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You are to whom you speak: the moderating role of an associative vs dissociative audience group and service symbolism

Zulfa, N. (2019) You are to whom you speak: the moderating role of an associative vs dissociative audience group and service symbolism. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00085844


Prior research has explored customer satisfaction and customer-company identification (CCI) as the two important concepts in customer relationship management (CRM) that directly affect word-of-mouth (WOM). There is, however, little research that explores how the impact of customer satisfaction and CCI on WOM may be moderated by other factors. The moderating impacts of consumer association or dissociation with WOM audience and high versus low symbolic value of services is underexplored. This study attempts to address this gap. First, it provides an insight that the impact of customer satisfaction and CCI on WOM depends whether consumers share their WOM with an associative or dissociative group. Second, it provides evidence that WOM intentions differ for in high versus low symbolic service situations. The study also identifies three types of WOM behavior: informational, evaluative and recommendable - which are differently impacted by moderating forces. The research uses a field-experimental design to collect data through a survey instrument, which consists of two key experiments: Study 1 and study 2. The research is set primarily in the context of high vs low symbolic non-professional services with consumers of a UK business school (study 1, N = 140) and alumni of UK university (study 2, N = 627) who are asked to provide WOM responses to potential students of the organization in question. Participants in study 1 also provide responses in the context of a book-store (N = 92) to provide data which represents a low-symbolic service situation. Partial Least Square technique and Process Conditional analysis are used to analyze the data. The findings of both studies show that consumers use different WOM strategies when talking to a dissociative versus associative groups. Interestingly, this adjustment occurs not only in high symbolic but also in low symbolic service, albeit with a different approach. The findings also offer insights about how satisfaction and CCI may operate differently on WOM in the context of moderation effects. Indeed, it seems that CCI is more prone to moderation effects- especially those related to associative and dissociative WOM audience. The study makes conceptual and empirical contributions as well as provides managerial implications. Conceptually, it establishes reference group and the degree of symbolism in service provision as key moderators of the relationships between WOM and its antecedents of customer satisfaction and CCI. Empirically, the study demonstrates the applicability of Partial Least Squares (PLS) to WOM, which until now has primarily relied on the use of Anova and regression. The use of PLS makes a deeper exploration and simultaneous test of moderating forces on three outcome variables possible. The study offers insight that can help the non-professional high vs low symbolic services better understand the WOM behavior of their customers and its critical role in their communication and customer acquisition programs. The research concludes with a discussion on limitations and directions for future research.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Money, K.
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Business School
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School > Marketing and Reputation
ID Code:85844
Date on Title Page:August 2018

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