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Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services

Richard A. Spreng

Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Linda Hui Shi

Faculty of Business, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada, and

Thomas J. Page

Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Abstract Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to investigate the effects of service quality and service satisfaction on intention in a business-to-business setting. Design/methodology/approach – This research addresses three unanswered questions regarding satisfaction and service quality: the distinction between customer satisfaction and perceived service quality; their causal ordering; and their relative impact on intentions. The data were collected using a large survey of buyers in a business setting. Findings – The data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. The results show that service quality has a larger impact on intentions than does customer satisfaction. The results also show that the effects of individual transactions on intentions are mediated by corresponding cumulative constructs. Research limitations/implications – The primary implications for theory include demonstrating the distinction between satisfaction and service quality; specifying, based on theory and logic, the causal ordering between transaction constructs and cumulative constructs, and between service quality and satisfaction; and assessing their relative impact on behavioral intentions. Originality/value – The results show that one negative transaction outcome may not be sufficient to cause the customer to switch if the cumulative levels are sufficiently positive. Thus, a negative outcome may be discounted by the user if it is seen as a unique occurrence. However, a series of successive negative transaction outcomes may cause the cumulative constructs to become less positive, resulting in lower intentions to repurchase from the same supplier.

Keywords Customer satisfaction, Customer services quality, Business-to-business marketing

Paper type Research paper

An executive summary for managers and executive readers can be found at the end of this article.

Introduction

The fundamental proposition in customer satisfaction and service quality research is that high customer satisfaction (CS) and perceived service quality (PSQ) lead to high customer repurchase intention (e.g. Heskett et al. , 1994; Rust et al. , 1995; Oliver, 1997). Although PSQ and CS to retention links have been studied extensively, the vast majority of PSQ and CS research has been done in the business-to-consumer (B2C) context (Paulssen and Birk, 2007). It is crucial to determine whether the CS and PSQ to intention links are also relevant in business-to-business settings because these linkages may directly influence economic return (Anderson et al., 1994; Luo and Bhattacharya, 2006). Previous research

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Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing 24/8 (2009) 537–548 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0885-8624] [DOI 10.1108/08858620910999411]

has shown that the findings in a consumer setting may be able to be translated into an organizational setting (Cooper and Jackson, 1988; Durvasula et al. , 1999). In this study, we investigate the relative impacts of CS and PSQ in a business- to-business setting. While we acknowledge that marketing researchers have paid increasing attention to PSQ and CS in the business-to-business setting (Chandrashekaran et al. , 2007; Lam et al., 2004; Liu et al. , 2003; Gounaris, 2005; Rauyruen and Miller, 2007; Jayawardhena et al. , 2007; Patterson and Spreng, 1997; Patterson et al., 1997), the exact nature of the relationship between PSQ, CS, and behavioral intentions in a business-to-business context leaves several questions unanswered. The extensive research on PSQ and CS in a consumer context provides some understanding of these constructs. Research has examined:

the conceptual distinction between CS and PSQ (for a review, see Oliver, 1997);

.

.

.

the causal ordering between them (e.g. Teas, 1993); and

the relative impact of the two on behavioral intentions (e.g. Cronin and Taylor, 1992).

Received: April 2008 Revised: August 2008 Accepted: October 2008

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Furthermore, both PSQ and CS have been conceptualized as episode (transaction) specific and as cumulative (global)

evaluations that result from a number of transactions. In spite

of these studies, much confusion remains. In addition, this

research has not generally been applied to business-to- business settings. The purposes of this paper are:

.

to review the conceptual distinctions and causal ordering between PSQ and CS both at the transaction specific and cumulative levels;

.

to develop an integrative model that includes behavioral intentions as well as PSQ and CS; and

.

to test the proposed relationships in a business-to-business context.

The paper is organized as follows. First, we review relevant literature in both the service quality and satisfaction areas. Second, the proposed model linking PSQ, CS, and intentions is developed. Next, themethod used to test themodel is described. Finally, the results of the test of the proposed model are presented, followed by a discussion of the results. Our research possesses both theoretical and managerial implications.

Review of PSQ and CS literature

The first task is to distinguish between PSQ and CS. To do

this, we adopt the accepted proposition that PSQ is primarily

a cognitive concept, while CS is more affective in nature (Parasuraman et al. , 1988; Bolton and Drew, 1991a, b; Boulding et al. , 1993; Yi, 1990).

Perceived service quality Parasuraman et al. (1988) defined PSQ as “a global judgment

or attitude relating to the superiority of the service” (p. 16).

Similarly, Oliver (1997, p. 27) defined PSQ as “a judgment of performance excellence”. More specifically, Oliver (1994) suggested that quality is largely a performance assessment and it relies on evaluation of performance excellence criteria. Also, de Ruyter and Wetzels (1998) implied that PSQ is a mathematical evaluation or judgment. Thus, it appears that PSQ is conceptualized as either a “judgment” or an “appraisal variable” (Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Gotlieb et al. , 1994).

