Leaving It All Behind: Service Loyalties in Transition

Robin A. Higie, University of Connecticut
Linda L. Price, University of Colorado at Boulder
Julie Fitzmaurice, University of Connecticut
ABSTRACT - This paper reports on the disengagement process that occurs when people who are moving discontinue service provider relationships. We examined the reasons 115 individuals who recently moved gave for their last visit to fifteen commonly used service providers (classified using Lovelock's Tangible/Intangible and Person/Thing dimensions). The results indicate that consumers' reasons for scheduling last visits vary by service characteristics. In particular, for Tangible-Person services (eg., hair stylist and doctor), consumers' last visit was tied to their personal relationship with the service provider and/or the quality of service. For Thing services (eg., auto repair and banking), consumers were concerned with actions related to closing accounts and preparing for the move. Finally, for Tangible services (eg., hair stylist and auto repair), inventorying was important, whereas for Intangible-Thing services (eg., banking and legal services), closing out business was important.
[ to cite ]:
Robin A. Higie, Linda L. Price, and Julie Fitzmaurice (1993) ,"Leaving It All Behind: Service Loyalties in Transition", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 656-661.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 656-661

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND: SERVICE LOYALTIES IN TRANSITION

Robin A. Higie, University of Connecticut

Linda L. Price, University of Colorado at Boulder

Julie Fitzmaurice, University of Connecticut

ABSTRACT -

This paper reports on the disengagement process that occurs when people who are moving discontinue service provider relationships. We examined the reasons 115 individuals who recently moved gave for their last visit to fifteen commonly used service providers (classified using Lovelock's Tangible/Intangible and Person/Thing dimensions). The results indicate that consumers' reasons for scheduling last visits vary by service characteristics. In particular, for Tangible-Person services (eg., hair stylist and doctor), consumers' last visit was tied to their personal relationship with the service provider and/or the quality of service. For Thing services (eg., auto repair and banking), consumers were concerned with actions related to closing accounts and preparing for the move. Finally, for Tangible services (eg., hair stylist and auto repair), inventorying was important, whereas for Intangible-Thing services (eg., banking and legal services), closing out business was important.

INTRODUCTION

Each year millions of Americans pick up stakes and move their place of residence (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1989). A substantial amount of literature related to moving has focused on the post-move stage, and how individuals adapt to new surroundings and situations, learn about and access new retail outlets and service providers and become familiar with products available in the new area (Andreasen 1984; Andreasen and Durkson 1968; Andreasen and Ratchford 1976; Hyman 1987). Like disposition and disengagement research, generally, people's pre-move, disengagement behaviors have received scant attention (Belk 1988; Holbrook 1987; Jacoby 1978).

People in the midst of relocation face many changes (Sell and DeJong 1983) from saying good-bye to friends to closing out bank accounts. They often find themselves being separated from their former identity, roles, acquaintances, possessions and service providers (Belk 1988; Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989; Schouten 1991a). This paper is an exploratory investigation that examines the process by which consumers disengage from their service providers prior to moving. The research involved post-move interviews, in which we elicited consumers' reasons for scheduling their last visit with service providers. This paper discusses consumers' reasons for scheduling their last visit at fifteen commonly used service providers, and offers some directions for future research in this domain.

BACKGROUND

Transitions and the Disengagement Process

Research in marketing and other disciplines has investigated the transitions associated with numerous major life events (Andreasen 1984), including moving (Andreasen and Durkson 1968; Andreasen and Ratchford 1976), divorce (Berman 1988; McAlexander 1991), job loss (Roberts 1991) and children leaving home (Lowenthal 1972). These and other related studies indicate that during life status changes, disposition of possessions and disengagement from relationships can be very emotional and stressful (Andreasen 1984; Belk 1988; Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend 1974; McAlexander 1991). Moreover, the disengagement process may entail separation from a role, relationship, or other critical part of the extended self (Mehta and Belk 1991; Schouten 1991a, 1991b; Young 1991).

