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For over a decade, customer satisfaction has received increasing attention in marketing (e.g., Churchill and Surprenant, 1982; Oliver and Swan, 1989a; Westbrook and Oliver, 1991). Previous research on major retail purchases such as appliances and automobiles suggests several possible antecedents of product satisfaction including disconfirmation of product expectations (Oliver, 1977) and product performance (Richins and Bloch, 1991). These studies, and others, illustrate that most previously identified antecedents of customer satisfaction with a product are directly related to consumer beliefs concerning the product's performance, particularly as it relates to pre-purchase expectations (Oliver and DeSarbo, 1988). A limited number of studies also have identified certain non-product factors as potential determinants of customer satisfaction with a product (e.g., Oliver and Swan, 1989b; Westbrook, 1981).
The current research is designed to examine the effect of one nonproduct-related construct on consumer satisfaction with a major retail purchase--an automobile. Specifically, it proposes that a salesperson's selling orientation-customer orientation (SOCO) will affect not only consumer satisfaction with the salesperson and dealer, but indirectly, satisfaction with the product or manufacturer (See Figure 1). This research hypothesizes that consumer product satisfaction is affected not only through product evaluation and information but also through indirect, peripheral influence routes such as interaction with the salesperson, that are not directly related to product performance (Petty, Cacioppo, and Schumann, 1983). Increasing the current level of knowledge about the determinants of customer satisfaction with big-ticket retail products may assist manufacturers in their efforts to enhance market acceptance. It also will provide insight into the importance of customer-oriented salespeople in a retail setting.
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Retail Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction with a product can be conceptualized in a variety of ways. Westbrook and Oliver (1991, p. 84) define it as "a postchoice evaluative judgment concerning a specific purchase selection." A somewhat more detailed definition is provided by Swan and Oliver (1989, p. 518):
Satisfaction is an affective or emotional response to a specific
consumption experience, with increasing satisfaction reflecting
more positive affect and dissatisfaction reflecting greater
Satisfaction includes emotional responses of the consumer as they relate to purchases (Mano and Oliver, 1993; Oliver, 1993). These emotional influences may result from factors related to product performance and also from the process of acquiring and using a product.
From the perspective of both the retailer and manufacturer, customer satisfaction is an important issue because it is related to several desirable outcomes. It affects future purchase intentions--satisfied customers are more likely to purchase the same product from the same source (Furse, Punj, and Stewart, 1984; Sambandam and Lord, 1995). Satisfied customers also can provide a steady flow of word-of-mouth promotion, thereby reducing the expense required to find new customers (Swan and Oliver, 1989). In addition, customer satisfaction reduces the size of the set of products and retailers considered and minimizes switching behavior among previous purchasers (Sambandam and Lord, 1995).
The Salesperson and Customer Satisfaction
Product performance is an important determinant of overall customer satisfaction, but it is not the only one. For example, Westbrook (1981) indicates that retail salespeople influence overall customer satisfaction with a purchase. Thus, the importance of salesperson behavior as an antecedent of overall customer satisfaction should not be minimized.
Reactions to the sales interaction influence processing of product related information (Sujan et al., 1986) which can be considered as a direct route of persuasion (Petty et al., 1983). By helping a buyer obtain product information and providing guidelines about what should be expected during the acquisition process and use of a product, a salesperson may influence customer expectations concerning the product and thereby reduce the likelihood of negative disconfirmation with its accompanying dissatisfaction (Grewal and Sharma, 1991). Research findings indicate that successful salespeople often tailor their presentation to the needs of each customer (Spiro and Weitz, 1990) so that not only product/service desires are addressed but also the consumer's sales process needs (Szymanski, 1988). By being customer-oriented, a salesperson is more likely to identify customer needs and match his/her presentation to those requirements, increasing overall customer satisfaction (Dunlap, Dotson, and Chambers, 1988).
Emotional reactions to a sales interaction may affect consumer satisfaction with the purchase experience and future purchase intentions (Babin, Boles, and Darden, 1995). It has even been suggested that, "non-product satisfaction offered by retailers may be just as significant as product-related satisfaction in determining customer patronage" (Westbrook, 1981 p. 69). This emotional response to a salesperson could be considered an indirect or peripheral persuasion route since it does not directly relate to the product.
For big-ticket retail purchases the quality of the customer-salesperson communication appears to impact satisfaction with the product (Oliver and Swan, 1989b). While there has been very limited research associated with the linkage between satisfaction with the salesperson/retailer as an indicator of satisfaction with the product, it appears that perceptions of …