The Role of Situationally-Produced Expectations, Others' Experiences, and Prior Experience in Determining Consumer Satisfaction

Stephen A. LaTour, University of Florida
Nancy C. Peat, University of Florida
ABSTRACT - A field experiment was conducted to test portions of LaTour and Peat's (1979) theory of consumer satisfaction. The effects of prior experience, manufacturer-induced expectations, and other consumers' experiences on perceived attribute levels, satisfaction, and likelihood of purchase for a new type of cleaner were assessed. As predicted, prior experience was the major determinant of satisfaction with the product. Those with relatively poor prior experience were more satisfied than those with relatively good prior experience. In addition, those with poor prior experience perceived amounts of streaking and film left by the cleaner to be less than did those with comparatively good prior experience. Likelihood of purchasing the product was also greater for individuals with poor prior experience. When others' experiences were better than the subject's, less streaking and film was perceived to exist. Likelihood of purchase was also higher when other consumers' experiences were comparatively good; however, others' experiences had no impact on satisfaction with the product. This latter finding was interpreted as resulting from mutually canceling judgmental and discrepancy effects. Manufacturer-induced expectations had no effect on the dependent variables.
[ to cite ]:
Stephen A. LaTour and Nancy C. Peat (1980) ,"The Role of Situationally-Produced Expectations, Others' Experiences, and Prior Experience in Determining Consumer Satisfaction", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 588-592.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 588-592

THE ROLE OF SITUATIONALLY-PRODUCED EXPECTATIONS, OTHERS' EXPERIENCES, AND PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN DETERMINING CONSUMER SATISFACTION

Stephen A. LaTour, University of Florida

Nancy C. Peat, University of Florida

[Support for this research was provided by the Center for Consumer Research, University of Florida.]

ABSTRACT -

A field experiment was conducted to test portions of LaTour and Peat's (1979) theory of consumer satisfaction. The effects of prior experience, manufacturer-induced expectations, and other consumers' experiences on perceived attribute levels, satisfaction, and likelihood of purchase for a new type of cleaner were assessed. As predicted, prior experience was the major determinant of satisfaction with the product. Those with relatively poor prior experience were more satisfied than those with relatively good prior experience. In addition, those with poor prior experience perceived amounts of streaking and film left by the cleaner to be less than did those with comparatively good prior experience. Likelihood of purchasing the product was also greater for individuals with poor prior experience. When others' experiences were better than the subject's, less streaking and film was perceived to exist. Likelihood of purchase was also higher when other consumers' experiences were comparatively good; however, others' experiences had no impact on satisfaction with the product. This latter finding was interpreted as resulting from mutually canceling judgmental and discrepancy effects. Manufacturer-induced expectations had no effect on the dependent variables.

INTRODUCTION

In recent years there has been a flourishing of interest in investigations of consumer satisfaction with products and services. Extensive research will be required, however, before the basic determinants of consumer satisfaction are fully understood. As LaTour and Peat (1979) have noted, the survey research in this area has provided useful but mostly descriptive information about satisfaction with various products and services. In addition, theoretically-oriented experimental research and the few theoretically-based surveys have been rather narrow in scope, assuming that the primary determinants of consumer satisfaction are expectations created by manufacturers, test reports, or unspecified sources. LaTour and Peat argued that this approach ignores other determinants of satisfaction such as past experience with similar products and other consumers' experiences with similar products. In order to provide a richer theoretical base for investigating consumer satisfaction, LaTour and Peat developed a theory of satisfaction that is an extension and modification of Thibaut and Kelley's (1959) comparison level theory. The following discussion is based upon this theory.

There is a comparison level for each salient product attribute which is used to determine one's satisfaction with that attribute. If an attribute has an infinite, positive ideal point, obtained attribute levels above the comparison level are satisfying while obtained levels below the comparison level are dissatisfying. (LaTour and Peat discussed appropriate functional relationships for attributes with negative infinite, negative finite, and positive finite ideal points.) Overall satisfaction with a product is assumed to be an additive function of the discrepancies between experienced attribute levels and comparison levels for those attributes.

