مدیریت وفاداری مشتری در بازارهای آزاد انرژی خانگی: تاثیر نام تجاری انرژی
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|15172||2007||12 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Energy Policy, Volume 35, Issue 4, April 2007, Pages 2661–2672
In numerous recently deregulated energy markets, utilities previously operating in monopolistic environments are now focusing on customer satisfaction and loyalty. In this study, a conceptual framework is proposed that analyses the effects of brand associations and perceived switching costs on customer satisfaction and loyalty in residential energy markets. Several brand associations relevant to energy branding are identified: perceived technical service quality and service process quality, perception of value-added services, environmental and social commitment of the company, brand trust, price perceptions and brand associations related to the corporate attributes “innovative and dynamic”. Subsequently, the proposed model is tested in the scope of a representative survey of Spanish residential energy customers. Results indicate that customer satisfaction, brand trust and perceived switching costs are positively related to customer loyalty and that brand trust exerts a stronger influence on customer loyalty than satisfaction and switching costs. Findings also show significant effects of the perception of service process quality and environmental and social commitment on loyalty via customer satisfaction. Implications for energy brand managers and regulators are discussed.
The structure of energy markets is undergoing profound changes in many countries of the world. In numerous recently deregulated energy markets, utilities previously operating in monopolistic environments are now exposed to free market competition (Loskow, 1998). In response to this increased competition, energy companies are attempting to better position themselves by becoming more customer-oriented. Consumers may now choose among a range of differentiated products and, like any other consumer service or product, consumers will evaluate product attributes and prices and choose the service most to their liking (Roe et al., 2001). Energy brands with attributes more pleasing to consumers will be able to charge a premium. Consequently, at present, many energy companies are focusing on branding in an effort to enhance customer satisfaction and, particularly, customer loyalty (Senia, 2002), as costs of new client acquisition in residential energy markets, can be up to 5–6 times higher than costs associated with the retention of existing customers (Nesbit, 2000; Pesce, 2002). There is evidence from empirical studies that improvements in service quality may considerably enhance the prospects of energy companies (Truffer et al., 2001) and that integrating quality of service in regulatory benchmarking is preferable to cost-only approaches (Giannakis et al., 2005). Hence, in first place, most energy providers are trying to improve the perception of the service quality of their energy brands. In addition, many companies aim at augmenting the value perception of their brand by increasing the range of services they currently offer customers (Eakin and Faruqui, 2000; Drummond and Hanna, 2001), or offer “environmentally correct energy” (Kerber, 1997). Particularly, green energy products, i.e. electricity offerings, which are based on environmentally preferable energy sources, are gaining importance in energy markets worldwide. They show that customer demand for green energy may be an important driving factor for supporting environmental sustainability in a liberalized market (Truffer et al., 2001). While there has been some research on both the effect of brand image on customer loyalty in the service industry and the antecedents of customer loyalty in residential energy markets, the role of specific brand associations of residential energy brands is still largely unassessed. However, for the successful positioning of energy brands, brand associations must be identified that are relevant in consumers’ eyes. Thus, energy managers need to know which dimensions are relevant for the successful positioning of their brand from a consumer's perspective. In this study, seemingly relevant brand associations are identified and a conceptual framework is proposed that analyses the effect of brand associations, as well as of customer satisfaction and switching costs on customer loyalty in the residential energy market. The hypothesized model is tested on a representative sample of residential consumers in the Spanish energy market. To assess the relative influence of each identified dimension of brand associations, structural equation modelling was applied to the data collected. Implications for brand managers and regulators in residential energy markets are discussed subsequently.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
4.1. Main findings and managerial implications Overall, the study confirms the proposed dimensionality of brand associations of residential energy brands. Several seemingly relevant and distinct brand characteristics were perceived by the surveyed consumers: Technical service quality, service process quality, value added services, brand trust, brand attributes “innovative and dynamic”, the environmental and social commitment of the energy brand, as well as price associations. A significant share of the variance of both the loyalty and the satisfaction construct could be explained by these perceptual dimensions. Moreover, the findings suggest that the loyalty of residential customers depends directly as much on brand trust and switching costs as on satisfaction, confirming the view of those authors arguing that the customer satisfaction construct is a necessary but not sufficient predictor of customer loyalty (Bloemer et al., 1998; Bloemer and Kasper, 1995). To directly improve customer loyalty, brand trust should be enhanced, e.g. through trust enhancing behaviour of the energy provider—focusing on service integrity (Scheuing and Edvardsson, 1994)—as well as through brand communications (Kent and Allen, 1994; Drummond and Hanna, 2001; Kleinman, 2003). Advertising can play an important role in associating a brand with the feeling of trust, embedding the brand in a context that evokes familiar feelings in consumers, for instance, showing the brand as part of consumer's every-day life in an emotional context, a strategy successfully implemented by the Spanish brand Gas Natural. Also the repeated contact with a brand can instil the feeling of familiarity with the brand. Thus, brand communications should aim at achieving the highest number of contacts of actual and potential customers with the brand name and symbol. In addition, the perception of switching costs should be augmented through the implementation of loyalty programs, e.g. offering monetary benefits to loyal customers. A further option could be the use of advertising to stress the non-monetary costs involved in the switching decision, such as the risk inherent in the uncertainty of dealing with a new service brand. On the other hand, although several authors suggest favourable loyalty effects of the perception of the energy brand as technologically advanced, i.e. “innovative and dynamic”, no significant influence of this kind of brand associations was found in this study. A possible explanation of the absence of these effects may be that, from a customer's perspective, an energy brand based on modern and dynamic values, that evolves with modern times