Customer satisfaction In contrast, CS is usually considered to be a more affective concept. Many customer satisfaction researchers have defined CS as an affective response (e.g. Cadotte et al. , 1987; Oliver, 1989; Spreng et al., 1996; Westbrook and Reilly, 1983). For example, Westbrook (1987) argued that both positive and negative affect are directly related to the favorability of customer satisfaction. This belief is further affirmed by the affective-processing mechanisms proposed by Cohen and Areni (1991), in which they propose that emotions will leave strong affective traces in consumer’s memory which can be retrieved when a consumer evaluates the relevant consumption experience. Finally, Oliver (1989 p. 1) states that CS is an “affective, or emotional response”.

Conceptual distinctions There are empirical findings supporting the view that PSQ is primarily a cognitive concept while CS is more affective in nature. For example, Oliver (1994) found that PSQ was influenced by performance (cognitive judgments) but not by affective constructs (negative or positive affect), whereas CS was

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affected by both cognitive (disconfirmation) and affective antecedents. Other distinctions between PSQ and CS have also been proposed. While these distinctions are still being debated in the literature, they are worth highlighting here. First, some researchers have suggested a difference in temporal focus, with PSQ being primarily a long-term, cumulative concept, while CS is more episode-specific or transactional (Bitner, 1990; Boulding et al. , 1993; Cronin and Taylor, 1992). In other words, CS refers to an evaluation of a specific service transaction (transaction CS), while PSQ refers to a judgment made after multiple transactions over time, and is cumulative in nature (cumulative PSQ). However, criticisms of this argument have emerged from both the service quality literature and the customer satisfaction literature. In the service quality literature, Teas (1993, p. 30) challenges this temporal focus view by stating that PSQ can be operationalized as either “transaction specific quality” or “relationship qua lity”. Consistent with Teas’s (1993) contention, Parasuraman et al. (1994) also argue that service quality can be operationalized as either a transaction or as a cumulative construct. Similarly, in the customer satisfaction literature, researchers maintain that CS can be treated as either a transaction specific concept or a cumulative evaluation after multiple transactions (Anderson et al., 1994; Fornell, 1992). Empirically, CS has been operationalized as transaction CS (Cadotte et al., 1987; Oliver, 1980; Spreng et al. , 1996; Tse and Wilton, 1988; Westbrook, 1987) and as cumulative CS (e.g. Anderson et al., 1994; Fornell, 1992). Thus, it is difficult to argue that temporal focus is a means of distinguishing between CS and PSQ. A second distinction that has been suggested is that the standard of comparison is different in each case (Bitner, 1990; Oliver, 1993, 1997; Parasuraman et al. , 1988; Zeithaml et al. , 1993). This perspective argues that the standard for CS is predictive expectations, while the standard for PSQ is the consumer’s belief about what a service provider should provide (Parasuraman et al., 1988). However, Spreng and Mackoy (1996) challenged the comparison standard view based on their empirical finding that desires congruency influences both CS and PSQ. In addition, a great deal of research in customer satisfaction has challenged the view that CS is formed solely through the disconfirmation of predictive expectations, and has found support for competitive-based norms (Cadotte et al. , 1987) and desires (Spreng and Olshavsky, 1993) as a basis for CS. Thus, as with temporal focus, it is difficult to argue that the standard of comparison can reliably distinguish between PSQ and CS. In summary, we support the argument that PSQ is a judgment of performance, while CS is an affective construct. Specifically, transaction PSQ is defined as a judgment of performance excellence based on the customer’s last experience (Oliver, 1997). Cumulative PSQ is a judgment of performance excellence based on all of the customer’s experience with a particular product or service (Oliver, 1997). Transaction CS is an affective state that is the emotional reaction to the customer’s last product or service experience (Oliver, 1980). Cumulative CS is an affective state that is the emotional reaction to all of the customer’s experience with a particular product or service (Oliver, 1980). As mentioned earlier, there has been little research examining PSQ and CS in a business-to-business setting. There are reasons to believe, however, that the relationships

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among the constructs may be different in a business-to- business versus consumer setting, and even between different functional areas within a given firm (Chakraborty et al. , 2007). Fern and Brown (1984) advocate the industrial/ consumer dichotomy in that there are significant differences between organizational versus consumer marketing. Others, however, argue that there are more similarities than differences between organizational versus consumer marketing (Andrus and Norvell, 1990; Coviello and Brodie, 2001; Dawes and Patterson, 1988). Miciak and Desmarais (2001) found support for both propositions, but generally supported the industrial/consumer dichotomy. This difference might manifest itself, for example, in the impact of PSQ. Since organizational buying often involves more face-to-face contact between buyers and sellers, this increased interaction may increase the overall importance of PSQ. However, given the limited guidance from B2B research, the model development below will be based primarily on research in B2C settings, except where relevant B2B research exists.

