When Customers Develop Commitment to the Service Employee: Exploring the Direct and Indirect Effects on the Propensity to Stay

Havard Hansen, Norwegian School of Management
Kare Sandvik, Buskerud University College
Fred Selnes, Norwegian School of Management
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - The paper presents a model for understanding how the consumers’ commitment to the service employee affects the propensity to stay with the company. In services, the aspect of personal interaction has been positioned as the cornerstone of services (Gr÷nroos 1983), and service encounters have even been viewed as being first and foremost social encounters (McCallum and Harrison 1985), particularly in service relationships where the same employee serves the same customer repeatedly (Gutek 1997). Previous research has found that customers receive several relational benefits in such relationships, where the social benefits are very important to the customers (Gwinner, Gremler and Bitner 1998). Accordingly, developing customer commitment has been positioned as one important strategy for augmenting customer loyalty (Geyskens and Steenkamp 1995).
[ to cite ]:
Havard Hansen, Kare Sandvik, and Fred Selnes (2002) ,"When Customers Develop Commitment to the Service Employee: Exploring the Direct and Indirect Effects on the Propensity to Stay", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 494-495.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 494-495

WHEN CUSTOMERS DEVELOP COMMITMENT TO THE SERVICE EMPLOYEE: EXPLORING THE DIRECT AND INDIRECT EFFECTS ON THE PROPENSITY TO STAY

Havard Hansen, Norwegian School of Management

Kare Sandvik, Buskerud University College

Fred Selnes, Norwegian School of Management

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

The paper presents a model for understanding how the consumers’ commitment to the service employee affects the propensity to stay with the company. In services, the aspect of personal interaction has been positioned as the cornerstone of services (Gr÷nroos 1983), and service encounters have even been viewed as being first and foremost social encounters (McCallum and Harrison 1985), particularly in service relationships where the same employee serves the same customer repeatedly (Gutek 1997). Previous research has found that customers receive several relational benefits in such relationships, where the social benefits are very important to the customers (Gwinner, Gremler and Bitner 1998). Accordingly, developing customer commitment has been positioned as one important strategy for augmenting customer loyalty (Geyskens and Steenkamp 1995).

While the notion of commitment has been studied in a variety of marketing contexts and in relation to objects like the firm (Morgan and Hunt 1994) and the brand (Beatty and Kahle 1988), the effects of customers commitment to service employees has yet to be empirically scrutinized. The purpose of this paper is to explore the direct and indirect effects of customers commitment to the service employee on his/hers propensity to stay with the service firm.

The model consists of two kinds of commitment, calculative and affective, and includes both commitments to the service employee and to the service firm. Following Bendapudi and Berry (1997) affective commitment implies that the customers are motivated to maintain a relationship because they genuinely want to be, and/or that customers hold calculative commitment because they believe they have few other options, also called dedication-based and constraint-based motivation, respectively. Commitment to the service employee is proposed to have a positive effect on commitment to the service firm, and the propensity to stay. However, affective commitment to the service employee is proposed only to affect affective commitment to the service firm, and calculative commitment to the service employee is similarly proposed only to affect calculative commitment to the service firm. Moreover, commitment to the firm is proposed to affect the propensity tostay, and calculative commitment to the firm is expected to affect affective commitment to the firm.

The model is tested with a sample of bank customers. A random sample of 2.000 customers with dedicated service employees was drawn from a large bank’s customer database. Although the customers had an employee whose special job was to take care of the customers assigned to him/her, the level of actual usage of this extra service was expected to differ among the customers. A professional marketing research firm performed the telephone interviews, and the final sample consisted of 335 respondents, which corresponds to a 16.8 percent response rate. All variables were measured with multi-item scales. The commitment measures were adapted from the two scales developed by Allen and Meyer (1990) and Kumar, Hibbard and Stern (1994). Propensity to stay was assessed with two items, where one indicated the intention to leave the current relationship in the foreseeable future (reversed), while the other measured the intention to maintain the relationship. These items were adapted from Kumar, Hibbard and Stern (1994).

The data were analyzed by use of structural equation modeling, since this approach allows the simultaneous investigation of the measures and the hypothesized model. The final measurement model had a chi square value of 93.70 with 67 degrees of freedom, and a p-value of 0.017. The other fit indices were a CFI of 0.98, NNFI of 0.97, RMSEA of 0.035 and a p-value for close fit of 0.94 which meets the requirements for a well fitting model.

The hypothesized model had a satisfactory ability to explain the observed variance covariance matrix. The chi-square for 69 degrees of freedom was 94.88 (p=0.021), the RMSEA was 0.034 and a p-value for close fit of 0.96, the NNFI was 0.98 and the CFI was 0.98. All of the fit indices are above the cut-offs for good fit. The hypotheses were supported except the direct effects of commitment to the service employee on propensity to stay and calculative commitment to the firm on propensity to stay. The model explains 40% of the variance of propensity to stay.

The findings support the important role of the service employee as an important means to attach the customers to the firm. The absence of direct effects of commitment to service employee on propensity to stay may imply that the customers’ relationship with their service employee is a strategic asset of the firm. It is yet to be determined if these findings are generalizable within and beyond services. Additionally, identifying conditions (moderators) that facilitate or impair each of the effects of commitment to the service employee and service firm are important in order to test and understand the limitations of the model and findings in the paper.

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