Today’s consumers demand much more than quality products – they also value the service that is provided in the retail environment highly (Arnold, 2003:78; Samson&Little, 1993:390) From retailers’ perspective, customer service may have become the only way to differentiate them from competitors because the products that they offer often differ insignificantly from one store to another. Excellent customer service therefore may be the only opportunity to attract and to attain customers to the extent that it results in store loyalty. Unfortunately limited research could be found on customer service that would conquer the hearts and wallets of consumers in specific retail settings for the sake of store loyalty. Extant research mostly address single, very specific elements of customer service or customer service in general in terms of its effect on buyer behavior or store patronage in general. It was proposed that retailers could enhance customers’ repeat purchase behaviour if they could successfully increase customer satisfaction through improved service quality. In order to identify the elements of customer service that are considered crucial in terms of excellent customer service and repeat purchase behaviour, an attempt was made to determine why consumers often divide their purchases across different supermarkets that apparently stock the same goods. The research thus required the identification of the elements of customer service that individually and/or collectively affect consumers’ preference for specific supermarket/s and their probable repeat purchase behaviour. This study also explored how consumers rate the service of supermarkets and attempted to make suggestions in terms of how retailers could improve customer service to ensure consumer loyalty. The systems theory approach was used to guide discussions, as it enabled a study and understanding of the sequence, relationship and interdependency of fundamental elements of customer service (as subsystems ) within a larger complex system (retail environment). The cognitive perspective was incorporated in the discussion of the elements of customer service as it enabled the understanding of customers’ interpretation of customer service. Participants were recruited by means of snowball sampling within the area of Pretoria East in the geographical area of Tshwane. In this area, major supermarkets are located within close proximity, which is conducive for shop hopping. It was required that participants either resided and/or shopped in the specific area; they were from LSM groups 5 and higher; older than 25 years, but no requirements were set in terms of race or gender. A quantitative data collection method was used (a survey: questionnaire). A qualitative data collection technique (focus group discussions) was however implemented beforehand to include every day constructs and to include additional constructs that might have been overseen. It became evident that consumers apparently patronage different supermarkets on a regular basis and that the customer service of some of the supermarkets are viewed significantly better than others. The elements of customer service that are more severely criticized seem to be mostly PROCESS and PERSONNEL related. Through factor analysis and linear regression, three elements of customer service were identified as those that are apparently regarded crucial in terms of excellent customer service. Two familiar elements, namely PROCESSES and PERSONNEL as well as a newly structured element, namely VALUE FOR MONEY was identified to design a model that depicts the elements of customer service that were identified to be crucial in terms of excellent customer service.
Dissertation (M (Consumer Science))--University of Pretoria, 2007.