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Relationship marketing: the influence

of consumer involvement on perceived


service benefits
Brian R. Kinard
Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, USA, and
Michael L. Capella
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA

Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this article is to empirically examine the influence of consumer involvement on perceived relational benefits across service
types.
Design/methodology/approach – Based on Bowen’s service typology, responses from patrons of fast-food restaurants and hairdressers/stylists
were used to assess the influence of consumer involvement on relationship marketing, specifically perceived service benefits and response
behaviors.
Findings – Results indicate that highly involved consumers perceive greater relational benefits when engaged in a high contact, customized service
(i.e. hairdressers/stylists) versus a more standardized, moderate contact service (i.e. fast-food restaurant).
Research limitations/implications – Care should be taken when generalizing these findings to other service settings as this study only addressed
two service types. Thus, an opportunity for future research could add moderate contact, non-personalized services to determine if there are significant
differences between the three service categories. Additionally, this study was based in the USA, thus cultural differences may influence perceived
benefits of service firms selected.
Practical implications – The results of this study suggest that a service firm providing a more standardized service offering is better served by
hiring and training competent and trustworthy employees than by adopting relational benefit programs. On the other hand, high contact
customized service providers are encouraged to engage in relationship activities with highly involved consumers, specifically those related to
confidence benefits.
Originality/value – This study confirms the recommendation that relationship marketing may be inappropriate for all service firms. More importantly,
the level of consumer involvement with the service has a significant moderating effect on perceived relational benefits.

Keywords Relationship marketing, User interfaces, Services marketing, Benefits

Paper type Research paper

An executive summary for managers can be found at today’s convenience minded consumer (Levy and Weitz,
the end of this article. 2004).
Given these trends, it is important for service retailers to
understand the factors that influence service provider choice.
Introduction Understanding these factors enables service firms to segment
The growth of services retailing in the USA is staggering, as consumers in the marketplace and provide effective marketing
the service sector now produces nearly 78 percent of the US strategies that build upon customer relationships
gross national product and employs nearly 80 percent of its (Parasuraman et al., 1985). The concept of identifying,
workforce (Javalgi et al., 2003). Changing demographics and maintaining, and building a network of individual consumer
consumer lifestyle patterns should propel this growth into the relationships, by providing mutual benefits to both parties, is
foreseeable future, as an aging population prompts growth in referenced in literature as relationship marketing (e.g. Berry,
health care sectors and consumer’s continued propensity to 1983; Grönroos, 1994; Shani and Chalasani, 1992).
pay for day care, lawn maintenance and dry cleaning services. Relationship marketing has proven particularly useful in the
Consequently, service retailers such as banks, theaters, and marketing of services (Czepiel, 1990), specifically relating
restaurants are required to operate in convenient locations provider-customer relationships to perceived service quality
and provide better operating hours to meet the needs of (Bitner, 1995). Customer relationships are of particular
interest to service providers, as it provides evaluative criteria
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at for consumers to evaluate aspects of the service encounter,
www.emeraldinsight.com/0887-6045.htm such as provider trust, commitment, and reliability (Hennig-
Thurau et al., 2002).
A considerable amount of research has developed
Journal of Services Marketing surrounding firm benefits of relationship marketing activities
20/6 (2006) 359– 368
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0887-6045]
(e.g. Peterson, 1995). Specifically, relational marketing
[DOI 10.1108/08876040610691257] activities are shown to increase revenues of loyal consumers

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Relationship marketing Journal of Services Marketing
Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