Model development

Causal ordering of PSQ and CS There is considerable debate concerning the causal ordering of PSQ and CS. Table I summarizes research since 1992 that has looked at both constructs. Among those studies that have examined the ordering, some researchers contend that CS ! PSQ based on the assumption that CS is an effect of disconfirmation of a single transaction and quality perception (PSQ) is an effect of multiple satisfactory/dissatisfactory service transactions (CS) (Bitner, 1990; Bolton and Drew 1991a, b). Note that this argument relies on the “temporal order” perspective in distinguishing between PSQ and CS. That is, based on the contention that CS is a transaction evaluation and PSQ is a cumulative evaluation, this ordering suggests that the transaction construct (claimed to be CS) leads to the cumulative construct (claimed to be PSQ). As stated above, however, both PSQ and CS can be either a transaction or a cumulative evaluation. Others, however, contend that PSQ ! CS. Oliver (1997, p. 184) stated “that quality is one of the key dimensions that are factored into the consumer’s satisfaction judgment”, and based this in part on the definition of quality from the International Organization for Standardization that states: “Quality is the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs”. In a conceptual model that integrates PSQ/CS research streams, Oliver (1993) suggests that CS is a function of the disconfirmation of predictive expectations regarding both quality and non-quality dimensions, and therefore specifies PSQ as an antecedent of CS. Spreng and Mackoy (1996) tested this model and found that PSQ was an antecedent of overall satisfaction. As shown in Table I, there are a number of empirical findings supporting this ordering. For example, Brady and Robertson (2001) empirically tested two models (PSQ ! CS and CS ! PSQ) and found better fit and higher explained variance for a model specifying PSQ ! CS. Finally, several studies proposed a reciprocal relationship between CS and PSQ such that PSQ ! CS and CS ! PSQ, but all found only the PSQ ! CS path to be significant (e.g. Cronin and Taylor, 1992; de Ruyter et al. , 1997; Gotlieb et al. , 1994). Note that Cronin and Taylor (1992) and de Ruyter et al. (1997) operationalized both constructs as cumulative,

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while Gotlieb et al. (1994) operationalized both as transaction-specific. In each case only the PSQ ! CS link was significant.

Model to be tested and hypotheses Figure 1 shows the model to be tested. After briefly describing the overall model, each of the linkages will be discussed. There are two overriding rationales for the proposed model. First, transaction constructs come before the cumulative constructs, because cumulative constructs are based on a series of specific transactions (Holmlund, 2004; Oliver, 1997). Oliver (1997) suggested a model in which transaction constructs lead to cumulative constructs. However, this logic does not require either PSQ or CS to come first. That is, either PSQ or CS can come first, but the transaction construct is an antecedent of the cumulative construct. Thus, transaction PSQ has to be an antecedent of cumulative PSQ and transaction CS has to be an antecedent of cumulative CS. Second, based on the arguments above, we specify PSQ as an antecedent of CS. As stated above, research has generally supported a PSQ ! CS order over a CS ! PSQ order. The causal ordering, however, must be based on logical or conceptual grounds rather than empirical findings. Given our earlier argument that PSQ is a cognitive evaluation while CS is an affective reaction, we adopt the view that PSQ is an antecedent of CS. The basic rationale for this is based on cognitive appraisal theories of emotions. A number of emotion theorists have developed and tested cognitive- appraisal theories of emotions (for reviews, see for example Omdahl, 1995; Nyer, 1997; Bagozzi et al., 1999). These theories claim that emotions are the result of cognitive processing that follows exposure to a stimulus. That is, the cognitive appraisal of the situation evokes an individual’s emotional response (Lazarus, 1991). Bagozzi (1992) utilized this perspective and suggested a causal chain of a cognitive appraisal which leads to an emotional response which then leads to behavioral intentions. The Bagozzi (1992) framework can be applied to PSQ/CS context because, as discussed above, PSQ is an appraisal construct (Parasuraman et al. , 1988; Bolton and Drew 1991a, b), while CS is an affective construct (e.g. Cadotte et al. , 1987; Oliver, 1989; Spreng et al., 1996; Westbrook and Reilly, 1983). Therefore, the sequence proposed by Bagozzi (1992) – i.e. a cognitive appraisal ! emotional response ! coping behavior, can be translated into PSQ ! CS ! intentions. The rationale for the remaining linkages is presented below.

Antecedents of behavioral intentions Both cumulative PSQ (Path A) and cumulative CS (Path B) are proposed antecedents of behavioral intentions. The more satisfied the customer is with a series of transactions, and the higher the perceived level of service quality over a series of transactions, the higher the level of intentions to repurchase from the same source. Taylor and Baker (1994) found in four customer service industries that CS had a stronger effect on intentions in each industry, and for two of the industries the effect of PSQ was non-significant. Cronin and Taylor (1992) operationalized both constructs as cumulative evaluations and in four customer service industries found that cumulative CS had a stronger effect on behavioral intentions than did PSQ. Similarly, Cronin et al. (2000) tested several competing models for CS/PSQ, and found the model fit was best when direct paths from both PSQ and CS to intentions were included,

In three out of four settings, both CS and PSQ were significantly related to intentions Only PSQ ! CS was significant. In a model with CS ! PSQ, the was poor, but there was a significant effect (0.88, t ¼ 18:45)fit In contrast to Bitner and Hubbert (1994), when PSQ is cumulative and CS is situational, there is a lack of distinction When both constructs are measured as cumulative, there is a lack of distinction between them When both constructs are measured as cumulative, there is a lack of distinction between them This study tested Oliver’s (1993) model and found support for much of it Only the PSQ ! CS path was significant

