Providing superior customer service requires an accurate understanding of customer needs and perceptions. This paper looks at some of the problems of customer service measurement in the multi-cultural South African environment. Taking cognisance of local conditions, the authors used the service quality model developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry as a theoretical framework. The nature of cultural differences has to be understood and measures have to be selected, taking variations in respondent understanding into account. The paper proposes an integrated research programme, the components of which are evaluated for their relative utilities. For customer care research to be effective, the views and perceptions of both management and front-line staff must not be ignored. Qualitative research, mystery shopper surveys, customer surveys and staff surveys are each reviewed and their integration is recommended as a solution to the problems of service quality measurement in a complex social environment.