(Reichheld, 1996), increase the likelihood of additional good Literature review


and service purchases (Clark and Payne, 1994), and influence
consumers propensity to initiate positive word-of-mouth Relationship marketing
among peer groups (Zeithaml et al., 1996). Although Relationship marketing was first defined in the services
research has progressed regarding the benefits of literature by Berry (1983, p. 25) as “attracting, maintaining
relationship marketing activities, recent research indicates and enhancing customer relationships”. Relationship
that consumers, as well as firms, perceive specific benefits marketing aims to build long-term mutually satisfying
from engaging in mutual partnerships (Gwinner et al., 1998; relations with customers, suppliers, and distributors in
Liljander and Roos, 2002). hopes of earning and retaining their long-term preference
For instance, Gwinner et al. (1998) indicate that when and business (e.g. Grönroos, 1994; Kotler, 2000). In
consumers develop a relationship with a service provider, they relationship marketing, companies move from focusing on
perceive heightened confidence, social, and special treatment fixed transactions to building long term, profitable
benefits by maintaining that relationship. Additionally, their relationships that consumers perceive to be mutually
research determined that confidence benefits are consistently beneficial (Berry, 1983, 1995).
more important than social and special treatment benefits to The relationship marketing concept bases itself on the
consumers across various service typologies. premise that important accounts need focused and
Recent research indicates that several variables may continuous attention. However, relationship marketing is
influence the degree to which consumers perceive the value not an appropriate strategy for all customers, as some
of relational activities. Specifically, research indicates that customers may be profitable as transactional customers, even
individuals perceive greater benefits from service providers if they are not profitable as relationship customers (Berry,
requiring high levels of customer interaction versus services 1995). Thus, multiple relationship strategies may be required
with moderate to low levels of customer-provider interaction at both the aggregate, as well as, individual level (Grönroos,
(De Wulf et al., 2001; Pressey and Mathews, 2000). De Wulf 1995).
et al. (2001) findings support the assertion made by Christy Relationship marketing works well when customers have
et al. (1996) that product category involvement strengthens long time horizons and high switching costs, leading both the
the impact of consumer’s perceived relationship investment. customer and supplier to invest substantial resources and
In an attempt to assess the influence of these variables, Varki effort in maintaining the relationship. Relationship marketing
and Wong (2003) examined the role of consumer involvement is closely related to services marketing because of the
in the willingness of consumers to engage in relational interaction that often occurs between the customer and the
activities with various service providers, as well as the service provider. Because services are generally high in
expected benefits they would attain from subsequent experience and credence qualities, consumers generally rely
maintenance. on word-of-mouth rather than advertising as a basis for
Although Varki and Wong’s (2003) findings are promising provider selection. They also tend to rely heavily on price,
and indicate that consumer involvement influences personnel, and physical cues to judge quality, while remaining
expectations of service provider benefits, actual benefits loyal to service providers that continuously satisfy their needs
perceived by consumers were not assessed. Hence, research (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2002).
should be devoted to determining if the benefits perceived by Service firms have the ability to increase their market share
consumers engaged in an existing relationship vary due to the in three ways. They can attract new customers, do more
interactive effects of personal involvement levels and service business with existing customers, and/or reduce the loss of
characteristics associated with a particular service type. current customers (Berry, 1995). By directing marketing
In other words, perceived benefits of a service provider may resources to existing customers, relationship marketing
be dependent on several interacting variables, thus directly addresses two of these opportunities through the
challenging the assertion that highly involved consumers expansion of current relationships and reduction of customer
perceive greater benefits than less involved consumers across defections. Every time a customer interacts with a service
service types. Thus, the purpose of this study is to link the organization (i.e. phone, mail, technology, or in person), a
theory of consumer involvement with the practice of service encounter occurs (Bitner, 1995). However, the type of
relationship marketing. service a customer interacts with typically determines the level
In an attempt to address the aforementioned issues and type of relationship formed with that particular service
surrounding service involvement’s influence on perceived provider.
relational benefits, this paper proposes to:
.
review pertinent relationship marketing literature related
to services, relational benefits, and consumer involvement Types of services
in order to develop a conceptual model based on several Several service classification schemes based on specific service
related hypotheses; characteristics have been proposed in past research (e.g.
.
assess the influence of service characteristics on perceived Bowen, 1990; Lovelock, 1983). For example, Bowen (1990)
relational benefits; classifies services into three distinct groups: high contact
.
determine if perceived relational benefits influence customized, moderate contact non-personal, and moderate
relational response behaviors; contact standardized. High contact customized service
.
examine the moderating effect of personal involvement on providers, such as beauticians and family physicians, are
perceived relational benefits across various service extremely important to consumers because they offer unique
categories; and services. Employee knowledge and attitudes are most critical
.
discuss the results and limitations of the study, as well as in providing satisfactory service for these providers, since each
provide directions for future research. client customizes the service experience (Jones et al., 2003).