The results support that the performance-only approach to the measurement of PSQ is superior to the gap-based scale, and that PSQ is an antecedent of CS A mediational model that links PSQ to service loyalty via CS is supported The results have indicated that the two constructs are indeed independent but are closely related The findings supports that CS is a mediator between PSQ and loyalty Both SQ and CS significantly influences behavioral intentions, and CS is a mediator on PSQ ! intentions link PSQ ! CS is confirmed. However, the converse relationship does not hold Transaction CS is significant on cumulative PSQ

CS scale item anchored by “very dissatisfied/very satisfied” loaded on both CS and PSQ constructs When CS and PSQ are both operationalized as cumulative, there is a lack of distinction between them When PSQ is cumulative and CS is situational, there is a distinction between them CS was a function of positive and negative affect and of PSQ

PSQ ! CS model was superior to. CS ! PSQ model in two samples that were from different cultures Best fitting model was one which specified PSQ ! CS and a direct PSQ ! intentions link

Only the PSQ ! CS link was significant

Causal order Comments

CS ! PSQ and PSQ ! CS CS ! PSQ and PSQ ! CS PSQ ! CS

CS ! PSQ and PSQ ! CS Not tested

CS ! PSQ and PSQ ! CS CS ! PSQ

CS ! PSQ and PSQ ! CS Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

PSQ ! CS

PSQ ! CS

PSQ ! CS

PSQ ! CS

PSQ ! CS

PSQ ! CS

PSQ: Global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: global and attribute CS: global PSQ: global and attribute CS: global PSQ: global CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: attribute PSQ: attribute CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: global PSQ: attribute CS: attribute

Global versus

operationalization measures

attribute

PSQ: transaction

PSQ: transaction

PSQ: transactionGotlieb

PSQ: transactionGonzalez

PSQ: transaction

PSQ: transaction

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulativede

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulative

PSQ: cumulativeSureshchandar

PSQ: cumulative

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: transaction

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

CS: cumulative

Temporal

Not reported

CS and PSQ correlation

0.64-0.80

0.24-0.46

0.39-0.56

0.53-0.83

0.55-0.62

0.94

0.94

0.79

0.82 0.76

0.68

0.66

0.67

0.95

0.85

0.73

0.73

0.92

0.51

0.51

et al. (2000) (spectator sports, participationCronin sports, entertainment, health care, long distance carriers, fast food) et al. (2002) (fast food, banking, pest control, andBrady dry cleaning)

Taylor and Baker (1994) (health care, recreation, airline, telephone)

Table I Review of studies measuring both PSQ and CS

Cronin and fast Taylor food) (1992) (banking, pest control, dry

Chumpitaz and Paparoidamis (2004) (business-to- business IT service industry) et al. (2006) (restaurant customers andOlorunniwo student subjects)

al. (2007) (business-to-businessJayawardhena financial service et industry)

Ruyter et al. (1997) (chiropractic treatment)

Spreng and Agrawal (1995) (student advising)

Spreng and Mackoy (1996) (student advising)

Bitner and Hubbert (1994) (airline travel)

Bitner and Hubbert (1994) (airline travel)

Brady and Robertson (2001) (fast food)

et al. (2002) (banking)

Spreng and Agrawal (1995) (banking)

Spreng and Agrawal (1995) (banking)

et al. (2006) (spa tourism)

et al. (1994) (hospital stay)

Spreng and Singh (1993) (banking)

Oliver (1994) (hospital stay)

Caruana (2002) (banking)

Study and service tested

cleaning,

Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services

Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

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Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

Figure 1 Proposed Model and Hypothesis

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Marketing Volume 24 · Number 8 · 2009 · 537–548 and also found that the effect

and also found that the effect of CS on intention was stronger. In addition, some theoretical studies suggest that affect will serve as a primary motivator of future behaviors (e.g. Woodruff, 1993; Abelson et al. , 1982). For example, Allen et al. (1992) found that emotions serve as a better predictor of intentions than did cognitive evaluations. However, in a recent longitudinal study, Homburg et al. (2006) empirically supported the notion that as experience accumulates, the impact of affective constructs on customer evaluation decreases and the impact of cognitive constructs increases. The studies discussed above were all carried out in a setting in which the individual consumer was the beneficiary of the service rather than in a business-to-business setting. The studies that have looked at this relationship in a business-to- business setting have found mixed results. Patterson and Spreng (1997) and Patterson et al. (1997) found that CS has a strong positive effect on intention, but did not include PSQ in their model. In a business-to-business setting, it seems logical to expect that the more rational cognitive aspects of the decision may outweigh the affective aspects, particularly in cases where the purchasing agent is not the end user, as is often the case in a business-to business setting (Chakraborty et al., 2007). This would result in cumulative PSQ having a stronger effect on intentions than cumulative CS. This has been confirmed in a business-to-business study done by Wathne et al. (2001). They tested empirically how cognitive and affective constructs influence choice in the context of business-to-business services. They found that the cognitive construct of service is more important than the affective construct of interpersonal relationship satisfaction in influencing choice. Since the relative effects of CCS and CPSQ are not totally clear, we will base our hypothesis on the majority of the literature and propose that CCS will have a stronger effect on behavioral intentions than CPSQ. This leads to our first three hypotheses:

H1a. Cumulative PSQ will have a positive effect on behavioral intentions. Path A. H1b. Cumulative CS will have a positive effect on behavioral intentions. Path B.