Service Providers and Their Roles in Consumers' Lives

Marketers have directed a significant amount of attention to services marketing and understanding the service encounter and consumer choice among service providers (Lovelock 1983; Murray 1991; Solomon et al 1985). This literature indicates that consumers perceive choices among service providers as risky decisions (Brown and Fern 1981; Davis, Guiltinan and Jones 1979; Murray and Schlacter 1990), and that consumers take great care in the selection of their service providers, relying heavily on personal sources for information (Murray 1991). Once consumers develop trust in the service provider and satisfaction with the service, consumers' continual interaction with their service providers gives rise to long-term commitments (Lovelock 1983). Through these service loyalties, consumers reduce their transaction costs and ensure themselves of quality service over time (Schlenker, Helm and Tedeschi 1973).

An important component of the service encounter is personal interaction (Solomon et al 1985; Surprenant and Solomon 1987). The person-to-person encounter that frequently occurs with service providers often leads consumers to develop strong relationships with service providers (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry 1985; Shostack 1985; Surprenant and Solomon 1987; Solomon et al 1985). Crosby, Evans and Cowles (1990) note that relationship quality; that is, trust in the service provider and the quality of service, reinforces the consumers' personal investment in the relationship. Given that the importance of personalized service provider relationships is well-documented, it is likely that consumers would be reluctant to discontinue relationships with qualified and trusted service providers.

Service Classification Schemes

In recent years, services and services marketing have received increased attention (Bitner, Booms and Tetreault 1990; Murray 1991; Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry 1985), and numerous researchers have attempted to develop schemes to classify services (Grove and Fisk 1983; Lovelock 1983; Price, Feick and Higie 1989). One of Lovelock's (1983) schemes classifies commonly used services on two dimensions: 1) what is the nature of the service act (i.e., Tangible/Intangible: are the actions tangible or intangible) and 2) who or what is the direct recipient of the service (i.e., Person/Thing: is the service directed at the person or directed at goods and other physical possessions). Figure 1 illustrates the exemplars that have been classified as Tangible-Person, Tangible-Thing, Intangible-Person and Intangible-Thing services. Because Lovelock's scheme and stated exemplars capture a broad array of customer services that people frequently use, we adopted this particular scheme for our investigation.

THE PRESENT STUDY

In conversations with people who recently moved, we found that consumers believed that disengaging from service providers was a difficult and often unpleasant experience. Some people recounted having to close-out accounts and prepare to make the transition to their new surroundings. Others who had developed special personal relationships with their service providers or who respected the service delivered by their hairdressers, doctors and attorneys, for example, were reluctant to sever ties. In many cases, this reluctance to disengage from service providers translated into scheduling appointments with these service providers even after consumers had moved.

FIGURE 1

LOVELOCK'S SERVICE CLASSIFICATION SCHEME

The present study reports on an exploratory investigation designed to examine how consumers view disengagement from their service providers. This descriptive study reports on data collected from people who recently moved, examines their separation from fifteen service providers, and identifies relationships between categories of services and disengagement behaviors.

METHOD

Procedure and Sample

Personal interviews, using a structured questionnaire, were conducted with a convenience sample of 115 people who had moved between 100 and 7,000 miles. The average move was 1,385 miles. Data were collected in two university towns, one in New England and one in the Western U.S. Respondents were identified either by key informants or by new faculty and staff listings at the two universities.

The average age of the respondents was 32 years; over half (57.4%) were married, and nearly a third (30.4%) were single. Approximately 56% were female and the number of people per household averaged 2.6.

Investigated Services

This research examined 15 services, five services in each of three of the four categories identified by Lovelock (1983). The three categories include: Tangible-Person Services, Tangible-Thing Services and Intangible-Thing Services. During preliminary investigations, no instances of Intangible-Person Services (eg., information and broadcasting services) were noted; therefore, we did not include any services from this category in the present investigation.

Service Disengagement Coding Scheme

During the interview, respondents indicated whether or not they had visited each of the 15 services (see Table 1) prior to moving. Interviewers probed respondents regarding their reasons for scheduling the last visit to each service provider and respondents averaged 1.22 reasons per visit. To develop a comprehensive coding scheme, we selected one instance of a service encounter from each of 45 respondents (three encounters for each service). Three independent judges examined the responses and agreed on seven response categories: Prepare, Closeout, Inventory, Relationship Quality, Personal Relationship, Getting Together and Regular Visit.

Prepare involves completing needed work for the move, and examples of this are: going to the auto mechanic to "get the car a tune-up and set for a long distance trip", visiting the bank "to get cash in traveler's checks to pay for moving expenses" and scheduling with doctors "to get recommendations for a doctor" at the new location.