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Moderate contact, non-personalized service providers, such relationship becomes more predictable, problems get resolved
as a dry cleaner, laundry mat or film processor, offer services quickly, special needs are accommodated, and the customer
directed at customer’s property, rather than the customer per learns what to expect from the service provider (Gwinner
se (Bowen, 1990). Regardless, consumers still perceive that et al., 1998; Peterson, 1995). Thus, it is hypothesized that
they control the creation of the service offering, such as service providers offering a customized service are more likely
picture sizes or photo finishes at a film-processing center. For to exhibit greater relational benefits to consumers than
such providers, it is important that employees are providers offering a standardized service.
knowledgeable about service offerings and have a positive H1b. Service providers that offer a more (less) customized
attitude toward the company and its customers. service are more (less) likely to exhibit relational
Fast-food restaurants, hotels and movie theaters are benefits to consumers.
classified as moderate contact, standardized services.
Typically consumers perceive these services to be more
standardized and find it difficult to differentiate offerings Relational benefits
between service providers. Employees should be well trained Relational benefits are defined as those benefits customers
and efficient, as consumers are more concerned with the receive from long-term relationships above and beyond the
speed, consistency, and price savings related to the service core service performance (Gwinner et al., 1998). Specifically,
offering rather than employee knowledge and attitude Gwinner et al. (1998) suggest that these benefits are a result of
(Bowen, 1990). engaging in long-term relational exchanges with service firms
and can be categorized into three distinct benefit types:
Service characteristics
(1) confidence;
Service characteristics that appear most influential in
(2) social; and
distinguishing between service types are inseparability and
(3) special treatment.
heterogeneity. Service inseparability refers to the
simultaneous production and consumption of a service Confidence benefits are considered the most important
offering, in which a consumer is generally required to be because they reduce anxiety levels associated with a service
present (Berry et al., 2002). Because active participation is offering, increase perceived trust in the provider, diminish the
generally required in service settings, such as getting a haircut, perception of risk, and enhance knowledge of service
depositing money at the bank, or watching a play, repeated expectations (e.g. Berry, 1995; Bitner, 1995; Hennig-
customer encounters offer service providers an opportunity to Thurau et al., 2002). Consumers may also perceive social
develop a complex and personal relationship with a client benefits from forging a long-term relationship with a service
(Bitner, 1995; Czepiel, 1990). provider, such as personal recognition by employees,
Indeed, Czepiel (1990) notes that service encounters are customer familiarity, and the development of a friendship
foremost social encounters, in that repeated customer- with the service provider (Berry, 1995; Gremler and Gwinner,
provider interaction results in the development of personal, 2000). Finally, consumers may attain special treatment
as well as, professional bonds. Although these relationships benefits from prolonged relationships, such as economic and
can precipitate under any mode of interaction, personal face- customization benefits other service providers fail to elicit
to-face interaction may be more prone to such bonding (Gwinner et al., 1998; Reynolds and Beatty, 1999). Based on
effects. Therefore, it is hypothesized that services requiring the review of literature surrounding relational benefits, the
greater degrees of personal face-to-face interaction are more following hypotheses are posited:
likely to exhibit relational benefits to consumers than services H2a. Confidence benefits positively influence customer
requiring less personal face-to-face interaction between client loyalty, word-of-mouth, and customer satisfaction
and provider. Thus: with the service provider.
H1a. Services requiring greater (less) face-to-face personal H2b. Social benefits positively influence customer loyalty,
interaction are more (less) likely to exhibit relational word-of-mouth, and customer satisfaction with the
benefits to consumers. service provider.
Service heterogeneity infers that all service providers and H2c. Special treatment benefits positively influence
service offerings are somewhat different. A customer may customer loyalty, word-of-mouth, and customer
perceive a difference in the quality of a service offering, such satisfaction with the service provider.
as haircut, the dry cleaning of clothes or yard maintenance,
depending on which service provider performs the service and
where the service is performed. Because of these differences, Modeling involvement in relationship marketing
service providers attempt to tailor the service offering to meet Consumer behavior research typically views enduring and
the exact needs of the customer (Czepiel, 1990). situational involvement as a moderating variable in a
However, in order to obtain a customized service offering, consumer’s decision-making process (e.g. Engel et al., 1978;
the client must be willing to share specific information with Howard and Sheth, 1969). Furthermore, research findings
the service provider, which allows the firm to get “close” to suggest consumer involvement is influenced by physical
the customer. This trusting relationship makes switching to characteristics related to the product (Wright, 1974), personal
other service providers difficult, as customers engaged in a characteristics related to the consumer (Lastovicka and
trusting partnership perceive greater benefits in maintaining Gardner, 1978), and situational factors related to the
that relationship into the future. From the organization’s purchase decision (Clarke and Belk, 1978). In order to
perspective, each encounter represents an opportunity to develop a measure of involvement based on these differences,
prove its potential as a quality service provider, to build trust, Zaichkowsky (1985) developed the Personal Involvement
and to increase customer loyalty (Bitner, 1995). As the Inventory (PII). Based on Greenwald and Leavitt’s (1984)