H1c. Cumulative CS will have a stronger relationship with behavioral intentions than will cumulative PSQ.

Antecedents of cumulative CS and cumulative PSQ As noted above, Oliver (1997) proposed a model in which transaction PSQ has an effect on cumulative PSQ, and transaction CS has an effect on cumulative CS. Several other customer satisfaction researchers have suggested a similar set of relationships (e.g. Teas, 1993; Oliver, 1997; Parasuraman et al. , 1994). While it may seem tautological to propose that transaction based constructs are antecedents of cumulative based constructs, it is not necessarily clear how this process occurs. Holmlund (2004) suggested that transaction-based constructs (i.e. episodes) are antecedents of cumulative-based construct (i.e. sequence), but it is not necessarily a simple additive process and the cumulative effects will depend heavily on how the individual transactions are aggregated. Holmlund (2004, p. 282) states that “[I]nterrelated episodes can in turn be correspondingly grouped into a sequence, which forms a still larger and more extensive entity on a higher interaction level”. Thus, some episodes may be weighted much more heavily than others while others may be completely ignored in arriving at cumulative responses. Based on the above empirical findings and our argument that transaction constructs come before cumulative constructs, and PSQ leads to CS, we propose that:

transaction PSQ is an antecedent of cumulative PSQ (Path D);

.

.

.

.

transaction CS is an antecedent of cumulative CS (Path E);

cumulative PSQ is an antecedent of cumulative CS (Path C); and

transaction PSQ is an antecedent of transaction CS (Path F).

H2a. Transaction PSQ will be positively related to

cumulative PSQ. Path D. Transaction CS will be positively related to cumulative CS. Path E.

H2b.

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Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

H2c. Cumulative PSQ will be positively related to cumulative CS. Path C. H2d. Transaction PSQ will be positively related to transaction CS. Path F.

Method

Study design Data were collected from i nternal customers of the distribution center of a large state agency using a written survey. The distribution center is responsible for purchasing, inventory management, and distribution of a wide variety of equipment and supplies for the agency. A major responsibility of the center is that of purchasing, processing nearly 2,000 purchase orders a year and maintaining numerous contracts for the state agency. The data consisted of evaluations by employees of 26 different departments of the state agency concerning their experiences with the distribution center. It should be noted that for some items, purchases were constrained to be made from the distribution center but for other items there were no such constraints. In fact, a primary reason for conducting the study was to enable the distribution center to retain its internal customers in the face of increasing pressure on its customers to reduce purchasing costs by purchasing from other sources. As suggested by Day and Barksdale (2003), organizations and businesses are increasingly seeking external service providers to increase service quality and reduce organizational cost. The list of potential respondents was obtained by job title and classification. A total of 517 surveys were sent out through inter-organizational mail, and 296 usable responses were received, resulting in a 57 percent response rate. Part of the explanation for this high response rate is that the culture of this branch of state government requires obedience to hierarchical authority, and the survey instruction letter came from the head of the organization.

Sample characteristics The sample was 77 percent male, and respondents ranged from 22 to 60 years old, with a mean age of 40. About two thirds (64 percent) of the respondents used the distribution center once per year, while 31 percent used it monthly and 5 percent used it weekly. Twenty-four percent of the respondents were high school graduates, 30 percent were technical or community college graduates, 37 percent had a Bachelor’s degree, and 9 percent had a graduate degree.

Measures Transaction PSQ (TPSQ) was measured with two items:

1 “The level of service quality I received during my last experience was excellent”, using a five-point scale anchored “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree”; and

2 “The level of service quality I received from the

”,

using a five-point scale anchored “inferior” to “superior” (Brady and Robertson, 2001).

Cumulative PSQ was measured with two items:

1 “The distribution center provides excellent overall service quality”, using a five-point scale anchored by “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree”; and

2 “Thinking about all of your experiences, would you say that the quality of service you receive from the

Distribution Center during my last experience was

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using a five-point scale

anchored by “poor” and “excellent” (Cronin and Taylor,

1992).

Distribution Center is

?”,

To measure transaction CS, respondents were asked “How did you feel about the service you received during your last experience with the distribution center?” and used two commonly employed scales (Spreng et al. , 1996). The first scale was anchored by “dissatisfied/satisfied” and the second scale was anchored by “terrible/delighted”. Cumulative CS was assessed by the same anchors (i.e. “dissatisfied/satisfied” and “terrible/delighted”), but asked the respondents to think about all of their experiences with the distribution center (Bitner, 1990). Behavioral intentions were operationalized with one item: “How likely is it that you will use the Distribution Center in the future”, with a five-point scale ranging from “definitely not” to “definitely will”. While it is desirable to have multiple measures for most constructs, as Bergkvist and Rossiter (2007) point out, for concrete attributes such as intentions, this is not necessary, and in order to avoid respondent fatigue, every attempt was made to keep the number of measures as low as possible.