Closeout of business with service providers involves final transactions, for example with banks ("I closed my account and withdrew money since I did not plan to return") and the dentist ("completed dental bridge work that was already in progress").

Respondents also obtained service prior to moving to avoid the need to immediately engage a new service provider after moving; we refer to this as Inventory. Examples of Inventory include seeing a dentist "to get my teeth cleaned in case it took a while to find a new doctor", using the dry cleaning services because he didn't "want to worry right after the move" and scheduling an appointment at the hair salon prior to moving because he did "not want a hair cut to be a service I have to look for while other more important things are on my mind".

Respondents who had developed strong customer relationships based upon trust and quality service, that is Relationship Quality, reported visiting a dentist because "I don't trust others, I trust him," and a veterinarian because of "faith in the vet".

Respondents also scheduled last visits because of Personal Relationships that they had developed with service providers. Customers visited a doctor because of "a personal relationship", a hair stylist because "I had a close relationship with the lady who cut my hair" and a restaurant "for sentimental reasons".

Finally, Getting Together with friends before leaving was a commonly cited reason for restaurant patrons making a final visit to a favorite restaurant.

Some visits were not an acknowledged part of the disengagement process, but rather just a continuation of the service relationship. Hence, a seventh code, Regular, was used when respondents identified their last visit to doctors, dentists, eye doctors, or hair stylists, as a "regular visit".

TABLE 1

SERVICE ENCOUNTERS AND REASONS FOR LAST VISIT

Three independent judges coded each response. A modal scoring convention was used (MacKenzie, Lutz, and Belch 1986). If at least two of three judges agreed on the code for the response, it was assigned to the category. This coding procedure resulted in 586 of 603 (97.2%) of the responses being successfully coded. A fourth judge resolved the 17 discrepant cases.

RESULTS

Before moving, the 115 respondents made 495 visits to the 15 services under investigation in this study, an average of 4.3 services per person. Table 1 shows the number of respondents who visited each service. Banks were the most commonly visited service provider prior to a move (77.4% of respondents visited a banker), whereas stock brokers and tailors were the least used services (less than 10 percent of the respondents). Respondents made 196 visits (39.6%) to Tangible-Person services, 108 (21.8%) to Tangible-Thing services and 191 (38.6%) to Intangible-Thing services.

Table 1 also reports the distribution of respondents' reasons for scheduling a last visit with service providers. The most common reasons that a last visit was scheduled were 1) to prepare to get to the new location (31.8%), 2) to close out business (19.4%), and/or 3) to inventory the service so as to not have to obtain the service immediately after the move (17.1%). Approximately 13.4% of the responses were concerned with relationship quality, 9.3% with personal relationship, and 3.2% with getting together with friends. Approximately 5.8% of the reasons were "regular" visit.

The results indicate that consumers' reasons for scheduling their last visits vary by service characteristics (See Table 1). The primary reasons given for visiting the Tangible-Person services (eg., dentist, doctor, hair stylist) include inventorying services, seeing a trusted/quality service provider and saying good-bye to service providers. On the other hand, the primary reasons for visiting Tangible-Thing services (eg., auto repair, dry cleaner, shoe repair) were inventorying services and preparing for departure, and the primary reasons for visiting Intangible-Thing services (eg., banker, accountant, insurance) were closing out of accounts and preparing for the post-move situation. Together and Regular were not primary reasons for making a last visit to a service provider prior to moving.

DISCUSSION

Our preliminary research on consumers' disengagement with service providers offers interesting and some surprising results. Our research indicates that reasons for making a last visit to a service provider vary by service characteristics. As illustrated in Figure 2, consumers made last visits to Tangible-Person service providers mainly to inventory services, for the relationship quality, or due to the personal relationship established. Last visits were made to Tangible-Thing service providers usually to prepare for the move, inventory services, or obtain service from someone whose relationship was valued. Consumers visited Intangible-Thing providers mainly to prepare for the move or close-out business prior to moving.

