How Consumers Assess Free E-Services

cyberspace-2784907_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors Björn A. Hüttel of the University of Passau, Jan Hendrik Schuman of the University of Passau, Martin Mende of Florida State University, Maura L. Scott of Florida State University, and Christian J. Wagner of the University of Passau. They recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “How Consumers Assess Free E-Services: The Role of Benefit-Inflation and Cost-Deflation Effects,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Hüttel reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

02JSR13_Covers.inddWhat motivated us to pursue this research was that free digital services are dominating the Internet, however to date it is not well understood why free online services are so successful. In particular, the business model of successful service firms such as Google or Facebook rest on consumers’ nonmonetary payments, for example users must pay the “free” service by giving their attention to advertising. To illustrate further, consumers may receive a free email account or music subscription, but incur nonmonetary costs through exposure to advertisements or disclosure of personal information. Due to the importance of nonmonetary costs for the design of free digital services, we were interested in how consumers perceive nonmonetary costs and how these cost perceptions influence their decisions for or against the usage of free online services.

Because we identify novel mechanisms that help explain free services’ success we believe that our findings can impact the research field of “free” as a business model as well as the behavior of consumers when deciding to purchase free digital services. Specifically, from a consumer perspective, we find that consumers should be cognizant that their decision for or against the usage of free online services is influenced by two distinct effects: a benefit-inflation effect, such that they tend to overemphasize the benefits of free service offerings, and a cost-deflation effect, such that they judge the corresponding nonmonetary costs as lower. These two effects are separate drivers of the success of free digital offerings and consumers must recognize that the effects can and will be leveraged by marketers such as by bundling free services with relatively more advertisements. Consumers thus must realize that a label “free” means that they often have to contribute more nonmonetary costs, a fact which they should consider when evaluating a free digital service offering.

From an industry point of view, our findings have implications for the success of business models in the online environment. Firms that intend to switch their business model from free to fee and offer e-services for very low prices (i.e., apps for $.99) should note that consumers will likely judge the associated nonmonetary costs as significantly higher in the presence of the monetary fee, with negative downstream effects on demand. Therefore, it may be more effective to offer the service for free and benefit from the cost-deflation effect by selling more advertising

We like to thank Kristina Shampanier, Nina Mazar, as well as Dan Ariely for their inspiring initial work on the zero-price effect, on which we build heavily. To continue, we believe that future research in this field is necessary, especially in light of the growing importance of nonmonetary cost-related topics in the society such as consumer privacy concerns, private data usage and the employment of customers for conducting co-creation tasks in order to receive free offerings.

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Customer-Firm Interactions

cup-2884023_1920[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:]

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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.

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Interaction photo attributed to rawpixel. (CC)

How People Think About Prices

shopping-1724299_1280 (1)[We’re pleased to welcome authors Lane T. Wakefield of Mercer University and Kirk L. Wakefield of Baylor University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “An Examination of Construal Effects on Price Perceptions in the Advance Selling of Experience Services,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

02JSR13_Covers.inddWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

As a huge sports fan and one that enjoys concerts and vacations as much as the next person, I find this research interesting as it suggests how people think about ticket prices.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
This research can impact the field by offering practitioners guidance in identifying who, when and where buyers of experiences are likely to be more or less price sensitive and perceive more or less value. This information helps managers to deliver the right offers or, at least, frame their current offerings more effectively.

Were there any surprising findings?

Our most surprising finding was that buyers tend to think about what other buyers are doing in the market. We found that the majority (65%) of buyers consider what others may perceive as a good price. When it comes to fun experiences, buyers assume that others see those experiences as having high value even if they do not share that feeling personally. Sellers may do well to frame their offerings in terms of how typical fans may see them rather than asking the buyer for their own thoughts. Price perceptions are affected by who you bring to mind (self vs others).

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

We identified a segment of consumers who are more price sensitive when they perceive high value. Typically, this relationship is seen as the opposite. That is, those who perceive high value may be less price sensitive (i.e. can you really put a price tag on the Cowboys vs Redskins on Thanksgiving?). However, we believe that there are some who enjoy attending games, concerts and the like so much that they become price sensitive in order to be able to afford to have more experiences within their limited budgets. Hopefully you’ll see more about this research soon!

