Service Experience in Business-to-Business Relationships

Zhu, Xia (2012). Service Experience in Business-to-Business Relationships. PhD thesis University of Manchester.



This research project explores how service experience impacts on business-to-business relationships. It investigates the role of service encounters in a business-to-business context through examining the characteristics of service encounters in business-to-business markets and how service encounters impact on business-to-business relationships. Service failure and recovery in business-to-business markets are also explored.

The theoretical background stems from both services marketing and business-to-business marketing. The literature review encompasses investigations of service encounters and service failure and recovery in both consumer and business-to-business markets. The project attempts to merge these areas of knowledge, by extending the domain of service research from consumer markets to business-to-business markets. The researcher notes that different characteristics may exist between consumer and business-to-business markets, and so studies of service issues developed in consumer markets are used as guidance rather than simply being transferred to a business-to-business context.

As the nature of this project was exploratory, case studies were selected as a suitable research strategy, and two case studies were carried out. The first case study was in the metal finishing industry in the North of England and included 20 interviews. The second case study was in the paint and coatings industry in the North West of England and included 20 interviews. In both case studies, suppliers' and customers' perspectives were investigated to allow a dyadic understanding of the role of service in supplier-customer relationships. Other data such as direct observation, shop floor visits, company brochures, a research diary and notes were also used. Computer-assisted NVivo software was employed to assist data analysis. A thematic approach was applied to analyse the data.

The findings revealed similarities and differences in service encounters, and service failure and recovery, between consumer markets and business-to-business markets. Communication, adaptation, help and people were identified as key factors in business-to-business service encounters, impacting on business-business relationships. The influences of domino effects on business-to-business customers' service experience were found to be significant and illustrate the complexity of the business-to-business service experience. The results suggest that service recovery strategies that are employed in consumer markets may also be effective in business-to-business markets, but because of the active role that business-to-business customers were observed to play, the strategies may need to be extended.

This project has both theoretical and managerial contributions. Theoretically, it extends the domain of service experience research from consumer markets to business-to-business markets, by filling in a gap in the services marketing literature by investigating business-to-business service failure and recovery. It contributes to the business-to-business marketing literature by discussing the role of service explicitly in interactions and, thus, extends the understanding of supplier-customer relationship processes. Managerially, the research provides companies with an additional approach to managing their business-to-business relationships through improving service performance and explicitly considering service recovery processes.

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