Time works wonders–it’s a familiar saying that speaks to the fluid nature of an individual’s experiences, and how, as time passes, perceptions of those experiences often change. And yet, in customer satisfaction research, time has often been neglected, despite the fact it plays a significant part in how customers reflect on their service experience. In their article, “The Temporal Construal of Customer Satisfaction,” published in the November 2015 issue of Journal of Service Research, authors Gabriele Pizzi, Gian Luca Marzocchi, Chiara Orsingher, and Alessandra Zammit of the University of Bologna outline how customer satisfaction changes over time. In particular, the paper highlights how customer feedback shifts from focusing on concrete details to more abstract details as time passes.
Traditional customer satisfaction research considers satisfaction judgments invariant to temporal distance. We conduct two experiments and a field study to show that the amount of time elapsed between a service consumption experience and its evaluation influences satisfaction judgments. We show that consumers rely on concrete attributes to represent near-past (NP) experiences and on abstract attributes to represent distant-past (DP) experiences (i.e., different construal levels). The findings indicate that construal mechanisms generate intertemporal shifts in the importance of the attributes driving satisfaction over time (Study 1), in the weights assigned to abstract and concrete attributes of a past service experience (Study 2), and in overall satisfaction judgments when abstract and concrete attributes perform differently (Study 3). Overall, the results provide support for the idea that satisfaction judgments shift over time as a result of the different psychological mechanisms that are activated as a function of the time elapsing between the service experience and its evaluation. Managers are advised to adopt longitudinal approaches to customer satisfaction measurement: An immediate assessment to capture customers’ evaluations of the performance of the concrete details of the experience and a delayed assessment to measure customer satisfaction with more abstract and goal-related features of the experience.
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