[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jesús Cambra-Fierro of the University Pablo of Olavide, Iguácel Melero-Polo of the University of Zaragoza, F. Javier Sese of the University of Zaragoza, and Jenny van Doorn of the University of Groningen. Wakefield. They recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “Customer-Firm Interactions and the Path to Profitability: A Chain-of-Effects Model,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Melero-Polo reflects on the theories and implications of this research:]
This study investigates a chain of effects to understand the causal path from customer informational inquiries (CIIs) and firm-initiated contacts (FICs) to customer profitability. Customer–firm interactions are the starting point of the relationship between these parties, and contribute to determining the relationship’s future (Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987; Anderson and Weitz 1992). These interactions can be initiated either by firms or by customers. Although companies have traditionally taken the initiative to contact customers (FICs), nowadays, the growing importance of the customer in value-creation processes has changed the rules of the game. Thus, there has been a significant increase in the number of CIIs that companies have to properly manage. However, despite the importance of this topic, more research was needed to clarify the effectiveness of FICs and CIIs (Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, and Gremler 2002; Hogan et al. 2002; Palmatier et al. 2006).
Drawing on social exchange theory, our framework identifies a set of attitudinal (perceived relationship investment and relationship quality), behavioral (customer cross-buy and service usage), and financial (customer profitability) consequences of CIIs and FICs, and also explores the extent to which customer-perceived financial risk and customer involvement shape attitudinal reactions to CIIs and FICs. We follow Bolton, Lemon, and Verhoef (2004), who propose a causal sequence of the effects of marketing instruments (FICs): (1) FICs influence relationship perceptions, (2) which influence customer behaviors, (3) which, in turn, affect financial outcomes. However, we go a step further and empirically analyze the chain of effects following FICs and CIIs. Furthermore, we include two contingency variables that can help in understanding how these customer–firm interactions (FICs and CIIs) contribute to building stronger relationships.
Through our analysis of this chain of effects, we are able to propose specific guidelines for managers in order to improve customer–firm relationships and increase the value that each customer can provide to the firm.
Our contingency framework reveals that the impact of FICs and CIIs may vary between different customers depending on their levels of perceived risk and customer involvement. Specifically, FICs and CIIs are a particularly valuable tool for strengthening the relationship with customers with a low level of involvement, but high perception of financial services risk. For highly involved customers, FICs and CIIs are not very effective; CIIs can even backfire if the customer also perceives the risk to be low. Our results highlight the importance of market segmentation for marketers to more effectively manage when and to whom they should target marketing activities (FICs) and steer CIIs.