Investigating antecedents of consumers’ recommend intentions and the moderating effect of switching barriers

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Investigating antecedents of

consumers' recommend intentions and

the moderating effect of switching


Chung-Yu Wang a a

Department of Marketing Management , Shu-Te University , Kaohsiung County, Taiwan, Republic of China

Published online: 04 Feb 2010.

To cite this article: Chung-Yu Wang (2009) Investigating antecedents of consumers' recommend intentions and the moderating effect of switching barriers, The Service Industries Journal, 29:9, 1231-1241, DOI: 10.1080/02642060701847810

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Investigating antecedents of consumers’ recommend intentions and

the moderating effect of switching barriers

Chung-Yu Wang

Department of Marketing Management, Shu-Te University, Kaohsiung County, Taiwan, Republic of China

(Received 26 November 2007; final version received 27 November 2007)

The current study moves beyond customer-perceived value, service quality, and corporate image and demonstrates that switching barriers are important factors influencing a customer’s decision to recommend a service provider to others. This work examines a contingency model between customer-perceived value, service quality, corporate image, and switching barriers. The results indicate that the impact of these parameters on consumers’ recommend intentions increases under conditions of high switching barriers. The implications of these results are also discussed.

Keywords:switching barriers; customer-perceived value; corporate image; service quality; consumers’ recommend intentions


Many scholars and practitioners are interested in the topic of relationship marketing (e.g., Aydin & Ozer, 2005; Brown, Barry, Dacin, & Gunst, 2005; Cronin, Brady, & Hult, 2000; Ibanez, Hartmann, & Calvo, 2006; Jones, Reynolds, Mothersbaugh, & Beatty, 2007; Liu, Leach, & Bernhardt, 2005; Sirdeshmukh, Singh, & Sabol, 2002; White & Schneider, 2000). Firms adopt a relationship marketing approach towards their customers because of its perceived link to higher customer loyalty and greater profitability (Hallowell, 1996). Lam, Shankar, Erramilli, and Murthy (2004) consider ‘recommend’ and ‘patron-age’ as two key manifestations of customer loyalty. Christopher, Payne, and Ballantyne (1991) indicate that the goal of relationship marketing is to turn new customers into regularly purchasing clients and finally into being active and vocal advocates for the company, thus playing an important role as a referral source. From the indicators and past research, the ‘recommend’ concept (Lam et al., 2004) is similar in meaning to ‘advocate’ (White & Schneider, 2000) and positive word-of-mouth (WOM) (e.g., Brown et al., 2005). For example, Hartline and Jones (1996) name WOM ‘word-of-mouth recommendation’, Reynolds and Beatty (1999, p. 16) indicate that ‘word-of-mouth recommendations have been found to be very important in consumers’ decision making for a variety of products and services’, and Griffin (1995) contends that building relationships with customers will lead to customer advocacy, where WOM flourishes. Noticeably, Aaker (1991) indicates that the real value of those customers most loyal to an entity is not so much the business that they personally generate but rather their impact on others in the marketplace. Christopher et al. (1991) suggest that advocates not only display repeat purchase behaviour, but also serve as a valuable marketing resource

ISSN 0264-2069 print/ISSN 1743-9507 online # 2009 Taylor & Francis

DOI: 10.1080/02642060701847810

Corresponding author. Email:


for the company. Therefore, unlike some research focusing on repurchase intentions (e.g., Jones, Mothersbaugh, & Beatty, 2000), this work focuses on exploring recommend intentions.

Much research has examined the relationship between recommend intentions and their antecedents (e.g., Brown et al., 2005; Hartline & Jones, 1996; Lam et al., 2004; Reynolds & Beatty, 1999; White & Schneider, 2000). However, this study goes a step further than these previous studies by examining the moderating effect of switching barriers on the relationships mentioned earlier. Specifically, this work tries to examine whether switching barriers moderate the relationships between corporate image, service quality, customer-perceived value, and recommend intentions. Switching barriers are important because they may foster greater retention (e.g., Jones, Mothersbaugh, & Beatty, 2002) and further-more, numerous studies have examined the moderating effect of switching barriers on the relationship between satisfaction and repurchase intentions (e.g., Jones et al., 2000) or store loyalty (e.g., Balabanis, Reynolds, & Simintiras, 2006). Jones et al. (2000) conclude that under low levels of satisfaction, the relationship between a client and a provider may continue due to high switching barriers. Similarly, Sirdeshmukh et al. (2002, p. 21) indi-cate that individual choice may be constrained by switching costs such that although the behavioural motivation does not exist (e.g., value), the consumer is unable to disengage. However, these studies do not demonstrate whether under high switching barriers, lower levels of customer-perceived value, unsatisfactory service quality, and corporate image will lead to less recommend intentions. This work’s proposition is that under high switching barriers, consumers may stay with a service provider, but will they recommend this service provider to others?

The objective of this work is to propose and empirically analyse a conceptual frame-work that considers service quality, customer-perceived value, and corporate image as antecedents of recommend intentions. In particular, this work examines the moderating role of switching barriers in the relationship between recommend intentions and its ante-cedents. Understanding how various factors are related to recommend intentions and the boundary condition of their relationship can help managers increase recommend intentions effectively through initiatives involving those factors that influence recommend inten-tions. For example, if customer-perceived value has a significant effect on recommend intentions for customers with high switching barriers than it has for customers with low switching barriers, perceived value will be especially important for customers with high switching barriers, and so a manager should pay particular attention to increasing per-ceived value and switching barriers.