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claim that high involvement means personal relevance, Figure 1 The influence of service involvement on perceived relational
Zaichkowsky (1985, p. 342) defined the involvement benefits
construct as, “A person’s perceived relevance of an object
based on inherent needs, values, and interests”.
Since the inception of the PII, a considerable amount of
research has progressed in numerous areas of involvement
research, including enduring activity/interest involvement
(Lumpkin, 1985; Oliver and Bearden, 1985; Rahtz et al.,
1989), situational activity/interest involvement (Norris and
Colman, 1992; Unger and Kernan, 1983), enduring product
involvement (Bloch et al., 1986; Higie and Feick, 1988; Slama
and Tashchian, 1985), situational advertising involvement
(Lord and Burnkrant, 1993; Muehling and Laczniak, 1988)
and situational purchase/decision involvement (Mittal, 1989).
Yet despite these advances in involvement research, few
studies have attempted to model involvement into services
marketing (Day et al., 1995).
As suggested by Park and Mittal (1985, p. 208),
involvement is considered to be a “goal-directed arousal
capacity”. Characterizing involvement as a goal-directed
arousal capacity assumes that involvement requires a goal-
directed stimulus, in which a perceived need or goal is
required for involvement to exist. Cohen (1983) remarks that
an actualized interaction must exist, and that asking a person
to rate his/her involvement with a particular product, product
category, brand, or ad when no actualized interaction exists, is standardized services). The data collection procedure used in
merely measuring a consumer’s potential involvement level, this study is similar to those employed by Hennig-Thurau
and not involvement per se. This is consistent with the et al. (2002) and Gwinner et al. (1998). Subjects were then
suggestion by Park and Mittal (1985) that without needs there asked to write down the name of a specific provider within
is an absence of involvement. However, once a perceived need that service category with whom they recently or currently
is elicited, the level of significance or importance assigned to had established a relationship. Each respondent was then
that need influences an individual’s value, interest and asked to answer questions related to perceived benefits they
pleasure capacities. Therefore, it is proposed that a level of received from that service provider and relational behaviors
perceived need must be assessed concurrently with relative they expect to manifest in the future. The remainder of the
arousal capacities to measure consumer involvement. survey consisted of items tapping consumer involvement
Due to the interactive effects of service characteristics levels with the respective service category. Expect for the
associated with the service type and personal characteristics cover sheet indicating the service category and specific
measured in traditional consumer involvement scales, it is provider, both surveys were identical.
hypothesized that perceived relational benefits vary across
service types (see Figure 1). Take for example a high contact Sample
customized service such as a haircut. A female college student As in a variety of successful services marketing studies,
may view getting a haircut to be extremely important and students were recruited to serve as data collectors (e.g. Bitner
perceive greater relational benefits from the service provider et al., 1990; Gwinner et al., 1998; Hennig-Thurau et al.,
than a male college student who is less concerned about 2002). A total of 275 undergraduate students were asked to
getting a haircut. Conversely, a student may eat at a particular voluntarily participate in exchange for extra credit. Students
fast-food restaurant everyday, but because the service is were instructed to administer the questionnaire to a non-
standardized with moderate levels of contact, he/she may not student respondent and return it within ten days of
perceive greater relational benefits than a person passing distribution. All surveys were distributed over a holiday
though on vacation enjoying the same restaurant offering. weekend in the fall of 2004.
Therefore it is hypothesized that: A total of 91 non-student surveys were returned, divided
H3. High (low) involvement consumers are more (less) between two of Bowen’s (1990) three service categories. In
likely to perceive relational benefits from a service all, a total of 43 fast-food surveys and 48 hairdresser/barber
provider. surveys were returned. The average age of respondents was 34
(ranging from 23-85), with 53 percent being male and 47
percent being female. Race distributions were as follows: 73
percent Caucasian, 11 percent African-American, 3 percent
Method Asian, and 4 percent classified as Other.
For the purpose of this study, Bowen’s (1990) service
taxonomy is used to classify services into distinct service Measures
types. In order to elicit responses across service types, A condensed version of the relational benefit scale proposed
respondents were asked to think about certain providers by Gwinner et al. (1998) was administered to assess perceived
within a specific service category (either hairdresser/barber for relationship benefits for each service type. Three items from
high-contact customized services or fast-food restaurant for each of the benefit groups (confidence, social, and special

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Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

treatment) were selected to adequately measure benefits Table I Scale items and reliability estimates
consumers perceived to gain as a result of maintaining a
relationship with a particular service provider. All items used Construct Alphaa AIICb
to measure service benefits were assessed on a seven-point Confidence
Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, I feel I can trust this (service provider)
and are listed in the Table I along with scale reliability I am confident the service will be performed
estimates. Reliability estimates indicate high levels of correctly by this (service provider) 0.850 0.657
reliability, with significant Cronbach alpha levels for I know what to expect from this (service
confidence, social and special treatment benefits above the provider)
0.80 level recommended (Nunnally, 1978). Additionally, Social
average inter-item correlations ranged from 0.653 to 0.812 I am recognized by this (service provider)’s
across each benefit set. It should be noted that it is not the employees
purpose of this paper to assess the validity of the relational I have developed a friendship with this (service
benefit scale, only for use in item mean response comparison provider) 0.928 0.812
across service types and involvement levels. I am familiar with the employee(s) that perform
To determine if involvement influences perceived relational the service(s)
benefits and relational response behaviors across service
categories, three outcome scales were utilized in the survey. Special treatment
Each respondent was asked to rate future intentions with regard I get discount or deals from this (service
to the service provider they maintained a relationship with on provider) that most consumers don’t
seven-point Likert scales ranging from strongly disagree to The prices I get from this (service provider) are
strongly agree. To assess loyalty, word-of-mouth, and better than those other customers get 0.846 0.653
satisfaction intentions, four-items scales previously utilized by I am confident the service will be performed
correctly by this (service provider)
Price and Arnould (1999) were operationalized. The items and
associated reliability estimates are listed in Table I. Across both Loyalty
service categories, both scale Cronbach alpha estimates were I feel a commitment to continuing a relationship
above 0.85. In order to assess customer satisfaction, Price and with this (service provider)
Arnould’s (1999) satisfaction scale consisting of semantic I feel loyal to this (service provider)
differential items was modified into a Likert format consistent I intend to use this (service provider) again 0.886 0.667
with the other intention measures (alpha ¼ 0:96). I plan on visiting this (service provider) the
Finally, consumer involvement was measured using a future
modified version of Zaichkowsky’s (1985) PII. Although Word-of-mouth
modifications and revisions have been made to this initial I would recommend this (service provider) to
measure due to vague terminology and redundancy in item someone who seeks my advice
inventory (McQuarrie and Munson, 1987, 1992; I say positive things about this (service provider)
Zaichkowsky, 1994), eight seven-point semantic differential to others
items showing consistent reliability estimates in prior research I would recommend this (service provider) to
were selected to assess involvement in this study. Each others 0.920 0.767
respondent was asked to rate each item as it related to a I have told others about positive experiences
specific service type (i.e. hairdresser/barber or fast-food with this (service provider)
restaurant). Table I summarizes the items used to assess
Satisfaction
involvement across both service types, as well the reliability
Services offered by this (service provider) please
estimates of the scale. A Cronbach alpha of 0.954 and average
me
inter-item correlation of 0.726 are significantly higher than
Services provided by this (service provider)
values advocated in prior research (e.g. Clark and Watson,
satisfy me
1995; Nunnally, 1978). I am happy with the services provided by this
Analysis of variance was used to compare the summated (service provider) 0.961 0.866
mean of all involvement items across both service types, Visiting this (service provider) in the future
yielding an F statistic of 56.5 and p-value of 0.000. This would be a wise choice
confirms our expectations that a significant difference exists
between involvement levels of consumers engaged in Involvement
relationships with hairdresser/barbers versus fast-food Needed/not needed
restaurants. Additionally, there is no significant difference Essential/non-essential
between involvement means across service categories based Important/unimportant
on gender (F statistic ¼ 1:01, p 2 value ¼ 0:316). Thus, Of concern/of no concern 0.954 0.726
gender fails to influence involvement scores related to Matters to me/does not matter
service providers of interest in this particular study. Relevant/irrelevant
Valuable/worthless
Significant/insignificant
Analysis and results
Notes: a Denotes Cronbach alpha value for each scale
To assess the effect of involvement on perceived relational b
Denotes average inter-item correlation for each scale
benefits and relational response behaviors, all respondents for (n ¼ 91)
each service type were classified into low and high level