There are three basic determinants of the comparison level for an attribute. These are the consumer's prior experiences with that attribute for similar products used for similar purposes, situationally-produced expectations such as those created through manufacturer's advertising or retailer's promotional efforts, and the experiences of other consumers who serve as referent persons,

Prior experience is probably the most important determinant of consumer satisfaction because personal experience is most vivid and salient. Satisfaction is not absolute but rather is relative to one's past experience. For example, a new automobile providing better mileage than previously owned automobiles will be satisfying to the consumer with respect to that attribute. However, if the mileage is lower than that of previously owned automobiles, the consumer will be dissatisfied with the obtained mileage.

As indicated above, situationally-produced expectations have been studied by a number of investigators (e.g., Olshavsky and Miller 1972; Anderson 1973). After reviewing the literature, LaTour and Peat concluded that expectation effects on satisfaction are likely to be quite complex. They noted that some research indicates perceived quality of a product can be increased by raising consumers' expectations above objectively obtained quality levels. This would occur because the expectation would be used as a guide in evaluating the product and the subjectively perceived amount of the attribute would be greater than if the expectation had been accurate. Most researchers have presumed that the resulting increase in perceived quality would increase satisfaction; however, it is unlikely that the perceived level will perfectly match the expectation level. Thus some discrepancy would still remain between the perceived level and the expectation. This discrepancy will result in dissatisfaction. Hence, raising expectations produces both satisfaction and dissatisfaction components. The relative magnitude of the satisfaction and dissatisfaction components is likely to be dependent upon the degree of ambiguity of the attribute. As ambiguity increases, the magnitude of the satisfaction component increases and the magnitude of the dissatisfaction component decreases. Generally, however, the dissatisfaction component will outweigh the satisfaction component. In fact, one of the few expectation studies that measured satisfaction rather than perceived quality found that reported negative disconfirmation of expectations was associated with dissatisfaction (Swan and Combs 1976). Oliver (1977) reached a similar conclusion and provided expirical evidence for both judgmental (satisfaction) and disconfirmation (dissatisfaction) effects. In fact, Oliver's data suggested that the disconfirmation effects are typically stronger than judgmental effects.

Finally, other consumers' experiences should play a role in determining satisfaction to the extent that their experiences with the product are salient. The more other consumers obtain of a desired attribute, the higher the consumer's comparison level will be and hence the more of that attribute the consumer will have to obtain in order to be satisfied. A similar view of the effect of others' experiences on the consumer's satisfaction is provided by equity theory (e.g., Adams 1965). Equity theory proposes that when individuals make equivalent contributions to a relationship, they will be dissatisfied if others obtain better outcomes and satisfied if others obtain equal or worse outcomes. [A strict interpretation of equity theory leads to the prediction that all situations involving inequity, including those where others obtain poorer outcomes, produce tension and dissatisfaction. Walster, Berscheid, and Walster (1973) suggest, however, that this will occur only when individuals perceive that they have control over the outcomes of less fortunate individuals. This would be unlikely in most purchase situations.] Thus if a consumer purchases a product and other consumers obtain more of a desired attribute, the consumer will feel that he is not receiving what he should. This will contribute to dissatisfaction with the product. If, however, other consumers obtain less, the consumer will think he has "gotten a good deal" and this will contribute to satisfaction with the product.

In order to make a preliminary test of this model of consumer satisfaction, a field experiment was conducted. Prior experience, situationally-produced expectations (manufacturer-induced), and other consumers' experiences were all manipulated as independent variables in order to assess their causal impact on consumer satisfaction. A unique feature of the investigation is that manipulation of the independent variables was calibrated so that the magnitudes of the manipulations were equal. Calibration of independent variables is rarely performed, but is essential if one is to make meaningful inferences about the relative contribution of each variable to consumer satisfaction. Otherwise, observed differences in the magnitude of the effects of the independent variables can be easily attributed to differences in the magnitude of the manipulations.

METHOD

Subjects

A total of 176 residents of a southeastern city were randomly selected from the telephone directory and were first contacted by telephone. They were asked to participate in a research project concerning consumer evaluations of new products. They were informed that they would evaluate two new products on two different occasions and that they would receive one of the two products for participating in the study. The number of subjects who participated (113) represents a response rate of 64 percent. Individual unwilling to participate were more likely to be middle-aged and in the upper-middle class.

