Sanchayan SENGUPTA
Professeur associé - ESSCA

In terms of segmentation, targeting, and positioning for international companies, a combination of cultural and personal values could help companies find a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors

Customers evaluate services in terms of performance and then form expectations. Thus, they are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the service according to their expectations. Because the service encounter is essentially a social interaction, culture influences how consumers react to these service experiences in that individuals from different cultures have diverse expectations that affect their service quality expectations and satisfaction levels.

However, prior studies about this have primarily considered cultures as belonging to different countries and different geographical areas of the world. Their focus has been primarily on what is dissimilar among cultures in relation to service evaluations while cultural similarities have been regarded as following a generalisable framework based on existing work by Hofstede or Schwartz.

In our quantitative study, we investigated how customers’ cultural and personal values impact their perception of service quality and satisfaction in a high-contact retail service setting in two countries with a shared history (France & Lebanon). The originality and importance of this study stem from the theoretical proposal of shared history. That is, instead of examining cross-cultural differences solely, as has been done previously, we examine and illustrate aspects of cultural and personal values that are quite specific when compared to Western and Middle Eastern theoretical categories.

For marketing managers, we let them know how to consider these cultural similarities for their international companies, both internally, to manage employees, and externally, to develop effective marketing actions. Also, we suggest that future cultural research should not rely only on conventional categories largely based on geographical differences, but also try to understand other historical factors that may be worth exploring to predict similarities and differences among countries with a potential shared history.

Shared history and cultural values: how they affect service quality perception

Socio-linguistic affiliations among people of different countries have been discussed from a political science perspective. But the marketing perspective that addresses how customers from countries with shared histories evaluate services is still missing.

Due to past events in countries’ histories, such as colonisation or migration, it is possible that consumers from both the colonial country and the colonised country share cultural values, not only from their country of origin, but also from the country they live in. Like generational cohorts, consumers from countries that share events in their history could then demonstrate shared values that are very different from what would be expected at the conventional national level. Prior studies have overlooked this seemingly important aspect of effectively marketing to consumers with shared histories that could lead to superior service evaluations and thus benefit managers of customer-centric service firms.

Marketers should look beyond conventional cross-cultural categories and instead look more deeply into unexpected similarities and differences in consumers’ evaluations of service quality.

Therefore, to suggest effective marketing actions for countries with shared histories, we recommend that marketers look beyond conventional cross-cultural categories and instead look more deeply into unexpected similarities and differences in consumers’ evaluations of service quality. Through our research, we investigate aspects of cultural and personal values that are specific to countries with shared histories, instead of Western and Middle Eastern theoretical categories, and show how they differ in their influence on service quality and satisfaction. Using France and Lebanon as country samples, we look at the broader phenomenon of understanding service quality and satisfaction in these two countries that have a shared history, and for which the literature is currently at a nascent stage. We investigate a high-contact services context to examine customer evaluations for these countries with a shared history.

Impact on retail banking customers: their service experience

Prior studies have established that in high customer contact services (e.g., restaurants, retailing, banking, etc.) that involve face-to-face communication between the service provider and the customer, Perceived Service Quality (PSQ) is essential for driving customer satisfaction and superior customer experience. Also in high customer contact settings, customers’ values, attitudes, and preferences are substantially influenced by their culture as well as their personal values, because they are an integral part of consumer culture.

Traditional retail banking services represent high contact services in which the service quality is manifested in the form of direct interaction between customers and banking personnel who can influence satisfaction. Today, banking involves multichannel services: apart from traditional branch banking, customers use automatic teller machines, phone banking, and online banking for their banking needs. In a more and more digitalised environment, they are used to receiving information and answers to their requests immediately. This consumer impatience, sometimes called the ‘Amazon effect’, refers to the escalation of customers’ expectations, although it should not, evidently, be limited to Amazon.

As a consequence, the responsiveness dimension of perceived service quality could become a vital factor in providing service. Our study focuses on retail branch banking customers because face-to-face interactions are still important in today’s multichannel environment. Indeed, physical channels have not been replaced by digital channels because customers who regularly use online banking are also active retail branch users. We studied the impact of culture and personal values in this retail banking services context because of its inherent high service contact nature and the high degree of internationalisation of such services.

We looked at retail banking customer samples from France and Lebanon, the two countries with a shared history selected in this study. In the retail banking industry in France, French customers demonstrate a positive attitude towards their banks and show a high level of trust in banking relationships. Recent studies also revealed that 78% of French banking customers are satisfied with their banks, and 70% are confident with their bank advisors. In the highly competitive Lebanese retail banking industry, service quality was found to be positively and directly correlated to customer satisfaction. Furthermore, gender-related differences were uncovered in evaluating satisfaction and overall PSQ. Women rated their satisfaction higher than men, whereas men rated their expectations of service quality higher than women, and recorded better evaluations of overall PSQ.

The study findings and conclusions

The findings from the empirical studies highlight the need to consider cultural values when investigating how service responsiveness affects customer satisfaction.

We demonstrate that the four out of five cultural dimensions of Hofstede, namely

  • collectivism,
  • masculinity,
  • uncertainty avoidance,
  • and long-term orientation,

moderate the relationship between responsiveness and satisfaction.

Moreover, we show that personal values (in particular, the sense of belonging) moderate the relationship between responsiveness and satisfaction.

This paper thus advocates the view that marketing to consumers with a shared history, who may be geographically distant, is a significant and worthy issue in international services marketing that has implications and relevance for both service researchers and global service providers.

Our suggestions for international service and retail firms

Through our study’s findings, we have some clear suggestions for international retail service companies (and other international companies).

To understand the differences among their customers around the world, such global companies cannot only consider geography; they need to go deeper to understand cultural values based on historical relationships with other countries, like the example of Lebanon and France.

Secondly, from a more general perspective, in the current context of business globalisation, it is crucial to understand that cultural values are important, but so are personal values. Companies need to consider both national and individual factors when making decisions about marketing actions. For example, it might be vital for communication strategy managers to understand how responsiveness affects satisfaction and if any personal values moderate this relationship.

Also, in terms of segmentation, targeting, and positioning for international companies, a combination of cultural and personal values could help companies find a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors. A sound understanding of the above would aid them in designing the most effective communication messages by highlighting such values when addressing the target segments and positioning their products accordingly. Perhaps advertising messages that suggest belongingness of customers to their brand would cultivate this personal value and permit customers to feel as being valued members and part of the ‘family’.

Finally, proper training of the service personnel to enhance their level of responsiveness will be a definite added value when aiming to boost customer satisfaction levels.

Methodology of this study

For our study, we collected data from French and Lebanese respondents by means of a structured online survey questionnaire that took an average of 10 minutes to complete.171 French and 141 Lebanese bank customers completed our survey. French male respondents represented 68.4% of the survey participants, and 40.9% of the French respondents belonged to the 26- to 35-year-old age group. Lebanese male respondents represented 48.9% of the survey participants, and 43.3% of these respondents belonged to the 26- to 35-year-old age group.


 

References

Al Hakim, Zeina & Sengupta, Sanchayan & Cuny, Caroline. (2020). Impact of shared history on customers' service evaluations. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. 55. 102070. 10.1016/j.jretconser.2020.102070.

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