Special Session Summary Relationship Development and Nurturing


Tony Ward (2001) ,"Special Session Summary Relationship Development and Nurturing", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 364-365.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 364-365



Tony Ward, Central Queensland University, Australia


The session showed the variability of customer and service provider perceptions towards relationships in a retail environment based on the results of several field studies.


The objectives of the session were:

-to identify a number of techniques used by service providers which nurture a relationship with customers;

-to identify the relationship dimensions which service providers use when nurturing relationships with customers;

-to identify and rank the relationship dimensions used by customers when purchasing a range of retail products;

-to identify the way in which the strength of relationships develop over time from a customer perspective;

-to propose an agenda for future research into the development and nurturing of relationships in a retail environment.

The three papers integrated for this session by initially discussing the development and nurturing of relationships from the perspective of the service provider, secondly from a customer perspective, and thirdly by identifying and comparing the relational dimensions used by both customers and service providers. Thus, the first paperreported the results of an empirical study of how retail service providers in the fashion industry nurture relationships with their regular customers. The second paper identified the factors which appear to determine whether or not a particular individual wishes to form a relationship with a customer, and product types where marketers should and should not use relational marketing techniques. The development of the strength of relationships over time for a variety of products was then presented based on a number of field studies. Then the dimensions which were used by both consumers and servers when they form relationships with each other are identified, compared and discussed.

Thus the nurturing of relationships was investigated together with the development of relationship strength over time, and the relational dimensions used by both customer and service provider. Finally, an agenda for future research was presented.



Louise McSherry & Sharon Purchase

Central Queensland University

This research investigated the problem of whether a salesperson’s approach to nurturing a relationship is perceived by the customer to strengthen the relationship. The research was conducted within a retail fashion clothing chain with stores located throughout Australia. For this research only Queensland based store were surveyed. The stores’ target customers are working females between the ages of 20 to 40. Direct dyads of salespeople/repeat customers were surveyed for their perceptions of the social-psychological aspects of the interpersonal relationship they develop. A repeat customer was defined as someone who was recognised by the salesperson as having visited that store on one previous occasion.

Issues brought up this during session included:

$Relationship marketing techniques did operate within the retail fashion industry as perceived by both the salespeople and their customers;

$Survey of the salespeople yielded two distinct groups of people. One group of people distinguished between the social-psychological variables and their importance to nurturing the relationship while the other group did not distinguish between the variables. The difference in the salespeople was attributed to their overall experience in the retail industry. Those with longer industry experience tended not to distinguish between the dimensions being surveyed;

$Some salespeople did try to develop relationships with customers and use certain techniques to achieve their objectives;

$Customers perceived that salespeople were building relationships with them and were receptive to the relationship marketing approaches undertaken by the salespeople. It should be noted that there were differences in the perceptions within the dyad of which social-psychological aspects of the relationship were important;

$The R2 for the correlation between salespeople and customers was 47.7%;

$Ten dimensions (from 13 surveyed) were found to be significantly correlated between the salesperson and the customers. The 10 dimensions were: thoughtfulness; honesty; trust; commitment; time to listen; tact; recognition; empathy; faithfulness and remembering. It should be noted that the research did not undertake any testing for the multicollinearity of the individual dimensions;

$Of the 10 dimensions found to be significantly correlated, honesty was perceived by both the salespeople and the customers to be the most important in nurturing the relationship;

$Moderating variables found to increase the overall R2 were: number of times served by the salesperson; age of customer; frequency of customer visits; and number of years spent shopping at that particular retail store;

$Number of times served by the salesperson increaed the R2 to 54.4% when included as a moderating variable.

Overall the research has increased knowledge within the area of relationship marketing for retail customers. The dyadic approach to data collection was considered important as both the customers and the salesperson’s perspective of the relationship gave a greater understanding of what was occurring during the nurturing process.



Tracey Smith, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Tony Ward, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Australia

The aim of this research was to study whether the strength of relationship (as perceived by the customer) between customer and supplier for consumer service products increases with duration and frequency.

Current relationship marketing literature implies that marketers should build long-term relationships with their customers (Gronroos 1995; Berry 1995 and Anderson 1995). Similarly there are a number of underlying assumptions within the literature that imply that a relationship can be formed with all customers, in all service situations, that the relationship will strengthen over time, and that increased frequency of contact between the customer and supplier leads to greater relationship strength. No empirical research could be found to support these assumptions.

Until recently if a customer used the same supplier for an extended period of time it was assumed that a relationship existed between the two parties. However, can it be assumed that the length of time a customer has been using the services provided by a service provider is evidence that a relationship not only exists but will strengthen over the duration of the supplier and buyer interaction. Similarly, the impact of frequency of purchase or usage on relationship strength needs consideration, as it has been suggested that when a customer utilises a product more frequently there are more opportunities for a relationship between the service provider and customer to strengthen. Although a plethora of conceptual and empirical research focusing on RM has emerged within the current literature no research was found on the impact of demographic characteristics on relationship strength. A number of hypotheses were developed to address these questions.

In total 5 service products were chosen for this research: doctor, hairdresser, electricity company, cinema and bank. These five products represented a diverse range of service products. In order to make the sample representative of the population a random selection of 287 members of the general Australian public were interviewed through mall intercepts. Pilot tests were conducted and modifications made where necessary.

The results of this research indicated the complex and multidimensional nature of the research problem and relationship construct. It was found that the relative impact of time, frequency, gender and age depends greatly on the nature of the service products under investigation. Thus, the way in which relationship strength develops varies significantly between service products. Relationship strength, as perceived by the customer, does increase with the length of time and frequency that a customer has been purchasing from a service provider, however only for certain service products. Similarly, depending on the service product, relationship strength also increases as age increases and maybe stronger for females than males. A marked relationship strength variation between products was evident with high involvement products generally soliciting the strongest relationship strength. Analogous to this, many customers do not appear to want to build a relationship with their service providers.

This research provides RM scholars with new research directions into understanding the way in which relationship strength develops. From a practical perspective this research suggests that marketers should not expect customer and supplier relationships to automatically strengthen over time or with increased frequency.



Tony Ward, Central Queensland University

The aim of this exploratory research was to identify and describe the dimensions of the term 'relationship’ between a customer and retail service provider for consumer products, as perceived by both customers and service providers. Previous studies by a number of researchers have identified certain relational dimensions, such as bonding, empathy, reciprocity, trust, commitment, loyalty, understanding and shared values. However, there remain concerns that the above list of dimensions is not complete, and does not encompass the full richness of human experience and thought.

Future research directions were identified as:

What types of customers are most receptive to relationship development, and which are not suited?

How do relationships develop?

What weights do various customer segments attach to individual benefits of staying in a relationship?

What are the key drivers of relationship commitment across different service types?

What role does value play in relationship development?

What are the implications for relationship development for organisation structure?

How will information technology delivery systems affect customer relationships? Specifically, will it sever social bonds making true relationship development more difficult to achieve, or will a first mover advantage apply and the first to introduce enhanced value through IT delivery will capture and retain customers?

Further development of consumer relationship marketing meta-theory!


The specific aim of this research was thus to address this 'nurturing and development’ gap in the literature by identifying and defining the construct 'the dimensions of relationships between customer and retail service providers in a consumer situation’. This research thus identified and described the dimensions of the term 'relationship’ between a customer and service product supplier for consumer products, as perceived by customers and service providers. This research shows the difficulty which faces retail service providers in attempting to satisfy the relationship needs of customers, due to the complexity, variety and diversity of the construct.



Tony Ward, Central Queensland University, Australia


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001

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