Procedure

At the first contact, subjects were told that the researchers were testing a number of new products being considered for market introduction. They were informed that they would be evaluating a new cleaner for mirror tiles. It was pointed out that the researchers had no connection with any of the manufacturers and had made no judgments concerning the quality of the cleaners. It was explained that mirror tile cleaner differed from conventional window and mirror cleaners because mirror tile was manufactured differently and required a special cleaner to prevent damage to the reflective backing. (All subjects accepted this statement.) This explanation was provided because it was desirable to create a "new" product in order to effectively manipulate the prior experience variable. Subjects were informed that they would be evaluating two of six new brands of mirror tile cleaner with respect to amounts of streaking and film but only one brand was available that day. The researchers indicated that they would return in a few days with the second brand which the subject would be allowed to keep. It would have been most desirable to have the subjects purchase the product that they would be evaluating (the second brand) but this was not possible in the present investigation. Instead, subjects were allowed to keep the second brand in order to heighten their psychological involvement with it.

Each subject was asked to follow a specific testing procedure to evaluate the cleaner. This procedure was designed to reduce the possibility of judgments being influenced by past experience with similar products such as window cleaners. The test required the subjects to use the cleaner to remove lipstick marks from a mirror tile, employing twelve strokes with moderate pressure. Subjects were informed that this was a very stringent industry test and that none of the brands would leave the mirror entirely free from streaking or film.

At the second contact, subjects were first reminded that they would receive a free bottle of the cleaner they were about to test. In order to create varying manufacturer-induced expectations and experiences of other consumers, subjects were asked to read a manufacturer's statement concerning the brand to be tested and to examine a sheet showing the average ratings for streaking and film which other participants supposedly had given the other four brands being tested. (The order of presentation of these materials was reversed for half of the subjects.) During pretesting, the quality of this product was adjusted by adulterating window cleaner with soap in order to produce an average rating of 5.5 on scales ranging from no streaking/film (0) to very much streaking/film (10).

Subjects then tested the second brand using the procedure described above. After the test, subjects evaluated the product on a number of dimensions described below under dependent variables. After completing these evaluations, subjects supplied information concerning their age, occupation, and whether they owned or rented their place of residence. Sex of the subject was also recorded.

Independent Variables

Prior Experience.  At the first contact, half the subjects tested a conventional window cleaner which had been adulterated with soap in order to cause much streaking and film. The other half tested an unadulterated window cleaner (all bottles were unlabeled). Pretests of the pure cleaner produced average ratings of 3 on the scales described above in the Procedure section. The poor quality cleaner was calibrated during pretesting to produce average ratings of 8 on these same scales.

Manufacturer-Induced Expectations.  Subjects read a "manufacturer's statement" about the second product which indicated that it was either a high quality product that would leave very little streaking or film with the standard test procedure or an inexpensive product which would leave much streaking and film. These manipulations were pretested to produce average expectation levels equivalent to ratings of 3 and 8 on the above scales for the good and poor conditions, respectively.

Others' Experiences.  Subjects were shown "average ratings" for the other four brands which indicated that other subjects had rated those brands either good (3), moderate (5.5), or poor (8) with respect to both streaking and film.

Dependent Variables

Basic dependent variables were perceived amount of streaking (no streaking = 0; very much streaking = 10), perceived amount of film (no film = 0; very much film = 10), satisfaction with amount of streaking (extremely dissatisfied = -8; extremely satisfied = +8), satisfaction with amount of film (extremely dissatisfied = -8; extremely satisfied = +8), overall product quality (extremely poor = -8; extremely good = +8), overall satisfaction with the product (extremely dissatisfied = -8; extremely satisfied = +8), and the likelihood of purchase (extremely unlikely = -4; extremely likely = +4).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

In this preliminary report of the investigation, results are presented only for perceived amount of streaking, perceived amount of film, overall satisfaction with the cleaner, and likelihood of purchase. For certain analyses the number of subjects is reduced somewhat because of missing data. The missing data occurred in a variety of experimental conditions, creating no systematic bias. No manipulation checks are reported since all manipulations were calibrated during pretesting. Order of presentation of manufacturer's statement and other consumers' ratings is not included as an independent variable in these analyses because it did not interact with the other independent variables. The only demographic variable that was correlated with the dependent variables was rental versus ownership of one's residence. It was predictive only of overall satisfaction (r = 0.248, F(1,95) = 6.296, p<.014), such that those who owned their homes were less satisfied with the mirror tile cleaner than those who rented. This agrees with Ash's (1978) finding that home ownership correlates with satisfaction for certain products. Analyses employing this variable as a covariate will be reported in an expanded version of this paper.

