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Customers switching behaviour: satisfaction not enough

Recent research conducted by Bournemouth University has revealed the fickle nature of health club members and the difficulties in managing customer satisfaction and loyalty programmes. by John Oliver, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Bournemouth Media School.

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The research was conducted with a large regional service provider and investigated the reasons why members had left their health club, with particular emphasis being placed on the role that customer service played their decision to switch service providers.

The findings from a survey of 52 ex-members (one month of resignations) revealed that customer satisfaction ratings were good, indicating that 70% of members were very satisfied with the facilities and satisfied with the level of customer service provided by staff. The key influences on their decision to leave were perceived core service failure (17%), service encounter failures (16%), price (13%) and the competitive offers (9%) of other health club providers.

The recurring themes for service failure were twofold. Firstly, that the club was operating at 97% capacity and as a result members had problems gaining access to tennis courts, the swimming pool and tennis coaches.

Secondly, that staff-member communication was poor during the service encounter process. Many of the ex-members stated that they had complained about service problems to staff and that they had failed to respond adequately to their request.

These findings suggest that members evaluate their the current service provision against the competition to see if they are getting value for money. Whilst they may be more than satisfied with what they are currently getting, they believe that they can obtain a better quality of service elsewhere.

The managerial implications of these findings are two fold. Firstly, that doubt has been cast on the customer satisfaction equals customer loyalty premise. In this instance, the high degree of satisfaction did not translate into loyalty as members who reported a high degree of satisfaction with their club still had a pre-disposition to switch to another service provider. This may suggest that a minimum level of satisfaction must be achieved in order to keep members happy, but that customer loyalty needs to be considered beyond the results of customer satisfaction surveys.

Secondly, the findings also showed that many members had made an effort to try and get a service problem resolved. This meant engaging with staff informally and or with management in a more formal complaint procedure.

The argument follows then, that customer complaining activity could be regarded as an early warning system for customer defection. Customers who complain therefore provide management with an opportunity to recover and resolve the situation before any switching occurs.

John Oliver is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Bournemouth University and a marketing consultant.Contact 01202 595319 :

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