Results

Measurement model We used structural equation modeling to test the hypothesized relationships presented in our model (Bentler, 1995). Table II reports the results of a confirmatory factor analysis of the measures using the covariance matrix. The fit was good ( x 2 ¼ 39: 96; df ¼ 18; NFI ¼ 0: 99, NNFI ¼ 0: 99, CFI ¼ 0 :99, IFI ¼ 0: 99, GFI ¼ 0: 96, RMR ¼ 0: 01,

RMSEA ¼ 9: 06). The measurement parameters and all the coefficients linking the indicators with their latent constructs were significant ( t-values ranged from 14.40 to 17.54). Table

II also shows that the construct reliabilities were very good

(0.89 to 0.98) and the average variance extracted (AVE) for

each construct was far above the 50 percent cut-off suggested

by Fornell and Larcker (1981). To demonstrate discriminant

validity the factor correlations were constrained (one at a time) to be equal to 1.0. In each case this produced a

significant increase in x 2 , indicating that the constructs are distinct. As suggested by Fornell and Larcker (1981), the AVE, which shows the amount of the variance that is captured

by the construct in relation to the amount of variance due to

measurement error, was also used as a test of discriminant validity. The AVE can be compared to the shared variance between any two constructs (the squared correlation between the constructs) in that the AVE should be higher for each construct than the squared correlation between that construct and any other construct. This test holds for all constructs, and thus there is evidence of discriminant validity among the constructs.

Model and hypothesis tests We then tested the full model, which consisted of the structural model and the measures of each construct (Figure 1). The fit for the proposed model is acceptable ( x 2 ¼ 64: 98; df ¼ 22; NFI ¼ 0: 98, NNFI ¼ 0: 98, CFI ¼ 0 :99, GFI ¼ 0: 93, RMR ¼ 0 :03, RMSEA ¼ 0: 08). All six paths were significant at p ¼ 0 :05. H1a stated that cumulative PSQ will have a positive effect on intentions, and this was supported. H1b predicted that cumulative CS would have a positive effect on intentions, and this was also

Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services

Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

Table II CFA results

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Construct and measures

CSP a

a b

AVE c

Transaction PSQ The level of service quality I received during my last experience was excellent (anchored “strongly disagree” 5 1 and “strongly agree” 5 5) The level of service quality I received from the Distribution Center during my last experience was (anchored “inferior” 5 1 and “superior” 5 5) Transaction CS How did you feel about the service you received during your last experience? (anchored “dissatisfied” 5 1 and “satisfied” 5 7) (anchored “terrible” 5 1 and “delighted” 5 7) Cumulative PSQ

 

0.91

0.83

0.90

0.92

 

0.96

0.93

0.98

0.98

 

0.89

0.80

The distribution center provides excellent overall service quality (anchored “strongly disagree” 5 1 and “strongly agree” 5 5) Thinking about all of your experience, would you say that the quality of service you receive from the

0.88

Distribution Center is

? (anchored “ooor” and “excellent”)

0.91

Cumulative CS Based on all your experiences, how do you feel about the service you received from the distribution

 

0.98

0.96

center? (anchored “dissatisfied” 5 1 and “satisfied” 5 7) (anchored “terrible” 5 1 and “delighted” 5 7) Intentions How likely is it that you will use the Distribution Center in the future? (anchored “definitely not” 5 1 and “definitely will” 5 5

0.98

0.98

1.0

Notes: a Completely standardized parameter. b Cronbach’s a. c Average variance extracted (AVE), which is the proportion of variance in the construct that is not due to measurement error (Fornell and Larcker, 1981). AVE is computed as: P l 2 =½ P l 2 þ P varð1Þ

supported. H1c stated that cumulative CS would have a stronger relationship with behavioral intentions than would cumulative PSQ. This was not supported. A x 2 difference test in which the path between cumulative CS and intentions was constrained to be equal to the path between cumulative PSQ and intentions found that there was a x 2 difference of 3.11, p ¼ 0: 08. This indicates that the effect of cumulative CS on intentions is not significantly different from the effect of cumulative PSQ on intentions at a ¼ 0: 05. H2a said that transaction PSQ would be positively related to cumulative PSQ and H2b stated that transaction CS would also be positively related to cumulative CS. Both hypotheses were supported. H2c predicted that cumulative PSQ would have a positive effect on cumulative CS, and H2d predicted that transaction PSQ would have a positive effect on transaction CS, and both of these were supported.

Model refinements and mediation tests The proposed model makes a number of implicit mediation predictions, such as the cumulative constructs completely mediate the effects of transaction constructs on intentions. These over-identifying restrictions were tested by estimating additional paths between constructs. There are four criteria to demonstrate complete mediation. First, we must show that the two transaction constructs have significant simple relationships to behavioral intentions, i.e. there are effects to be mediated. To show this, we ran the model with the paths from transaction PSQ to intentions and from transaction CS to intentions, but without the paths from CPSQ to intentions and from CCS to intentions. We found that the path from TPSQ to intentions was significant (0.78, t ¼ 11 : 38), and the path from TCS to intentions was significant (0.48, t ¼ 11 :58). Thus, there are effects to be mediated. Second, we must show

543

that the two transaction constructs are significantly related to the two cumulative constructs and the results of H2a and H2b show that this is the case. Third, we must show that the mediators (the two cumulative constructs) are significantly related to intention. The results of H1a and H1b show that this is also the case. Finally, we must show that when direct paths between the two cumulative constructs on intention are present, the effects of the direct paths of the transaction constructs are non-significant. These tests show that the direct path of TPSQ on intentions is insignificant (0.04, t ¼ 0 : 20) and the direct path of TCS on intentions is also insignificant (0.13, t ¼ 1: 22). The above tests indicate complete mediation of the effects of the two transaction constructs on intentions by the two cumulative constructs. Table III shows the standardized parameter estimates, t- values, and fit statistics for the final model.