FIGURE 2

SERVICE CHARACTERISTICS AND REASONS FOR MAKING A LAST VISIT TO A SERVICE PROVIDER

Patterns of reasons given for making the last visit emerged for Person versus Thing services and for Tangible versus Intangible services. First, for Person services, consumers appear to value quality, personalization and friendliness of the service provider so much so that they have developed personal relationships with for example, hair stylists and doctors. Thus, the disengagement process from service providers is not unlike the disengagement from one's possessions, roles and friends. For example, consumers noted that they "had a personal relationship" with their hair stylist or that they scheduled a last visit to see their doctor, in part, "to say good-bye." In other instances, consumers reported visiting a restaurant "for sentimental reasons" or because it was "a favorite place."

In contrast to the Person services, consumers use their last visits for Thing services to prepare for the move and to bridge pre-move to post-move life. For example, some respondents scheduled last visits with dentists and doctors and noted their reason for doing so was to "get a recommendation for new a doctor." Similarly, some respondents scheduled visits with their insurance agent or accountant in order "to check if the policy is good in new area" or "to get tax records and financial statements before moving."

Finally, inventorying of services appears to be more important for Tangible services than for Intangible services. Our interviews indicate that consumers "stock-up" on some services prior to moving in an attempt to reduce the pressure to learn about the new marketplace immediately after moving. Several consumers scheduled a last trip to the hair salon because they "needed a good cut and didn't know where they could get one in their new location" or because they were "not sure that they would be able to find a good beauty salon right away." Also, some consumers went to the dry cleaners or shoe repair to get service because they "thought it may be difficult to find one at new location." In contrast, for Intangible-Thing services, compared to Tangible services, closing out banking and insurance policies to formally conclude business were the impetus for many final visits.

Some research has suggested that consumers may experience a stressful time when disengaging from a role, relationship or other critical part of the extended self (Fellerman and Debevec 1992; McAlexander, Schouten, and Roberts 1992; Mehta and Belk 1991). Carver, Scheier, and Weintraub (1989) identified two coping strategies commonly used for coping with stressful life episodes: problem-focused coping (i.e., actively attempting to change the source of the stress by managing the situation) and emotional-focused coping (i.e., relying on emotional support of friends, etc.). Using these definitions of alternative coping strategies, it seems that Relationship Quality, Personal Relationship, and Together are emotional-focused strategies, whereas Prepare, Close-Out and Inventory are problem-focused strategies.

Our research suggests that consumers use both problem-focused and emotional-focused strategies for coping with breaking service provider ties, and that these strategies may vary with service characteristics. It appears that reasons for visiting Intangible-Thing services are mainly characterized as problem-focused coping strategies (i.e, Prepare and Close-Out). In contrast, Tangible services were linked to both emotional- and problem-focused coping strategies. Tangible-Person services were mainly visited for reasons associated with emotional-coping strategies and Tangible-Thing services were mainly visited for reasons associated with problem-focused coping strategies.

FUTURE RESEARCH

This exploratory investigation offers several directions for future research. First, research on pre-move attitudes and behaviors might be investigated prior to moving, as compared to this study which involved retrospective accounts of pre-move behavior. Additionally, research might take a closer look at movers' disengagement from Intangible-Person services, such as churches, museums and theaters. A more systematic examination of reasons given for last visits to service providers may provide guidelines for the development of a taxonomy of move-related disengagement behaviors, or disengagement behaviors more generally.

The marketing literature on services discusses service providers' inability to inventory services (Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry 1985). This exploratory research provides some insights about customers stockpiling services. Our research indicates the people who are going to move inventory services from hair stylists, dentists, doctors and dry cleaners. Consumers reported that they scheduled these visits in order to reduce the need to find such service providers immediately after moving. More investigation might look specifically at stockpiling, people's resistance to disengagements from service providers, and the effects of a person's coping style to both the disengagement from and the re-establishment of a relationship with a service provider.

A related area of research might focus on the emotional responses to disengagement, given that moving is one of life's more stressful and disruptive events (Andreasen 1984; Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend 1974). Research might investigate the relationship between move-related stress and the disengagement process. A longitudinal study could focus on pre-move coping and disengagement strategies and post-move adaptation and market learning.

Finally, the study of disengagement and disposal processes continues to be a neglected research domain. While this study examined the disengagement with service providers, other research might be expanded to consider disengagement behaviors related to retail outlets and products and brands that may not be accessible after the move. Also, some of the relationships identified in this research might be examined in a more rigorous and systematic fashion by using an experimental design.

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