and, consequently, might expect changes from it's customers (e.g. substituting personal interactions with online interactions, etc.), may not be preferable to a more traditional or conservative brand, that does not surprise its customer with corporate or technological changes. Furthermore, the perception of value added services had a significant influence neither on the satisfaction construct, nor on customer loyalty. However, this observation might be due to the relatively recent introduction of these services in most markets, including the one analysed in this study. The results of the study show that to boost customer satisfaction and thus, indirectly, customer loyalty, the perception of service process quality should be enhanced. Regarding this dimension of brand associations, the way in which the client receives services from his energy company (promptness, courtesy, politeness, etc.) can be more important than the perception of an outstanding technical service quality, when technical quality is provided in a satisfactory way by all energy brands alike (Gellings, 1994; Hayes and Helms, 1999; Drummond and Hanna, 2001). Thus, a significant part of the perception of an energy service brand is based on “the way the company does things” and on the company's culture. Customers’ perception of the energy brand seems to depend highly on individual interaction with company staff. Unlike product based branding, the face to face interaction with employees may be as (or even more) critical to brand perceptions than marketing communications. Consequently, brand associations depend on the performance of the whole company. To improve brand associations, a particular emphasis has to be placed on the consistent delivery of a high degree of service process quality. Consequently, employees play a crucial role in the energy brand building process. Employees embody the organization in consumers’ eyes (Grönroos, 1994), and can have a powerful impact on consumers’ perceptions of both the brand and the organization (Balmer and Wilkinson, 1991). According to Truffer et al. (2001), even the quality of personal communications with the energy customer via call centres or the Internet is decisive. Marketers, therefore, need to communicate the brand's goals, values and performance to the staff to encourage their participation in its success (Hogg et al., 1998). Also, as Edvardsson and Gustavsson (2003, p. 150) argue, “it is essential that the employees in a service company have social competence, i.e. understand and find it easy to get along with the customer.” Thus, companies need to consider carefully their recruitment processes, the role staff is expected to play, and their technical support to ensure high-quality services (McDonald et al., 2001). Emphasis on the quality of the service process of the energy brand should encourage a customer-focused culture within which staff interaction with consumers may be the basis of a strong brand. Besides, the significant effect of the perception of the environmental and social commitment of the brand on customer satisfaction and thus, indirectly, on loyalty, confirms the view that corporate social responsibility of the energy company is becoming an increasingly crucial factor for customer satisfaction in the residential energy market and should be communicated through staff and brand communications (Snyder, 1997; Wiser, 1998; Bloemers et al., 2001; Rowlands et al., 2002; Midttun and Koefoed, 2003). Establishing specific communication strategies for green energy brands as well as transparency-enhancing instruments like environmental labelling may be decisive (Truffer et al., 2001). In the Spanish energy market, for instance, the repositioning of the Iberdrola brand to Iberdrola Green Energy, with a strong communicational emphasis in renewable energy, lead to a significant increase in brand attitude ( Hartmann and Apaolaza Ibáñez, 2006). Overall, the implementation of the identified relevant brand associations of energy brands should follow accepted brand positioning approaches, i.e. focusing on a limited set of differential brand associations ( Aaker, 1996; Ryan, 1996; Keller, 1998; Singh, 2002a). In addition, the results of the study have the potential to address the conflict of interests between the utilities, on one side, and the regulators, defending principally the interests of the customers, on the other. Regulators aim to improve customer satisfaction through market liberalization. Increased competition should be expected to lead to a higher degree of service quality because energy companies will tend to enhance customer loyalty by improving satisfaction, which would be achieved strongest through a better quality of the services provided. But, on the other hand, as this study also shows, adding a high degree of switching costs to the energy service package may as well effectively lead to more loyal customers and this, as can be expected, at the detriment of satisfaction. Consequently, in a liberalized market, energy companies tend to create actively barriers that hinder switching behaviour and may reduce customer benefits (Thomas, 2006; Winward, 1989). If market liberalization does not succeed in enhancing customer satisfaction, regulators need to install additional regulations or incentives for companies to improve customer service (Giannakis et al., 2005) and reduce switching costs. Furthermore, the salient effect of service process quality on customer satisfaction shown in this study should induce regulators to consider focusing not only on the technical quality of energy supply but also on broader aspects of energy utilities’ customer service. 4.2. Limitations and suggestions for future research The survey, on which the data and, thus, the empirical results of this study are based, was carried out in one specific national market. This leads to the question if our conclusions can be transposed to other energy markets. We believe that this is possible to a certain extent, as the underlying theoretical model was developed from a broader international conceptual background. Nonetheless, we recommend special caution with respect to the empirically rejected hypothesis. For instance, the innovative/dynamic brand dimension may be attractive for costumers in certain markets. Also, value added services may be relevant in more developed markets with a longer tradition of market liberalization than the one analysed. There are however strong theoretical reasons and some empirical evidence to suppose that most of the conclusions of the study may hold in other developed, recently liberalized energy markets. With regard to some general limitations of the study, the fact that customer behaviour may differ significantly from verbal statements in the scope of a survey affects the measurement of customer satisfaction and, moreover, loyalty by verbal scales. Thus, the explaining power of the model could be probably enhanced if the behavioural component of the loyalty construct would be measured as such, i.e. as observable behaviour in the scope of a panel survey. On the other hand, the relatively high correlation of some of the dimensions of energy brand associations is indicative of the existence of interrelated perceptual effects. Further research should intend to develop and test a theory based model of causal effects between perceptual dimensions, assessing, for instance, to which degree brand associations of trust and familiarity are affected by other perceptual dimension or by the customer satisfaction construct.