the SERVQUAL
instrument through the development and
operationalisation of a multi-item scale specifically
designed for examining website service quality
(Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Malhotra, 2005). This
scale, termed E-S-QUAL, is a four-dimensional, 22-
item scale that captures the critical dimensions of
service quality outlined in the extant literature on
customer expectations of on-line services. The
dimensions are efficiency, fulfilment, system
availability, and privacy. The scale has an
accompanying subscale called E-RecS-Qual which
contains items focused on handling service problems
and is relevant to customers who have had non-
routine recovery service encounters with the
website. E-RecS-Qual consists of a three-
dimensional, 11 item scale. These three dimensions
are responsiveness, compensation, and contact.
Both scales, whose specific purpose is the
measurement of website service quality, have been
subjected to reliability and validity tests and
demonstrate good psychometric properties.
As E-S-QUAL is a relatively new measure it has
not been used extensively in online service quality
research. Kim et al., (2006) have recently utilised
the measure in a study of online apparel retailers.
By using this measure, they were able to identify
successfully the exact e-service dimensions on
which online apparel retailers are succeeding (and
those on which they are failing) and thus identify the
key factors that contribute to customer satisfaction
(and dissatisfaction). Such insights are of enormous
value as they provide retailers with the knowledge
necessary to improve their online service, resulting
in increased customer satisfaction, increased sales
and higher customer profitability.
CITIZEN TRUST IN E-GOVERNMENT IN IRELAND - The Role of Website Service Quality
Having reviewed the relevant literature, it was
decided to employ the E-S-QUAL questionnaire
(2005) using a web-based format in the evaluation of
ROS. The survey was divided into two sections. In
Section 1 a varying number of questions were asked
regarding specific dimensions of online service
quality as identified in Parasuraman et al. These
dimensions and the number of items used to
represent them are outlined in table 1.
Table 1: Quality dimensions measured by the survey.
Quality Dimension
System availability
Perceived value
Loyalty intentions
In addition, ROS themselves requested that a
number of statements be added to the survey in order
to focus on specific aspects of their service. An
example of this is the statement that the ROS
website “…enables me to complete the filing of my
tax returns quickly”. Statements on the influence of
each service quality dimension on citizens’ trust
beliefs were also included. For example, in relation
to the dimension of website efficiency, citizen’s were
asked to agree or disagree with the statement: “The
ease of use of a website increases my trust in the on-
line vendor.” The purpose of these questions was to
investigate which dimension of website service
quality provides the strongest influence on citizens’
trust in ROS. In total, section one of the survey
contained 31 statements. Section two of the survey
collected demographic information.
In order to administer the questionnaire, the
Revenue Online Service emailed self-employed
citizens who file their tax returns online informing
them of the study and inviting their participation.
The email contained a direct link that directed the
citizen to the online questionnaire. At the time of
writing, the survey is live on the web and data is
being collected. The response rate is high and
rising. When the data collection period is
completed, it is planned to input the data from both
surveys into SPSS and to analyse the results.
This paper has outlined an in-progress study that
aims to improve one aspect of the delivery of
electronic government in Ireland. The findings will
provide the Irish Revenue Online Service with
insight into the key dimensions of service that are
valued by Irish citizens who use their online service
to file their tax returns. It will provide evidence that
Irish citizens’ perception of online revenue service
quality is driven or inhibited by specific factors, all
of which it is possible to manage. Second, it shows
the degree to which specific dimensions of service
quality engender, or in their absence inhibit, citizen
trust in the Revenue Online Service. Finally, it
demonstrates the applicability of the E-S-QUAL
survey instrument to improving our understanding of
the e-government service environment. These
contributions will improve both practitioners’ and
researchers’ understanding of the factors that
contribute towards the creation and maintenance of
high quality e-government services and
consequently influence citizen trust and satisfaction
with e-government interactions.
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