Literature review

While WOM can be positive or negative, marketers are naturally interested in promoting positive WOM, such as recommendations to others, and that is the focus of this work. WOM is defined as ‘informal, person-to-person communication between a perceived non-commercial communicator and a receiver regarding a brand, a product, an organis-ation, or a service’ (Harrison-Walker, 2001, p. 63). Ardnt (1967, p. 1) states that ‘informal conversation is probably the oldest mechanism by which opinions on products and brands are developed, expressed, and spread’. White and Schneider (2000, p. 241) define ‘advo-cates being that they “talk up” (literally advocate) the organisation to others’. Besides, Lam et al. (2004) consider the recommend decision as one key manifestation of customer loyalty. Adopting these perspectives, recommend intentions can be considered the likelihood of recommending a service provider to others in the future.

1232 C.-Y. Wang


Customer value (or customer-perceived value) is a comparison of weighted ‘get’ attributes to ‘give’ attributes (Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser, & Schlesinger, 1994). Customer-perceived value is operationalised as a ratio between total benefits received to total sacrifices (Buzzell & Gale, 1987). A customer’s perception of the value received from a service provider could motivate the customer to recommend the provider to others. Therefore, customer-perceived value is positively related to WOM recommendation (Hartline & Jones, 1996). The above discussion leads to the following hypothesis:

H1: Customer-perceived value has a positive influence on recommend intentions.

Most researchers define perceived service quality as the comparative judgement of expectations versus perceived performance (e.g., Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1988). Generally speaking, service quality perceptions are likely to be positively associ-ated with customers’ attitudes towards the service provider and the likelihood of remaining a customer (e.g., Aydin & Ozer, 2005; Bell, Auh, & Smalley, 2005; Zeithaml, Berry, & Parasuraman, 1996). A customer’s perception of high level of service quality received from a service provider could increase the likelihood of recommending this provider to others. Therefore, service quality is positively related to the WOM recommendation (Hartline & Jones, 1996). Hence, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H2: Service quality has a positive influence on recommend intentions.

Corporate image is described as the overall impression made on the minds of the public about a firm (Barich & Kotler, 1991). Corporate image is related to the physical and behavioural attributes of the firm, such as business name, architecture, variety of products/services, and interaction with the firm’s clients (Nguyen & LeBlanc, 2001). Corporate image is the result of an evaluation process (Aydin & Ozer, 2005). Previous work found that there are direct and indirect effects of corporate image on customer loyalty (Ball, Coelho, & Vilares, 2006; Bloemer & de Ruyter, 1998; Nguyen & LeBlanc, 2001; Souiden, Kassim, & Hong, 2006). Bhattacharya and Sen (2003) conclude that corporate image has an impact on corporate commitment. White and Schneider (2000) place customer advocates on the highest rung on the ladder of commitment. These studies imply that a customer’s perception of the good corporate image could increase the tendency to recommend a service provider to others. Hence, the hypothesis to be tested is as follows:

H3: Corporate image has a positive influence on recommend intentions.

Switching barriers are defined as the degree to which customers experience a sense of being locked into a relationship based on the economic, social, or psychological costs associated with leaving a particular service provider (Bendapudi & Berry, 1997). Consist-ent with Jones et al. (2000), this work examines three switching barriers, namely interper-sonal relationships, perceived switching costs, and the attractiveness of competing alternatives.

Interpersonal relationships refer to the strength of personal bonds that develop between customers and their service employees (Turnbull & Wilson, 1989). Customers may derive utility from the customer – service provider relationship, which serves as a switching barrier (Wathne, Biong, & Heide, 2001). Hence, interpersonal relationships positively influence intentions to stay with a service provider (Burnham, Frels, & Mahajan, 2003) and lead to positive WOM (Gwinner, Gremler, & Bitner, 1998). Furthermore, interperso-nal relationships can decrease the impact of dissatisfaction with the service by encouraging customers to remain with their service providers even in situations where satisfaction is less than complete (Jones et al., 2000). Owing to the social and psychological benefits


assess whether differences and similarities exist across service types. Second, to better assess causality, future research can test this work’s model in an experimental setting uti-lising scenarios to manipulate key constructs. For example, service quality can be manipu-lated, but switching barriers could be measured. Third, since a cross-sectional research design does not offer nearly the same insight into the dynamics of customer relationships with a firm as a longitudinal design, future work can use a longitudinal design. Finally, Seiders, Voss, Grewal, and Godfrey (2005) conclude that customer, relational, and mar-ketplace characteristics moderate the relationship between satisfaction and repurchase behaviour. They further demonstrate that moderating effects emerge if repurchase is measured as objective behaviour but not if it is measured as repurchase intentions. There-fore, if recommendation is adopted as a dependent variable, this variable should be measured as objective behaviour. In addition, the moderators used by Seiders et al. (2005) or/and other possible antecedents of switching costs (e.g., Burnham et al., 2003) could be used.


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