The management of quality in services has been a topic frequently addressed today as a differentiating factor for organisations (Dayan et al. 2017). Currently, it is considered that intensive competitiveness in terms of quantity and quality makes it difficult for a company to differentiate itself from its competitors. Therefore, the search for differentiating strategies has become one of the priorities for management as a requirement for business sustainability (Hengst et al. 2020).
This research, therefore, analyses how effective customer services impact on the external quality or performance of a company in its business, proposing ways for future commercialisation and marketing decisions. High levels of customer satisfaction are linked to superior financial returns. Today, there is ample empirical support to prove that high customer satisfaction scores are accompanied by above-average profitability (Dursun and Caber, 2016; Urge, 2017; Yusof et al. 2017).
There are also several other benefits provided by effective customer services: more positive customer perception of the company; accurate and up-to-date information on customer needs; loyalty relationships with customers based on corrective actions; and confidence developed due to a closer relationship with the clients (Dayan et al. 2017). The effectiveness of customer services is usually evaluated using customer satisfaction surveys (Schuckert et al. 2019). This work will express key aspects of the subject, highlighting, mainly, aspects related to the importance of customer satisfaction research for companies. Closely linked to quality processes, which strengthen the competitiveness of companies, research on customer satisfaction is among the prerequisites that support effective marketing actions. Quality management of customer services plays a vital role in leveraging the company's productivity and competitiveness, maximising its profitability.
Theoretical Background and Research Focus
Customer Service Satisfaction Concepts
Customer satisfaction has two essential concepts: specific satisfaction in a transaction and accumulated satisfaction (Radojevic et al. 2017). Marketing and consumer researchers agree on satisfaction as an individual, transaction-specific measure or as an assessment of a particular experience with a certain product or service. In this case, the view of satisfaction as something transaction-specific is useful for private and short-term encounters with a product or service. Such a convergence is not observed, however, when the discussion falls on the question of who comes first, or, more properly, what is the precedent: the perceived quality of the service or the transaction-specific satisfaction.
The adoption of this concept of satisfaction "is more consistent with the existing views in economic psychology, in which satisfaction is equated with the subjective notion of well-being (Schuckert et al. 2019) and in economics, where satisfaction goes beside the expected economic utility and covers the utility of post-purchase consumption (Dayan et al. 2017).
Types of Customer Satisfaction Studies
The way of conducting customer satisfaction surveys opens, based on these initial theoretical considerations, in two ways: experimental studies and studies with an aggregate perspective. The experimental tradition established in Psychology evokes the origins of customer satisfaction research. At the same time, it offers itself as one of the avenues for customer satisfaction studies, focusing on individual measures of subjects, events or stimuli. The experimental studies provide an essential level of detail to understand the nature and antecedents of satisfaction, but they do not necessarily generate empirical generalisations (Gremler et al. 2019). In other words, these studies, at the individual level, really demonstrate the breadth of possible behavioural phenomena, but, as a vast lineage of experimental psychologists has recognised over time, there are difficulties in obtaining generalisations from the findings (Vivek et al. 2018).
Only customer satisfaction studies with an aggregate perspective (or market-level studies) are capable of producing empirical generalisations. From a scientific point of view, satisfaction research is strengthened when market analyses are added to studies at the individual level (Schuckert et al. 2019). Market-level studies are made possible with the use of the four faces of Epstein's aggregation (Kim et al. 2016): stimuli, occasions of use, modes of measurement and individuals. Aggregation incorporates a level of micro psychological perspective on customer satisfaction, which becomes an accumulated (and no longer isolated) experience with a product or service (Ahmetoglu et al. 2017). This aggregation also serves to reduce the error in measuring key variables related to satisfaction.
Another evidence of the importance of surveys with an aggregate perspective is that the results of satisfaction at the market level are a strong indicator of the aggregate customer retention by the company and, also, of the future profitability (Kim et al. 2016). These results are then offered as a sparkling reference for companies looking to accelerate their business performance, and for administrators who want to monitor the well-being of consumers.