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Price tag photo attributed to gdakaska. (CC)

Service Employee Responses to Angry Customer Complaints

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[We’re pleased to welcome authors Christina Jerger of the Catholic University of Eichstaett–Ingolstadt and Jochen Wirtz of the National University of Singapore. They recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “Service Employee Responses to Angry Customer Complaints: The Roles of Customer Status and Service Climate,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Jerger reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

 

 

It is not uncommon that customers behave aggressively in service encounters, especially after experiencing a service failure. In turn, front line service employees should not retaliate this customer misbehavior to not jeopardize effective service recovery. Furthermore, service employees are requested to not discriminate customers and to treat them equal in terms of their displayed emotions as well as offered restitution in the service recovery encounter. The equal customer treatment becomes even more important in our increasingly diverse societies but is scantly researched.

This research gap spans many fruitful avenues for the research I have conducted as part of my PhD thesis. This current study examines whether a customer’s status determines how well service employees respond when they get confronted with an angry customer complaint, and whether a firm’s strong service climate can help to reduce customer status effects. Specifically, to assess employees’ emotional (i.e., expressed anger) and behavioral (i.e., restitution offered) service recovery responses, we had to develop an innovative field experimental design: We conducted role-played complaints in fast-food restaurants and observed and coded employees’ actual responses. In addition, we conducted scenario-based experiments with restaurant waiters to find out more about how the employees’ background and their personality might influence their responses to angry customers of different status.

The studies’ findings confirm that in weak service climate conditions, employees treated low-status customers significantly worse; they expressed more anger and they were less likely to offer restitution. In contrast, a strong service climate moderated the effects of customer status on employees’ response behaviors in both studies. As a result, employees’ service recovery behaviors converged at what is generally considered good practice in customer service. The strong organizational rules, routinization of recovery processes, better employee skills and knowledge, and guidance by leadership meant that employees knew what is expected from them and led to better service recovery outcomes. Importantly, employees did not treat low-status customers worse than high-status ones.

Interestingly, although it didn’t reach statistical significance in both studies, we found a tendency that low-status customers were more likely to receive restitution in a strong service climate than high-status customers. It seemed that employees made an effort to not treat low-status customers worse than high-status customers, and in the process, they overcompensated low-status customers.

Furthermore, our findings show that service climate governs both employees’ immediate affective and delayed conative recovery responses. This suggests that a strong service climate is authentic, internalized, and on a level of deep acting. Therefore, it is effective in governing employee responses in difficult situations, including in establishing emotional display rules.

One major input to building a strong service climate is training. A strong service climate seems a necessary requirement for effectively dealing with angry customer complaints. Employees should be trained in handling their feelings and how to use emotional displays in an appropriate manner. Especially for organizations with a weak service climate, this training needs to include on how to treat customers equally and independent of potential biases employees may have.

Overall, this paper offers highly valuable insights for service theory and management and helps understanding how service employees respond to angry customer complaints.

 

Christina Jerger, July 18, 2017

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Customer Service photo attributed to PublicDomainPictures. (CC)

Pedagogical Innovation and Paradigm Shift in the Introduction to Management Curriculum

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Elizabeth Christopher of Macquarie University, Joe Roberts of Webster University, and Oliver Laasch of the University of Nottingham, China. They recently published a paper in the Journal of Management Education entitled, “Pedagogical Innovation and Paradigm Shift in the Introduction to Management Curriculum,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below, Christopher and Roberts reflect on the motivation for pursuing this research:]

JME_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

E- Identifying a need for improved introduction to management education, emerging from a complex global business environment of socio- economic challenges for managers.

J- Identifying innovative pedagogical approaches to teaching Intro to Management concepts across campus as interdisciplinary courses.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

E- The 20th century was characterized by a resurgence of 19th-century concepts of management associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism that persists to this day. Managerialism is the organizational form of neo-liberalism that implicitly endorses the concept of educating managers to be market-led. Education along these lines is defined in terms of human capital acquisition, skilled for the economy.

If the principles of neoliberal, market led, introduction to management education are not examined, educators run the risk of overlooking contemporary demands for managerial social ethics and responsibility for the environment. This Special Issue is an attempt to respond to this challenge on behalf of university faculties and students and on behalf of curriculum designs.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

E- It is innovative in its recognition that contemporary western management thought, all too often, is based on outdated assumptions of what ‘good’ management should be, but that have become profoundly inadequate to address pressing challenges of managerial sustainability, responsibility and ethics.  The research reveals the extent of the need for new approaches to introduction to management courses. The JME is a widely read and highly regarded journal, therefore the research findings should have an impact on the field.