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Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

groups based on a median split. The eight items measuring of relational response behaviors across both service categories
consumer involvement were summed and averaged to form a (with the exception of loyalty for hairdresser/barbers). This
composite measure for each respondent. For hairdressers/ emphasizes the importance service firms should place on
barbers, composite scores ranged between 1.75-7.00, with a trustworthiness in service offerings, thereby generating a
median score of approximately 5.13. Fast-food restaurant positive influence on loyalty, word-of-mouth and satisfaction
composite scores ranged between 1.00-7.00, with a median levels (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2002). These findings are also
score of approximately 4.50. consistent with Hennig-Thurau et al. (2002), in that
economic based loyalty programs that offer special
Service characteristics influence on perceived treatment benefits fail to significantly influence relational
relational benefits response behaviors. Such extrinsic rewards tend to yield a
H1a and H1b testing was instituted using MANOVA, with temporary state of loyalty, but fail to contribute to the
composite mean scores for each benefit type serving as development of true relationships between the customer and
dependent variables and service type as the independent provider (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2002). Based on these
variable. The means for each benefit set for both service types results, H2a and H2b are partially supported and H2c is
are listed in Table II. The F tests and related p-values in Table rejected.
II support H1a and H1b, confirming that consumers engaged
in a high contact (i.e. face-to-face interaction), customized
service perceive greater relational benefits than do consumers Effect of consumer involvement on perceived relational
engaged in a standardized, moderate contact service. This benefits
also confirms earlier work by Gwinner et al. (1998) that To test H3, separate MANOVA tests were conducted for each
confidence benefits are perceived to be the most important to service category. The summated mean for each benefit set is
consumers, and that perceived social (F ¼ 68:49) and special shown in Table IV for each service category and both
treatment (F ¼ 18:83) benefits vary dramatically according to involvement levels. The resulting F tests and p-values partially
service type. support H3, in that there is a significant difference between
perceived relational benefits between involvement groups for a
Relational benefits influence on relational response high contact service; whereas there are no significant
behaviors differences in perceived benefits between involvement
Based on the findings for H1a and H1b, multiple regression groups for a standardized, moderate contact service.
analysis was instituted to determine if perceived relational This result is quite intriguing, suggesting that for services
benefits predicted relational response behaviors across both requiring moderate to low levels of face-to-face interaction
service categories. The composite relational behavior means (i.e. fast-food), relational activities are perceived the same
were regressed on each respondent’s composite relational regardless of consumer’s level of involvement. Therefore, this
response behavior score. The results of the analysis are shown may suggest that service firms providing standardized services
in Table III. Based on the regression analysis, it is evident that with moderate to low levels of customer-provider interaction
consumer confidence is the sole significant predictor variable forgo relational activities altogether.

