Journal of Marketing
Vol.73 (September 2009),1–18 ©2009,American Marketing AssociationISSN:0022-2429 (print),1547-7185 (electronic)
RobertW.Palmatier, Cheryl Burke Jarvis, Jennifer R.Bechkoff, &Frank R.Kardes
The Role of Customer Gratitude inRelationship Marketing
Most theories of relationship marketing emphasize the role of trust and commitment in affecting performanceoutcomes;however, a recent meta-analysis indicates that other mediating mechanisms are at work.Data from twostudies—a laboratory experiment and a dyadic longitudinal field survey—demonstrate that gratitude also mediatesthe influence of a seller’s relationship marketing investments on performance outcomes.Specifically, relationshipmarketing investments generate short-term feelings of gratitude that drive long-lasting performance benefits basedon gratitude-related reciprocal behaviors.The authors identify a set of managerially relevant factors and test theirpower to alter customer perceptions of relationship marketing investments to increase customer gratitude, whichcan make relationship marketing programs more effective.Overall, the research empirically demonstrates thatgratitude plays an important role in understanding how relationship marketing investments increase purchaseintentions, sales growth, and share of wallet.
:gratitude, reciprocity, relationship marketing, customer relationship management, loyalty programs
RobertW.Palmatier is John C.Narver Endowed Chair in Business Admin-istration and Associate Professor of Marketing, Michael G.Foster Schoolof Business, University of Washington (e-mail:email@example.com).Cheryl Burke Jarvis is Associate Professor of Marketing, College ofBusiness, Southern Illinois University Carbondale (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org).Jennifer R.Bechkoff is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Collegeof Business, San Jose State University (e-mail:Jennifer.Bechkoff@sjsu.edu).Frank R.Kardes is Donald E.Weston Professor of Marketing, Col-lege of Business, University of Cincinnati (e-mail:email@example.com).The authors thank Robert B.Cialdini and Marcus Cunha Jr.for their help-ful comments and the Marketing Science Institute and the Institute for theStudy of Business Markets for financial support of this research.
Thesentiment which most immediately and directlyprompts us to reward, is gratitude.—Adam Smith
any researchers and managers maintain that one of the key goals of marketing is to build and sustainstrong customer relationships (Bagozzi 1995; DeWulf, Odekerken-Schröder, and Iacobucci 2001; McKenna1991). A large body of research in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) marketsestablishes empirically that relationship marketing (RM)investments enhance both customer trust and commitment,and in turn these relational mediators influence customerbehaviors, leading to superior seller performance (Moor-man, Zaltman, and Deshpandé 1992; Morgan and Hunt1994; Sirdeshmukh, Singh, and Sabol 2002). This well-supported commitment–trust theory of RM has served asthe default model for most relationship research in the pastdecade, such that RM encompasses all activities directedtoward establishing, developing, and maintaining successfulrelational exchanges (Morgan and Hunt 1994).However, a meta-analysis based on more than 38,000relationships that tests the commitment–trust-mediatedmodel of RM reveals a surprising finding; namely, RMinvestments have a direct effect on seller objective perfor-mance outcomes that is actually greater than the effectmediated by trust and commitment (Palmatier et al. 2006).Although the meta-analysis confirms prior research by pro-viding support for the roles of trust and commitment, itsfinding also suggests that the extant RM model is missingone or more important mediating mechanisms thatresearchers need to understand to appreciate the impact of RM on performance. Similarly, a recent longitudinal studyof interorganizational relationship performance reveals thatseller relationship investments have a direct effect on sellersales performance, unmediated by customer trust, commit-ment, or relational norms, and it suggests that researchersshould investigate “other possible mediating mechanisms(e.g., reciprocity, exchange effectiveness, gratitude)”(Palmatier, Dant, and Grewal 2007, p. 186). Therefore, theprimary focus of this research is to advance RM theory byidentifying and testing an additional mechanism to explainhow RM investments lead to improved performance beyondthe known roles of trust and commitment. This studyaddresses a key question: What other mechanisms makeRM effective at improving seller performance?We propose that gratitude, the emotional appreciationfor benefits received, accompanied by a desire to recipro-cate is an important construct for understanding RM effec-tiveness (Emmons and McCullough 2004; Morales 2005).Relationship marketing investments (e.g., when a seller pro-vides extra effort; adapts policies; and provides small favorsor considerations, such as meals, gifts, or personalizednotes) generate customer feelings of gratitude, which leadto gratitude-based reciprocal behaviors, resulting inenhanced seller performance. Thus, from an RM perspec-tive, both affective (feelings of gratitude) and behavioral(gratitude-based reciprocal behaviors) aspects of gratitude