Critical incidents have been acknowledged as embedding useful information concerning customer behavior during decades of research. Knowledge of customer switching gained from critical incidents has been approached from different angles. Concepts such as service quality, complaining behavior and service recovery have been used as a basis, and the implications for relationships have been inferred (LaBarbera and Mazursky 1983; Simonson and Tversky 1992; Headly and Miller 1993; Heskett et al. 1994; Strandvik and Liljander 1994; Zeithaml et al. 1996; Rust et al. 1997; Stauss and Neuhaus 1997; Grönroos 1990; Singh 1990; Bolton and Drew 1991; Oliva et al. 1992; Blodgett et al. 1995; Jones and Sasser 1995; Reichheld 1996; Oliver 1997; Bejou and Palmer 1998; Edvardsson and Roos 2001). The methods applied in the studies have followed the tradition of the original literature. It is only recently that switching behavior has been specifically focused on. The static and episodic focus in this study, however, is on relationship dynamics and a new method was required. The CIT technique (Flanagan 1954; Edvardsson 1992; Bitner, Booms and Tetreault 1989; Stauss 1993; Keaveney 1995; Bansal and Taylor 1999) has developed into SPAT- The Switching Path Analysis Technique (Roos 1999a and b). It succeeds in reflecting both the process of customer switching from one service provider to another and the dynamism on the switching path. The use of SPAT resulted in a Catalytic Switching Model, which revealed deliberate changes of behavior in customer relationships.
From a managerial standpoint, understanding customer switching paths establishes a basis for being able to see individuals among customers. They form customer segments that are firmly and fundamentally based on the particularities embedded in every service provider and industry. Customer switching paths provide information of a certain nature. They show a preference change by the customer that is related to both the industry and the customers own life. The industry change involves both competitors and trends, while the personal-life change includes shifts in economic and demographic circumstances. The customer-switching path is based on actual behavior, and is updated through an anchoring and adjustment process in terms of customer-perceived changes in their own living and their perceptions of the service provider.
The instruments of The Switching Path Analysis Technique
The analysis of a switching path focuses on; The trigger, The initial state, The process and The outcome. The outcome stage includes the kind of switching a customers behavior indicates. The process describes the switching-determinant configuration. The initial state describes the relationship length, thus touching on customer involvement and commitment. The trigger indicates the sensitive factors influencing customer-behavior change. The tools included in SPAT are an interview guide, analysis (code system), and techniques for reporting the findings.
1. The interview guide was put together with the objective of giving the interviewees the opportunity to tell their switching stories with minimum influence from the interviewer.
2. The analyse stage in SPAT could begin by identifying whether the customer has made a revocable, a conditional revocable or an irrevocable switching decision (Re path, ReC path or Ir path. These switching paths indicate whether the customer aims to go back to the switched-from service provider or not. The switching paths differ according to the kind of trigger, in combination with the switching-determinant configuration directing the customer on the path. A situational trigger is something outside the switched-from service provider that has increased the sensitivity of the situation, frequently involving changes in the demographic or economic circumstances of the customer. An influential trigger operates when conditions in the switched-to service provider act as a comparison standard for the switching customer. The reactional trigger influences the customers sensitiveness to matters inside the switched-from service provider.
Switching determinants are of three kinds: a pushing determinant, a swayer, and a pulling determinant.
In the switching-determinant configuration the switching determinants appear distinct. In such a configuration the dynamism of the switching path means its energy and direction. This is not fuelled by only one switching determinant, but frequently by all three kinds: a pusher, a swayer and a puller. The change over time, and the energy and direction, are connected to the trigger, which in turn provides the configuration with energy and direction. This energy may appear as customer complaints, for example, which may cause customer emotions. A change in the trigger may imply that a new switching-determinant configuration is advancing the switching path.
The pushing determinant is defined as the switching determinant that is perceived by the customer as the reason for switching to another service provider.
A swayer does not cause switching by itself. It has no power of its own to provoke switching or returning. It only mitigates or strengthens the switching decision, and may be positive or negative. In other words, it may strengthen the switching or mitigate it.
The pulling determinant explains why customers go back to the service provider from which they have recently switched.
Other switching-paths factors include the length of the relationship, the length of the switching decision, emotions and complaining. The value of such factors is that they reveal customer involvement and commitment (Roos 1999c), which has implications in the categorization of customer paths into Re, ReC and Ir paths.
Triggers segmenting customers according to their switching behavior
Three kinds of trigger were distinguished: the situational, the interactional and the reactional. The following three customer segments characterized by actual behavior on the switching path, were formed. (1) Something happened to the customers which they found difficult, almost impossible, to influence: Situational customers. (2) Customers were influenced by something which made it easier for them to patronise a certain service provider: Influential customers. (3) Customers reacted to some kind of deterioration which was connected to the service provider: Reactional customers.
Situational customers are made perceptive to switching by something outside the service that has increased the sensitivity of the situation within it. This may not be immediately connected to the service, or to the service provider.
Influential customers are sensitive to conditions by the switched-to service provider and act as comparison standards. An influential trigger may be connected to purchasing, or it may be a new alternative in the form of a competitor, or a competitor who has changed or improved its concept. A credit card or a loyalty card may also constitute an influential trigger.
Reactional customers declare their sensitiveness to matters inside the firm. This may be related to deterioration in the service quality or in the range of goods. At some stage during this process of deterioration, the customer wakes up and takes stock of the situation.
Identifying customer-switching paths seems to produce new information on customer behavior. The switching perspective deepens our knowledge of the relationship between customers and their service providers. The reason why these deeper insights emerge may be connected with the dynamic approach to studying actual behavior. This unique combination was realized following the modification of a method. We should not neglect careful reconsideration of methods and their potential for providing new results when we adopt new approaches.
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