Table II Perceived relational benefits across service types


Relational benefits (n 5 91)
Service type Confidence benefits Social benefits Special treatment benefits
Hairdresser/barber (n 5 48) 5.90 5.56 3.33
Fast food (n 5 43) 5.41 2.65 1.87
F-value 4.80 68.49 18.83
P-value 0.031 0.000 0.000
Notes: Relational means for each benefit type indicate the mean averaged score of a three-item set measured by a seven-point Likert scale with 1 ¼ strongly
disagree and 7 ¼ strongly agree (see Table I for item sets)
F-values and p-values are reported based on a multivariate analysis of variance using SPSS V.11

Table III Standardized regression coefficients for relational benefits predicting response behaviors
Hairdresser/barber (n 5 48) Fast-food (n 5 43)
Loyalty Word-of-mouth Satisfaction Loyalty Word-of-mouth Satisfaction
Confidence 1.69 (0.099) 2.56 (0.014) 3.50 (0.034) 2.89 (0.006) 3.14 (0.003) 4.26 (0.000)
Social 2 0.562 (0.577) 1.73 (0.247) 0.322 (0.749) 1.38 (0.177) 0.957 (0.345) 1.09 (0.281)
Special treatment 2.84 (0.007) 0.550 (0.585) 0.078 (0.938) 0.496 (0.623) 1.09 (0.285) 0.345 (0.732)
Notes: Relational means for each benefit type indicate the mean averaged score of a three-item set measured by a seven-point Likert scale with 1 ¼ strongly
disagree and 7 ¼ strongly agree. Response means for each behavior indicate the mean averaged score of a four-item set measured by a seven-point Likert scale
with 1 ¼ strongly disagree and 7 ¼ strongly agree (see Table I for item sets); ( ) indicate p-values for regression coefficients; Standardized regression
coefficients are reported based on multiple regression analysis using SPSS V.11

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Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

Table IV Involvement’s influence on perceived relational benefits across service types


Hairdresser/barber (n 5 48) Fast-food (n 5 43)
Confidence Social Special treatment Confidence Social Special treatment
benefits benefits benefits benefits benefits benefits
Low involvement means 5.42 5.03 2.55 5.12 2.20 1.57
High involvement means 6.35 6.05 4.04 5.67 3.04 2.13
F-value 11.71 6.20 8.87 2.77 2.29 2.32
P-value 0.001 0.016 0.005 0.103 0.138 0.136
Notes: Means for each benefit type indicate the summated averaged score of a three item set measured by a seven-point Likert scale with 1 ¼ strongly disagree
and 7 ¼ strongly agree (see Table I for item sets); F-values and p-values are reported based on a multivariate analysis of variance using SPSS V.11

Conversely, high contact service provider consumers perceive demographic information. In addition, relationship
vastly different relational benefits depending on involvement marketing efforts must be affordable and practical to
level. This may suggest that service firms providing high implement for the service firm. Due to levels of
contact service offerings are capable of instilling a perceived standardization and customer contact that influence
relational advantage for highly involved consumers versus less consumer’s perception of relational benefits, providers may
involved consumers. Based on the results from H2, if high not be accruing financial rewards worth justifying the costs of
contact service firms are able to delineate their market based engaging in relational activities (De Wulf et al., 2001).
on involvement levels, they can specifically target relational Therefore, relationship marketing should not be a universal
activities associated with confidence benefits to highly philosophy for all service firms, particularly those that are
involved consumers. Thereby, service firms will be able to more standardized.
build trustworthy customer-provider bonds that yield positive The results of this study suggest that a service firm
relational behavior results. For instance, hairdressers/barbers providing a more standardized service offering is better served
may be able to enhance consumer loyalty, satisfaction levels by hiring and training competent and trustworthy employees
and positive word-of-mouth by targeting consumers that rather than adopting relational benefit programs. While
perceive getting a haircut as extremely important versus those benefit programs, such as frequent dining cards at fast food
that are less concerned about a haircut. restaurants may not generate the expected benefits (i.e.
loyalty, word-of-mouth, and satisfaction), other options for
Discussion developing relationships with customers are available. In lieu
of benefit programs, management is encouraged to practice
The results of this study suggest consumers perceive greater relationship marketing aimed at employees so that they, in
relational benefits when engaged in a relationship with a high turn, perform well for customers. Additionally, management
contact, customized service versus a more standardized, should focus on maintaining systems for monitoring service
moderate contact service. In addition, the results suggest that performance and customer complaints, as well as an emphasis
consumer involvement levels with a service moderate the on overall employee satisfaction.
perceived relational benefits offered by the service provider. On the other hand, high contact customized service
Moreover, relational activities associated with confidence providers are encouraged to engage in relationship
benefits were shown to positively influence relational response marketing activities with highly involved consumers,
behaviors, such as loyalty, word-of-mouth, and satisfaction specifically those related to confidence benefits. As
levels for high contact, customized services. However, results suggested by the present study, service providers should
also indicate consumers perceive similar relational benefits measure the product category involvement of their clientele.
from a standardized, moderate contact service provider Customers highly involved with the service offering (i.e.
regardless of consumer involvement levels. Finally the haircut) should be the focus of the service provider due to
results are consistent with prior research suggesting their enhanced perception of relational benefits and increased
consumer confidence is the primary relational benefit likelihood of relational response behaviors. Perhaps including
influencing relational response behaviors (Berry, 1995; questions pertaining to involvement issues should be added to
Hennig-Thurau et al., 2002). comment cards already in use at many service locations. Mere
willingness by consumers to complete such surveys may
Managerial implications indicate higher levels of consumer involvement with a
Empirical evidence on the profitability of firms engaging in particular service type, and thus could be a useful starting
relationship marketing is inconclusive (Sheth, 2002). As Berry point for service providers in segmenting customers.
(1995) suggests, and this study reaffirms, relationship
marketing may not be appropriate for all service providers. Limitations
To achieve relationship marketing success, both the customer Although these preliminary findings prove promising and
and the service provider must perceive the service offering to insightful, there are several limitations to the present study.
be mutually beneficial (Berry, 1995). As such, some service First, this study only addressed two service types. Thus, an
firms are beginning to experience a certain amount of opportunity for future research could be to add moderate
backlash from relationship marketing efforts, as consumers contact, non-personalized services to determine if there are
may feel burdened when service firms request personal significant differences between the three service categories. In
information, such as area codes, zip codes and other addition, a more representative sample of service providers