National and Sectorial Customer Satisfaction Indexes
Currently, among the satisfaction models in the aggregate perspective is the national customer satisfaction indexes such as the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). The theory that underlies the UKCSI model has three antecedents: the perceived quality or performance, the perceived value, and the customer's expectation. The result of the increase in customer satisfaction, which is measured by UKCSI point to a reduction in guest complaints and a tremendous rise in customer loyalty (Golovkova et al. 2019). Each questionnaire applied to these customers contains the same structured questions and demographic questions. The wording and examples are adjusted to the products and services specifically evaluated. The variables measured, in turn, refer to the latent variables of (a) customer expectations; (b) perceived quality; (c) perceived value; (d) the UKCSI itself; (e) customer complaints; and (f) customer loyalty (Bi et al. 2020; Golovkova et al. 2019). A 10-point scale is used in the questionnaire, in order to allow customers to better discriminate in their responses. Another objective of the 10-point scale is to reduce the statistical problems of distortion in responses (Golovkova et al. 2019).
The Role of the Disconfirmation Paradigm in Customer Satisfaction
An excellent theoretical review of all the empirical evidence of the impact of the disconfirmation of expectations was made by Li et al. (2020). More recently, a critique of the absolute supremacy of the disconfirmation paradigm has appeared in the thought-provoking work of Bodet, Anaba, and Bouchet (2017) in reexamining the determinants of consumer satisfaction. When presenting a new model of the satisfaction formation process, the authors go beyond the disconfirmation paradigm by including consumer wishes in this process and also verifying the impact of marketing communication (through the idea of satisfaction with information). The new model was tested empirically and confirmed the hypotheses of the existence of a relationship between consumer desires and their satisfaction, allowing to affirm that the general satisfaction of the consumer results from both the congruence of their desires and the positive disconfirmation of their expectations (Narangajavana et al. 2017). This theme further ignited the controversy that Priporas et al. (2017) and Nguyen et al. (2018) established in relation to the SERVQUAL model for assessing quality in services. At the epicenter of this discussion is the need (or not) to include customer expectations in quality measurement, with the consequent repercussions on customer satisfaction assessments. As is well known, these three authors defend, based on tests of their models, that it is not necessary to include expectations in these assessments.
It can be seen, therefore, that customer satisfaction measurement surveys include measurement processes that evaluate expectations along with performance and, on the other hand, evaluate performance without the need to also evaluate expectations.
The Practice of Customer Satisfaction Surveys in Companies
The measurement of customer satisfaction today represents a true industry in the UK. Hundreds of research companies are specialised in this subject; National and international conferences are held systematically (Annual Customer Satisfaction and Quality Measurement Conference, organised by the Academy of Marketing Science (AMS)) (Petruzzellis and Winer, 2016). The literature on the subject is abundant, both in books and articles published in journals and magazines. All this effervescence ends up lending indisputable relevance to customer satisfaction surveys.
Interesting research on these practices in UK companies was carried out by Nguyen et al. (2018) and published in Marketing Management. The survey verified the practices of measuring and managing customer satisfaction (CS) in the UK quick-service restaurant industry, analysing the human resources employed in the surveys, the budget allocation allocated to the CS program, the way the research questions are formulated and addressed, the types of data analysis used, the types of models or theories adopted and the use of the information obtained. The results led the authors to list procedures capable of ensuring that the company's CS process (1) begins with the qualitative and quantitative input of customers, employees who interact with these customers and with competitors' customers; (2) develops action plans to improve what customers say needs to be improved; and (3) motivates and enables employees to satisfy customers, linking performance appraisal and compensation with the fulfillment of the action plan. The companies with the best CS practices registered the following aspects in common:
- Marketing and sales employees are primarily responsible (with customer input) for the formulation of CS programs and questionnaires;
- Senior management and the marketing department lead the programs;
- The measurement involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods that include, predominantly, questionnaires by mail, telephone surveys, and focus groups;
- Assessments include both the company's CS performance and that of its competitors;
- The results are made available to all employees, but not necessarily to customers;
- The TQM and CS programs are often linked, but not always;
- CS is incorporated into the company's strategic focus via a business mission statement (Nguyen et al. 2018).
Justification and Contextualisation
Customer satisfaction is one of the much-studied topics in the field of marketing. Throughout history, it has been seen how the defense of consumer rights has been emphasised, and with great reason since customers are and always will be the raison d'etre of companies. The happier they are with a service, the more benefits the companies will obtain. The goal of organisations should be to obtain the largest number of satisfied customers. Quality is summarised in the level of excellence that the company has managed to achieve to satisfy its customers. Quality and service are two essential concepts when it comes to the direct relationship that organisations establish with customers.
The importance of offering a quality service has been the reason for th...
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