Perceived Amounts of Streaking and Film

Cell means for perceived amounts of streaking and film are contained in Table 1. These variables were analyzed by a 2 (Prior Experience) x 2 (Manufacturer-Induced Expectation) x 3 (Others' Experience) multivariate analysis of variance (Rao's approximation of Wilk's lambda criterion was employed). Because of unequal cell frequencies, the analysis procedure suggested by Appelbaum and Cramer (1974) was employed. Two planned comparisons were employed for the others' experience variable. Contrast 1 involved a test for a linear effect of others' experience while Contrast 2 determined whether there was any quadratic (curvilinear) effect of this variable. Only a linear effect was expected.

The only independent variables showing significant effects were prior experience and the linear contrast for others' experience (multivariate F(1,104) = 12.380, p<.001 and multivariate F(1,104) = 4.285, p<.016, respectively). Those with poor prior experience perceived less streaking and film than those with good past experience (univariate tests were significant at p<.001 for both streaking and film; standardized discriminant function coefficients were .619 and .469 respectively). As others' experience increased from poor to moderate to good, perceived amounts of streaking and film decreased (p<.007 for streaking, p<.01 for film; discriminant function coefficients were .625 and .463, respectively). These results indicate that prior experience and outcomes of others influence individuals' perceptions of amount of streaking and film even when the objective amounts are the same.

While not predicted by LaTour and Peat's (1979) theory of satisfaction, the finding that prior experience influenced perceived amounts of streaking and film is consistent with adaptation theory (Helson 1948), which provides an important foundation for their theory of satisfaction. Prior experience apparently serves as a point of comparison for determining what is a small or large amount of streaking or film. The finding that others' experiences had an effect on perceived amounts of streaking and film was surprising. Others' experiences were not expected to have any impact because others supposedly judged brands different from those evaluated by the subjects. If they had evaluated the same brand, we would have expected informational influence to be exerted such that judgments would have been shifted in the direction of those experiences. Nonetheless, in the absence of information about the variability of other consumers' judgments concerning the four brands, subjects may have assumed that all of the other brands were either poor, moderate, or good and that it was likely that the brand they were testing would be at least somewhat similar to those brands. Thus they would have used the information obtained from other consumers about the four brands in making their evaluations of the test brand.

TABLE 1

CELL MEANS FOR PERCEIVED AMOUNTS OF STREAKING AND FILM

TABLE 2

CELL MEANS FOR OVERALL SATISFACTION WITH PRODUCT

Overall Satisfaction

Table 2 presents cell means for overall satisfaction with the mirror tile cleaner. Only prior experience had an effect upon this measure (F(1,105) = 4.406, p<.019, one-tailed). [Although one might think that because the F distribution is asymmetric it provides a one-tailed test, it actually provides what amounts to a two-tailed test of a comparison between two means. This can easily be seen by converting the observed F to a t statistic in which case the probability value associated with the F will be the same as that associated with the two-tailed test for the equivalent value of t. In practice, one can simply halve the observed probability value obtained from the F test to obtain the appropriate probability value for a one-tailed test of a hypothesis (see Marks (1951) for a discussion of one and two-tailed tests of significance for various sampling distributions).] Those with poor prior experience were more satisfied than those with good prior experience.

The effect of prior experience is in accordance with LaTour and Peat's theory of satisfaction. The lack of an effect of others' experience on satisfaction despite the effect of this variable on judged amounts of streaking and film may be interpreted in a manner analogous to LaTour and Peat's (1979) and Oliver's (1977) discussion of the dual effects of situationally-produced expectations. When the attribute is somewhat ambiguous, others' experiences can influence the judged amount of the attribute. However, any remaining discrepancy between the subjectively experienced attribute level and others' experiences will affect satisfaction as well. For example, when others' experiences are poorer than the consumer's, the perceived amount of the attribute will be less than when other consumers' experiences are better. While this lesser perceived amount might reduce satisfaction, the perception that the obtained attribute level is better than what others receive introduces a satisfaction component. This may cancel out the dissatisfaction component arising from others' influence on the judged amount of the attribute. Thus the net effect could often be that others' experiences would impact on the judged amount of an attribute but would not impact on satisfaction with the attribute. Apparently such a phenomenon has occurred in this investigation.