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Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

from each of the three service categories is in order. Studying Bloch, P., Sherrell, D. and Ridgway, N. (1986), “Consumer
the relational effects across a broad range of service types may search: an extended framework”, Journal of Consumer
provide additional evidence to validate the results of this Research, Vol. 13, June, pp. 119-26.
study. Bowen, J. (1990), “Development of a taxonomy of services to
Second, each respondent only answered questions relating gain strategic marketing insights”, Journal of the Academy of
to a specific service category. Allowing each respondent to Marketing Science, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 43-9.
comment on both service categories would have yielded Christy, R., Oliver, G. and Penn, J. (1996), “Relationship
valuable information to perform within-group analyses on the marketing in consumer markets”, Journal of Marketing
effects of involvement. Management, Vol. 12 Nos 1-3, pp. 175-87.
Finally, because this study was conducted in the USA, Clark, L.A. and Watson, D. (1995), “Constructing validity:
basic issues in objective scale development”, Psychological
cultural differences may influence perceived relational
Assessment, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 309-19.
benefits, thus testing the hypotheses outside the American
Clark, M. and Payne, A. (1994), “Achieving long-term
culture is warranted to provide generalization beyond the US
customer loyalty: a strategic approach”, working paper,
service firms. Centre for Services Management, Cranfield School of
Management, Cranfield.
Future research Clarke, K. and Belk, R.W. (1978), “The effects of product
Characteristics of the service provider, such as empathy and involvement and task definition on anticipated consumer
service environment, may also be determining variables of effort”, in Hunt, H.K. (Ed.), Advances in Consumer
service involvement. If customers feel that the provider Research, Vol. 5, Association for Consumer Research, Ann
understands their specific needs and desires, they are more Arbor, MI, pp. 313-18.
likely to develop strong mutual relationships with the provider Cohen, J.B. (1983), “Involvement and you: 1,000 great
through the encouragement of higher levels of commitment ideas”, in Bagozzi, R. and Tybout, A. (Eds), Advances in
and trust (Pressey and Mathews, 2000). This may facilitate Consumer Research, Vol. 10, Association for Consumer
higher levels of service involvement due to switching costs and Research, Ann Arbor, MI, pp. 325-8.
Czepiel, J.A. (1990), “Service encounters and service
perceived relational benefits. Additionally, because service
relationships: implications for research”, Journal of
offerings are generally produced and consumed in the service
Business Research, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 13-21.
provider’s setting, providing an environment or atmosphere Day, E., Stafford, M.R. and Camacho, A. (1995),
that is inviting may reduce stress, anxiety and fear associated “Opportunities for involvement research: a scale-
with the service offering. Although these variables are not development approach”, Journal of Advertising, Vol. 24
assessed in the current analysis, they may be areas of future No. 3, pp. 69-75.
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designs. Marketing, Vol. 65, October, pp. 33-50.
In sum, this study confirms the recommendation that Engel, J.F., Blackwell, R.D. and Kollat, P.M. (1978),
relationship marketing may be inappropriate for all service Consumer Behavior, 3rd ed., Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
firms. More importantly, the level of consumer involvement New York, NY, pp. 354-66.
with the service has a significant moderating effect on Greenwald, A.G. and Leavitt, C. (1984), “Audience
perceived relational benefits. We contend this study has involvement in advertising: four levels”, Journal of
provided additional insight into the complex nature of Consumer Research, Vol. 11, June, pp. 581-92.
relationship marketing and hope future research can extend Gremler, D.D. and Gwinner, K.P. (2000), “Customer-
on these findings. employee rapport in service relationships”, Journal of
Service Research, Vol. 3, August, pp. 82-104.
Grönroos, C. (1994), “Quo vadis, marketing? toward a
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of Advertising, Vol. 21, September, pp. 37-46. Brian R. Kinard can be contacted at: bkinard@
Nunnally, J.C. (1978), Psychometric Theory, McGraw-Hill, georgiasouthern.edu
New York, NY.
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the theory of reasoned action: a moderating influence Executive summary
attempt”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 12, December, This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives
pp. 324-40. a rapid appreciation of the content of this article. Those with a
Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A. and Berry, L.L. (1985), particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article
“A conceptual model of service quality and its implications in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of
for future research”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49, Fall, the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the
pp. 41-50. material present.
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JAI Press, Greenwich, CT, pp. 201-31. to stay loyal and, while concentrating on building up a

