Rural entrepreneurship research traditionally focuses on the farmer or rural communities. Little work has been done to examine the ways in which small rural firms operating in and around rural towns develop their service quality priorities. This study seeks to examine the approaches to service quality of 12 such businesses and compare their priorities for service quality with the evaluation criteria of rural service consumers.
The paper adopts a multi‐method approach within the qualitative paradigm. A total of 12 business‐owners were interviewed and the critical incident technique (CIT) was employed with 60 rural consumers.
The service priorities of rural service firms and their customers do not match. The businesses privilege tangible aspects of their service delivery, but the primary cause of customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction is found to be the behaviour of service staff. The service quality propositions of the businesses are driven by the competencies and priorities of their owner‐managers and are not informed by market research.
A defining feature of small rural firms is their limited resource base. The businesses prioritise quality features which are not highly valued by customers whilst neglecting those which are. Scarce resources could be employed more productively.
For the first time service priorities of rural small firms are contrasted with the evaluation criteria of rural customers.
- Rural small to medium-sized enterprises
- Critical incident technique