Likelihood of Purchase

Cell means for likelihood of purchase are contained in Table 3. [Note that most cell means for satisfaction and likelihood of purchase represent a neutral or negative response to the cleaner. This probably results from the stringency of the procedure for testing the cleaner and the consequent reluctance of the subjects to judge whether the product would perform better under normal cleaning conditions. Since this investigation was only concerned with relative differences among the experimental conditions, this phenomenon was not regarded as a problem.] Only the main effects of prior experience and others' experience (linear component) were significant for this measure (F(1,105) = 2.895, p<.046, one-tailed; F(1,105) = 4.232, p<.042, respectively). Those with poor prior experience said they would be more likely to purchase the product than those with good experience. This was also true in conditions where others experienced good rather than moderate or poor product quality.

The effects of the independent variables on likelihood of purchase parallel their effects on perceived amounts of streaking and film, however, the effects of the independent variables are different for the satisfaction measure. Recall that only prior experience affected satisfaction with obtained attributes and that others' experiences probably failed to have an impact on satisfaction because of the mutually canceling judgmental and discrepancy effects. The discrepancy component, however, does not appear to have cancelled the judgmental effects on likelihood of purchase. Apparently the decision to purchase depends more upon the judgment of the amount of a product's attributes than upon any affective components resulting from obtaining attribute levels different from those obtained by other consumers. It should be realized, however, that if the attributes are less ambiguous, discrepancies between obtained attribute levels and others' experiences may have a stronger impact on purchase intention. Thus it is still possible that others' experience could affect purchase decisions through the mediating variable of satisfaction.

TABLE 3

CELL MEANS FOR LIKELIHOOD OF PURCHASE

CONCLUSION

While the results of this study provide support for La-Tour and Peat's theory of satisfaction, there were also some unexpected findings. The prediction that prior experience is the major determinant of consumer satisfaction was supported. An intriguing finding was the judgmental effect produced by other consumers' experiences. Previous research had suggested judgmental effects only for situationally-produced expectations (e.g., expectations produced by advertising). In this study, however, there were no effects of manufacturer-induced expectations. While this does not rule out the possibility of effects of manufacturer-induced expectations, it would suggest that considers might give this information less weight when there is relevant past experience and information about other consumers' experiences. It should be noted, however, that neither the manufacturer nor the other consumers were identified in this study. If the manufacturer is well known and has a reputation of providing good-quality products, manufacturer-supplied information might have greater credibility and would be weighted more heavily in making judgments. If other consumers are friends who are perceived to have knowledge of the product class, however, their information might still outweigh that provided by such a manufacturer. While it cannot be determined from the present study, we would speculate that information from other consumers will often be relied upon more heavily than that of a manufacturer. This higher credibility is the result of two factors: (a) other consumers are less likely to have an ulterior motive in making statements about the product, and (b) they are consumers and thus more similar than any manufacturer.

It is evident that the determinants of consumer satisfaction are quite complex. It would appear that further research should address the role that attribute ambiguity plays in mediating the effects of situationally-produced expectations and others' experiences on consumer satisfaction. In addition, future research should take into account the important role of prior experience in determining consumer satisfaction.

REFERENCES

Anderson, Rolph E. (1973), "Consumer Dissatisfaction: The Effect of Disconfirmed Expectancy on Perceived Product Performance," Journal of Marketing Research, 10, 38-44.

Appelbaum, Mark I., and Cramer, Elliot M. (1974), "Some Problems in the Nonorthogonal Analysis of Variance," Psychological Bulletin, 81, 335-343.

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Helson, Harry H. (1948), "Adaptation Level as a Basis for a Quantitative Theory of Frames of Reference," Psychological Review, 55, 297-313.

LaTour, Stephen A., and Peat, Nancy C. (1979), "Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Consumer Satisfaction Research," in Advances in Consumer Research, (Vol. 6), ed. William L. Wilkie, Ann Arbor: Association for Consumer Research, 431-440.

Marks, Melvin R. (1951), "Two Kinds of Experiments Distinguished in Terms of Statistical Operations," Psychological Review, 58, 179-184.

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Thibaut, John W., and Kelley, Harold H. (1959), The Social Psychology of Groups, New York: Wiley.

Walster, Elaine, Berscheid, Ellen and Walster, G. William (1973), "New Directions in Equity Research," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25, 151-176.

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