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Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella Volume 20 · Number 6 · 2006 · 359 –368

relationship with the regulars, they need to keep focused on request personal information, such as area codes, zip codes
attracting new customers. Lots to do and, given that it is so and other demographic information. In addition, relationship
important for service retailers to understand the factors that marketing efforts must be affordable and practical to
influence service provider choice, the emphasis on identifying, implement for the service firm. Due to levels of
building and maintaining a network of individual customer standardization and customer contact that influence
relationships by providing mutual benefits to both parties is consumer’s perception of relational benefits, providers may
understandable. That is just one definition of customer not be accruing financial rewards worth justifying the costs of
relationship, but whatever the nuances of definition and engaging in relational activities (De Wulf et al., 2001).
concept, it is a marketing tool which needs careful use if time Therefore, relationship marketing should not be a universal
and money is not to be wasted. philosophy.
If you provide a hairdressing service, both common sense
and marketing literature may dictate that when a female Managerial implications
college student comes to call, it would be advantageous to Empirical evidence on the profitability of firms engaging in
both parties to enjoy a mutually beneficial customer-provider relationship marketing is inconclusive (Sheth, 2002). As Berry
relationship. Not only will she get a good hairstyle, she will (1995) suggests, and this study reaffirms, relationship
enjoy the attention and the provider may be rewarded, not marketing may not be appropriate for all service providers.
just with the fee, but with a loyal, long-term customer and To achieve relationship marketing success, both the customer
word-of-mouth recommendations to others. But does the and the service provider must perceive the service offering to
hairdresser invest a similar amount of customer-relationship be mutually beneficial (Berry, 1995). for all service firms,
building into a male college student for whom a haircut is just particularly those that are more standardized.
a haircut and the sooner it is done and he is out of there the The results of this study suggest that a service firm
better? providing a more standardized service offering is better served
Similarly, at a fast-food business, where it is a more by hiring and training competent and trustworthy employees
standardized service than the customized one to be found at rather than adopting relational benefit programs. While
the hairdressers. Would a long-term customer who calls in for benefit programs, such as frequent dining cards at fast-food
a snack every day enjoy any more benefits than a casual caller restaurants, may not generate the expected benefits (i.e.
who dropped in as he was in the neighbourhood, even if the loyalty, word-of-mouth, and satisfaction), other options for
service provider had put in motion a relationship marketing developing relationships with customers are available. In lieu
strategy? of benefit programs, management is encouraged to practice
Brian R. Kinard and Michael L. Capella, who based their relationship marketing aimed at employees so that they, in
study on responses from patrons of fast-food restaurants and turn, perform well for customers. Additionally, management
hairdressers/stylists, discovered that highly involved should focus on maintaining systems for monitoring service
consumers perceive greater relational benefits when engaged performance and customer complaints, as well as an emphasis
in a high contact, customized service (i.e. hairdressers/stylist) on overall employee satisfaction.
against a more standardized, moderate contact service (i.e. On the other hand, high contact customized service
fast-food restaurant). providers are encouraged to engage in relationship
They note that their findings reaffirm the view that marketing activities with highly involved customers,
relationship marketing may not be appropriate for all service specifically those related to confidence benefits. As
providers. To achieve relationship marketing success, both the suggested by the present study, service providers should
customer and the service provider must perceive the service measure the product category involvement of their clientele.
offering to be mutually beneficial. Customers highly involved with the service offering (i.e.
The authors note that relationship marketing works well haircut) should be the focus of the service provider due to
when customers have long time horizons and high switching their enhanced perception of relational benefits and increased
costs, leading both the customer and supplier to invest likelihood of relational response behaviors. Perhaps including
substantial resources and effort in maintaining the questions pertaining to involvement issues should be added to
relationship. Because services are generally high in comment cards already in use at many service locations. Mere
experience and credence qualities, consumers generally rely willingness by consumers to complete such surveys may
on word-of-mouth rather than advertising as a basis for indicate higher levels of consumer involvement with a
selection. They also tend to rely heavily on price, personnel, particular service type, and thus could be a useful starting
and physical cues to judge quality, while remaining loyal to point for service providers in segmenting customers.
service providers that continuously satisfy their needs.
As such, some service firms are beginning to experience a (A précis of the article “Relationship marketing: the influence of
certain amount of backlash from relationship marketing consumer involvement on perceived service benefits”. Supplied by
efforts, as consumers may feel burdened when service firms Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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