Discussion

Limitations There are several limitations of our study that should be recognized. First, the setting was in a large unit of state government, and therefore may be different from the private sector. As stated above, however, for most products purchasers were free to seek suppliers from the private sector, so the purchasing and distribution center studied was operating in a competitive environment. In addition, many private-sector firms have constraints in their buying due to long-term agreements, preferred/acceptable supplier lists, and reciprocal buying arraignments. Therefore, we think that the domain studied is similar to competitive, private-sector environments.

Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services

Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

Table III Standardized structural parameters for the final models

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Volume 24 · Number 8 · 2009 · 537–548

Parameter

 

Final model Completely standardized coefficient

t-value

A. Cumulative PSQ ! intention

 

0.53

4.18

B. Cumulative CS ! intention

0.29

2.34

C. Cumulative

PSQ ! cumulative

CS

0.70

9.97

D. Transaction

PSQ ! cumulative

PSQ

0.84

17.93

E. CS ! cumulative CS

Transaction

0.25

4.07

F. Transaction PSQ ! transaction CS

0.90

17.93

x 2

64.98

df

22

NFI

0.98

NNFI

 

0.98

CFI

0.99

IFI

0.99

GFI

0.93

RMR

 

0.03

RMSEA

0.08

Second, as a cross-sectional study we do not look at the initial formation of service quality perceptions and the development, over time, of cumulative PSQ. Similarly, we do not measure the build-up of cumulative satisfaction from initial and subsequent transaction satisfaction experiences. To do so would require manipulated experiences in a laboratory setting.

Implications for theory The primary implications for theory include:

.

demonstrating the distinction between CS and PSQ;

.

specifying, based on theory and logic, the causal ordering between transaction con structs and cumulative constructs, and between PSQ and CS; and

.

assessing the relative impact of PSQ and CS on behavioral intentions.

First, one of our goals was to address the issue of the distinction between PSQ and CS. A huge literature exists on these two constructs, some of which indicates that they are distinct, while some indicates that they are not. We found empirical discrimination between PSQ and CS at both the transaction and the cumulative levels. While the correlations among the four constructs were high, the discrimination test using average variance extr acted, which is generally considered a rather stringent test, indicated that each construct was distinct. Second, based on the logic of transaction constructs being antecedents of cumulative constructs, we specified transaction PSQ as an antecedent of cumulative PSQ, and transaction CS as an antecedent of cumulative CS. In addition, based on cognitive appraisal theories of emotions, we specified that the cognitive evaluation of PSQ would be antecedent to the more emotional construct of CS. While our method of analysis cannot definitively establish the causal ordering of PSQ and CS, our results do lend support to the PSQ ! CS ordering. Finally, we assess the relative impact of PSQ and CS on behavioral intentions. Our results indicate that the four PSQ/ CS constructs can predict behavioral intentions in a single model. It was expected that cumulative CS would have a

stronger effect on intention than cumulative PSQ ( H1c). However, our results showed this not to be the case in that the effects were not significantly different from each other even though the effect of CPSQ on intention was almost twice as large as the effect of CCS on intention. This would seem to indicate that in a typical consumer purchase situation, the emotional aspects (CS) of the process may well outweigh the more cognitively based evaluations (PSQ) in influencing repurchase intentions, but in the business-to-business setting in which this research was carried out, the more cognitively based PSQ plays at least an equal, if not greater, role in determining intentions. Thus, while consumers may repurchase from the same supplier or switch to another supplier based largely on their level of cumulative satisfaction, business decisions are likely to be less emotion based and more cognitively based.

Implications for managerial practice and future research From a managerial perspective, the finding that the effects of transaction-specific constructs on intentions are completely mediated by the corresponding cumulative constructs is important. It implies that one negative transaction outcome may not be sufficient to cause the customer to switch if the cumulative levels are sufficiently positive. Thus, a negative outcome may be discounted by the user if it is seen as a unique occurrence. However, a series of successive negative transaction outcomes may cause the cumulative constructs to become less positive resulting in lower intentions to repurchase from the same supplier. This may occur even if remedial action, such as repair or replacement, is taken for each of the negative outcomes. A user is likely to tolerate only so many negative experiences before taking some sort of action themselves. Therefore, in the event of a negative transaction outcome, the supplier must act to convince the customer that it was a unique occurrence and is unlikely to happen again. In this situation, two options are worth exploring in future research. One option is for the supplier to offer an excuse for the negative outcome. An excuse is an attempt to show that the factors that caused the negative

