Revealing the Actual Roles of Expectations in Consumer Satisfaction with Experience and Credence Goods

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The disconfirmation of expectations model continues to be the dominant model in the study of customer satisfaction notwithstanding its serious conceptual flaws and its weak empirical support. Competing models reveal the two roles that expectations actually play: as a major determinant of the perception of perceived performance of a good, for credence goods, and as the standard of comparison for the determination of satisfaction with information, for both experience and credence goods. A model that uses desires as the standard for determining satisfaction with goods and expectations as the standard for determining satisfaction with information, is shown to generate the most realistic predictions. Some implications for theory and empirical research on consumer satisfaction and complaining behavior are briefly discussed along with some implications for marketing management.

INTRODUCTION

Although various researchers have proposed different standards as the basis of comparison for customers to assess their level of satisfaction with a product/service, the dominant paradigm in the customer satisfaction literature continues to be the disconfirmation of expectations model. This is so even though several researchers have noted serious conceptual problems with the disconfirmation of expectations model (Dixon, Spreng, and Olshavsky 1993; Spreng, MacKenzie, and Olshavsky 1996) and others have found empirical evidence that expectations play only a minor role in the formation of satisfaction judgments (Churchill and Surprenant 1982; Swan and Trawick 1979; Wirtz and Mattila 2001). Spreng et al. (1996) found that desires and expectations both influence overall satisfaction through their effects on satisfaction with goods and satisfaction with information. Their findings suggest that consumers are using both expectations and desires to form satisfaction judgments.

Swan and Trawick (1979) made a conceptual distinction between predictive expectations and desired expectations. Predictive expectation was the consumer's pre-usage estimate of the performance level that the product was anticipated to achieve; i.e., predictive expectation was the expectation term used in the traditional disconfirmation of expectation model of consumer satisfaction (Oliver 1980). Desired expectation was the consumer's pre-usage specification of the level of performance that the consumer wanted from a product. We refer to these desired expectations as desires in this paper to distinguish it from consumer expectations about what they are likely to get from a product.

Swan and Trawick (1979) examined four different scenarios: the effects on overall satisfaction when performance was equal to predictive expectations, less than predictive expectations, equal to desired expectations, and greater than desired expectations. Their empirical findings were contrary to the predictions of the traditional disconfirmation of expectations model, where predictive expectations was considered the comparison standard. In particular, their finding that consumers were indifferent when performance matched predictive expectations but reported high levels of satisfaction when performance matched desired expectations raises questions about expectations being used as the comparison standard by consumers making satisfaction judgments and offers strong support for desires as the appropriate standard in models of consumer satisfaction. However, they conclude that a possible reason they found no effect of expectation on satisfaction was that consumers were very clear about the product performance in their study; i.e., consumers had no ambiguity or difficulty in assessing product performance. They speculated that when product performance was ambiguous (i.e., product claims were not easily verifiable), consumer expectations were likely to influence consumer assessments of product performance (also see Olshavsky and Miller 1972).

We feel there is a lot of merit in the observations made by Swan and Trawick (1979) about how and when expectations might influence consumer satisfaction. …