The research was undertaken by three eminent scholars with strong qualifications in the field of customer services and business; two of them having attained the rank of professor and the other a doctor working as a research fellow. Their background suggests that the research was of a high quality and followed the laid down procedures for a doctoral thesis or research paper. It was directed at examining the relationship between image and satisfaction to customer loyalty. Current literature on the subject has been inconclusive on the impact of satisfaction on loyalty without considering the effect of image on the same.
This research aimed to fill this void. By addressing the subject matter and testing it using hypotheses, the researchers adopted qualitative and quantitative research methods and were able to come up with a general statement that image impacts loyalty from an emotive rather than a cognitive point of view. Entrepreneurs are concerned at how they can retain their market share and the methods they can adopt to increase the number of clients that patronize their outlets. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of customer service in ensuring repeat clients and new customers (Anderson et al. 1994:54).
For the most part it has been true that customers who have been well treated and had all their concerns attended to in a timely manner are likely to return to the establishment for further business. However customer satisfaction has not been able to explain why clientele appear to shift loyalties to new outlets or to competitors despite receiving excellent services (Chi & Qu, 2007). This phenomenon suggests that there are other factors that influence customers in making their final decisions on which places to patronize.
This research has addressed this issue by studying the effect of image as a predictor of customer loyalty. Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs theory which posited that man graduates from satisfying the basic needs to the pinnacle of the pyramid where self actualization is achieved. Self actualization has little to do with physical aspects and more to do with personal feelings and perceptions of self. Thus as a pointer to what influences customer loyalty, the researchers picked on a good factor to base their study on.
Nonetheless in this era of global recession other factors like price should have been included in their study so as to compare the overall effect of price differentials to customer loyalty. The rise of budget airlines like Easy Jet or the popularity of supermarket chains such as Wall mart are primarily due to the fair prices they charge in comparison to other stores (Fredericks and Salter, 1995:30). Thus in limiting themselves to image and customer satisfactions the researchers left out an important factor that may change the overall results of the study.
By confining their study to ski resorts the researchers have narrowed the application of their research findings in that the nature of studies in ski resorts find little relevance to other areas of business. To begin with ski resorts are a feature of areas that experience a certain type of climate and appeal to people who are accustomed to that kind of weather (Matzler et al. , 2007). Those living in warmer climates may patronize tourist attractions not necessarily because of image but because of the available attractions (Bigne? t al. , 2001:609).
Some of the most famous tourist destinations in the world do not have excellent facilities but offer the clientele a once in a life time experience such as the wildebeest migration that occurs across the Masai Mara in Kenya (Kenya safari holidays, 2008). Secondly, most customers going to ski resorts do so because they want to ski. This restricts the research applicability to this kind of pastime as opposed to providing a general observation that can be useful to all types of businesses.
The researchers made good use of available literature as a starting point to base their study. Most of the material they researched on was from primary sources in journals and a few books. Primary sources are vital in that they provide firsthand information about the subject matter from the author’s perspective. The problem with relying too much on such material is the obvious bias that most authors have in expounding their views. Secondary sources help to balance the overall picture by presenting alternative views and critiques of works done by other researchers.
Sample population numbers were high enough to give a truly representative result of the study. With over 6,000 respondents to the online survey, the study was able to capture enough data to satisfy the research needs. The issue of enticing the respondents by offering attractive prizes could raise ethical questions and may have influenced the respondents to respond in a certain fashion. Respondents may have filled out the survey hoping that their responses reflected the expected outcome and thus improved their chances of winning the prizes.
In adopting a multi-attribute approach in studying the effects of image on loyalty, the researchers were able to investigate a number of parameters that affect people’s perceptions. Despite the holistic nature of this approach, the use of Likert scale tools to determine the respondents’ views can be misleading as the results are highly subjective with one respondent rating a certain parameter differently from another irrespective of a general consensus on the nature of the service being offered or the factor being tested (Homburg and Giering, 2001:55).
The hypotheses postulated by the researchers fail to include the possibility that there could be other more important factors that impact customer loyalty (Mittal and Kamakura, 2001:137). Such aspects include proximity of a resort to the client’s domicile, prices charged by the outlet, complimentary services offered as an incentive, and the nature of the ski terrain that may encourage amateurs or more experienced skiers to patronize the resort (Fakeye and Crompton, 1991:11). A fourth hypothesis should have been included to addresses these issues and could have been structured as follows;
H4: Apart from image and loyalty there are other factors that significantly determine customer loyalty. Null hypothesis: Image and loyalty are the only factors that determine customer loyalty Respondents to the survey were not determined by the researchers and as such their study could not have investigated other aspects of the sample population like the differences in loyalty based on ethnic identities or gender. Any results based on the nationalities or gender of the respondents may not correctly reflect the true picture without purposely setting out to research such aspects.
The research findings more or less confirmed the researchers’ thesis and added to the available literature on the subject. An interesting outcome was that the influence of image was more of an emotive response than a cognitive one (Kandampully and Suhartanto, 2000:349) This will assist entrepreneurs to develop the emotive image factors like patriotic themes or domestic settings that will make the customers feel that they are quite at home, though away from home (Gallarza et al. , 2001:62).
However, the study is incomplete because it fails to address other factors that impact loyalty and it does not investigate the responses by respondents with different backgrounds to establish whether the findings are universal or ethnic specific. By focusing on ski resorts, the study is severely limited in its application as the findings in that industry may not be relevant to other business models or geographical destinations. This research is invaluable as a tool to improve to improve market share and annual incomes for ski resort outlets.
By maintaining good customer service and working on developing the emotive image of the establishment, the management is bound to see an increase rise in customer loyalty (Eskildsen et al. , 2004:862). Its findings should be compiled in a simple format for the ski resort operators to understand and apply in their daily operations. The researchers may want to add on a caveat that the image and loyalty are not the only factors responsible for customer loyalty and that further studies may be required to identify other issues that may be influential.
In summary, the research has been able to investigate the relationship between image, customer satisfaction and loyalty within the scope of the researchers outline. Despite the research failing to examine all aspects that impact customer loyalty, this should not invalidate their study but rather open up other opportunities for other researchers to take up the challenge to provide such answers. Further studies on the same subject matter should be structured to provide a general theory that will apply to all types of businesses.
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Topic: The Impact Of Satisfaction And Image On Loyalty
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