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Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

outcome were beyond the supplier’s control (Weiner, 2000). If the excuse is accepted as valid, then no negative repercussions (i.e. switching suppliers) are likely. The other option is to confess that the negative outcome was the supplier’s fault. A confession has the effect of reducing the belief that the negative outcome will occur again (Weiner, 2000). Of course, the efficacy of either option will diminish as the number of negative outcomes increases. Both of these options need to be investigated in future research. Future research could also utilize other settings to examine the relative impact of CCS and CPSQ on intentions. In situations in which there is less interpersonal interaction, it may be that CPSQ has less of an effect on intentions. Or, in cases in which failure has extremely negative consequences for the buyer, the emotion created could increase the effect of CCS on intentions. Finally, our findings that the two cumulative constructs determinate intentions indicate the need to consider history and long-term orientation, which are fundamental in relationship-oriented views (Holmlund, 2004). However, additional research could examine whether transaction constructs, in some circumstances, have direct effects on intention. It is easy to imagine situations in a business-to- business setting in which the ramifications of even a single negative experience are so severe that the buyer would never again purchase from the supplier. In this case, there might be direct effects of the transaction constructs on intentions that are not mediated by the cumulative constructs.

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Further reading

Anderson, E.W., Fornell, C. and Mazvancheryl, S.K. (2004), “Customer satisfaction and shareholder value”, Journal of Marketing , Vol. 68, October, pp. 172-85. Spreng, R.A. (1999), “Perceived performance in satisfaction research”, Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior , Vol. 12, pp. 100-8.

Corresponding author

Thomas J. Page is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: tpage@msu.edu

Executive summary and implications for managers and executives

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

While the principle “Treat them well because they won’t give us a second chance” when responding to customers’ needs might be commendable, the fact is you are more than likely to get a second chance if something goes wrong. But a third or fourth chance? Well, maybe not. Better to always get it right, but if something does go wrong make sure you make your excuses known or, if there’s no excuse or no one else to blame, confess, and in either event convince them it will never happen again. In “Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services”, Richard A. Spreng et al. find that one negative transaction outcome may not be sufficient to cause the customer to switch if the cumulative levels are sufficiently positive. Thus, a negative outcome may be discounted by the user if it is seen as a unique occurrence. However, a series of successive negative transaction outcomes may cause the cumulative constructs to become less positive, resulting in lower intentions to repurchase from the same supplier. This may occur even if remedial action, such as repair or replacement, is taken for each of the negative outcomes. A user is likely to tolerate only so many negative experiences before taking some sort of action. Therefore, in the event of a negative transaction outcome, the supplier must act to convince the customer that it is unlikely to happen again. One option is for the supplier to offer an excuse – an attempt to show that the factors that caused the negative outcome were beyond the supplier’s control. If the excuse is accepted as valid, then no negative repercussions (i.e. switching suppliers) are likely. The other option is to confess that it was the supplier’s fault. A confession has the effect of reducing the belief that the negative outcome will occur again. Of course, the efficacy of either option will diminish as the number of negative outcomes increases. When investigating the effects of service quality and service satisfaction in a business-to-business setting, Spreng et al. first address the issue of the distinction between perceived service quality (PSQ) and customer satisfaction (CS). The majority of PSQ and CS research has been done in the business-to- consumer (B2C) context, and even in research in a business-

Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services

Richard A. Spreng, Linda Hui Shi and Thomas J. Page

to-business setting the exact nature of the relationship between PSQ, CS, and behavioral intentions leaves unanswered questions. Relationships among constructs may be different in a business-to-business versus a consumer setting, and even between different functional areas within a given firm. This difference might manifest itself, for example, in the impact of PSQ. Since organizational buying often involves more face-to- face contact between buyers and sellers, this increased interaction may increase the overall importance of PSQ. The authors support the argument that PSQ is a judgment of performance, while CS is an affective construct. Specifically, transaction PSQ is defined as a judgment of performance excellence based on the customer’s last experience. Cumulative PSQ is a judgment of performance excellence based on all of the customer’s experience with a particular product or service. Transaction CS is an affective state that is the emotional reaction to the customer’s last product or service experience. Cumulative CS is an affective state that is the emotional reaction to all of the customer’s experience with a particular product or service. Disagreement exists about the causal ordering – which comes first, PSQ or CS? Based on the logic of transaction constructs being antecedents of cumulative constructs, Spreng et al. specify transaction PSQ as an antecedent of cumulative PSQ, and transaction CS as an antecedent of

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cumulative CS. In addition, based on cognitive appraisal theories of emotions, they specify that the cognitive evaluation of PSQ would be antecedent to the more emotional construct of CS. The results also indicate that the four PSQ/CS constructs can predict behavioral intentions in a single model. It was expected that cumulative CS would have a stronger effect on intention than Cumulative PSQ. However, the results showed this not to be the case in that the effects were not significantly different from each other, even though the effect of CPSQ on intention was almost twice as large as the effect of CCS. This would seem to indicate that in a typical consumer purchase situation, the emotional aspects (CS) of the process may well outweigh the more cognitively based evaluations (PSQ) in influencing repurchase intentions, but in the business-to- business setting in which this research was carried out, the more cognitively based PSQ plays at least an equal, if not greater, role in determining intentions. So, while consumers may repurchase from the same supplier or switch to another supplier based largely on their level of cumulative satisfaction, business decisions are likely to be less emotionally based and more cognitively based.

(A pre´cis of the article “Service quality and satisfaction in business-to-business services”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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