J- As the managerial function has become more entrepreneurial in nature the question of ethics has become extremely important and should be integrated with pedagogical approaches to teaching Intro to Management concepts.

 

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Does Public Service Motivation Always Lead to Organizational?Commitment?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Wisanupong Potipiroon of Prince of Songkla University. Potipiroon recently published a paper in Public Personnel Management entitled, “Does Public Service Motivation Always Lead to Organizational Commitment? Examining the Moderating Roles of Intrinsic Motivation and Ethical Leadership,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below, Potipiroon reflects on the motivation for pursuing this research:]

PPM_C1 template_rev.inddIt is widely accepted that individuals with high public service motivation (PSM) are more likely to join, feel emotionally attached to and remain in public service organizations. Although we concur with this prevailing notion, our observations and anecdotes from street-level bureaucrats indicate that this is not always the case. Although it is true that public organizations can provide considerable opportunities to employees to do good for others and to be useful to society, we know from experience that service-minded employees often end up working in jobs that do not allow them to put their motivation to use effectively. Indeed, not all jobs are created equal: Some can be less interesting or challenging than others. This may form part of the reasons why many talented workers may decide to leave public service in the first place.

Well, this is precisely what we found in our data which were drawn from a large public organization in Thailand. We found that the relationship between PSM and organizational commitment was dependent upon intrinsic motivation—the extent to which one finds enjoyment in the work even without rewards. When task enjoyment was high, we found that the effect of PSM on organizational commitment was positive. When task enjoyment was lacking, however, the effect of PSM became significantly negative. This indicates that low levels of intrinsic motivation could undermine the achievement of the opportunities inherent in meaningful public services.

Interestingly, we also learned that highly motivated individuals put a great deal of importance on the extent to which their leaders are ethical. In particular, the highest level of organizational commitment was observed when there were high levels of motivation and ethical leadership simultaneously. This suggests that ethical leaders play an instrumental role in fulfilling employees’ needs to act on their motivation. In the public sector, ethical leaders are those who place great emphasis on making an outward, societal impact and showing concern for the common good while also providing a supportive work context that allow employees’ motivation to flourish.

Our study findings underscore the fact that PSM may not offer infinite benefits in every type of settings because PSM effects will likely depend on the whole range of contextual factors including job characteristics and leadership styles. Indeed, public managers should be aware that highly motivated workers could develop a particularly unfavorable view of their organizations if their prosocial needs go unmet.

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Do Customers Assign Different Meanings to Different Acts of Compensation?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Holger Roschk of the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt, Austria. Roschk recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “Compensation Revisited: A Social Resource Theory Perspective on Offering a Monetary Resource after a Service Failure,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Roschk reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

dollar-531639_960_720One of the many propositions by social resource theory comprises that people assign different meanings to the same action. Being a great fan of mafia movies, this idea intrigued me as it nicely reflects the popular “kiss of death” metaphor. While a kiss is usually considered as something positive, it can also — as portrayed in these very special movie situations mean that a person has fallen in disgrace.

Fascinated by this idea, we wanted to see if complainants assign different meanings to an act of service failure compensation. In service recovery research, social resource theory has been employed in promising ways such as explaining the situational desirability of recovery efforts. Accordingly, it seemed logical to take the next step and see if varying the properties of one and the same resource—in our case money—impacts recovery effectiveness.

With this purpose in mind, we also had to deal with a couple of challenges. One of them was the above mentioned issue that people attach different meanings to the same action. It is not reported in the article, but it was quite interesting. Accidentally, in one of our tests we manipulated the compensation act in such a way that respondents seemed to assign a negative meaning, eventually leading to obstructive effects which was exactly the contrary of what we wanted to achieve.

People often talk about money in terms of “money is money—so why should one care about how it is given?” Finding that complainants actually do care about how they are compensated in a recovery situation is an interesting new perspective for practitioners and researchers alike. Practitioners in particular learn about an outcome relevant property allowing to facilitate recovery outcomes without additional monetary costs. Further, they learn about an interesting side effect. Specifically, we observed that handing over the money in a personal and tangible way can be used to increase monetary returns to the firm in the form of tipping and cross-buying.

With regards to the research community, we hope that future scholars also draw on social resource theory in order to broaden our understanding of service failure and recovery, especially as SRT comprises many more propositions not yet considered.

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