Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Impact of Small Service Providers' Christian Identity on Consumer Perceptions

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Impact of Small Service Providers' Christian Identity on Consumer Perceptions

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A trend often overlooked in the small business landscape is the growth of Christian service firms. These small businesses are owned and operated primarily by evangelical Christians. US. News & World Reports indicate that nearly 50 percent of small business owners in the U.S. describe themselves as evangelical (McGraw,1995; Solomon, 2004). Owners of these firms often use Christian principles to guide their business decisions (Kyle, 2006; Mitroff & Denton, 1999) and many Christian small business owners see their businesses as having a purpose beyond monetary gain. They regard their businesses as expressions of their evangelical Christian faith and as a ministry to serve (Halstead, Haynes, & Taylor, 2009; Lambert, 2009). Many of these business owners communicate the Christian identity of their business via the use of religious symbols, Christian crosses, and Bible verses on packaging, signage, and in media advertising (Halstead et al., 2009; Mitroff & Denton, 1999).

Given the religious landscape in the U.S., the existence of many small evangelical Christian businesses should come as no surprise. Fifty-six percent of Americans say religion is very important to their lives (Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008) and 82 percent of those who self-identify as religious identify themselves as Christian (Baylor Religion Survey, 2006). Evangelical Christian churches make up the largest percentage of church affiliation in the U.S., followed by Protestant and Catholic churches (Baylor Religion Survey, 2006; Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008). The largest percentage of adults affiliated with the evangelical Christian tradition is seen in the southern and southeastern U.S., with over 50 percent of the adult population reporting affiliation with an evangelical Christian church in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee (Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008). Further, evangelical Christians comprise 43 percent of all business executives in the U.S. (Darden & Richardson, 2002).

Despite the prevalence of small Christian service businesses in the U.S. (and evangelical owners' identification as such), not much is known about how a small business's Christian identity in a secular marketplace might affect consumers' service expectations or subsequent evaluations. While the nature and practices of Christian businesses have been covered periodically in the mainstream business press, including in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Inc., Time, and U.S. News & World Reports (e.g., Baig, 1987; Hansen, 2003; Marsh, 1991; Phred, 2006; Sullivan, 2010; Takeuchi Gullen, 2005), as well as in the scholarly literature (e.g., Halstead et al, 2009; Ibrahim & Angelidis, 2005; Jurkiewicz & Giacalone, 2004; Ibrahim, Rue, McDougall, & Greene, 1991; LaBarbara, 1987; Taylor, Halstead, & Haynes, 2010), no research has examined how a firm's Christian identity might impact consumer expectations, satisfaction levels, and other postpurchase evaluations. Yet the service sector represents approximately 80 percent of the U.S. economy1 and a huge majority of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses.2 In addition, one half of all small business owners self-identify as Christian (McGraw, 1995). Thus, the study of small Christian service providers seems paramount simply in terms of the numbers of firms which fall into this category. Therefore, this research explores how Christian service providers' marketplace identification as such might influence consumer prepurchase perceptions (e.g., expectations) and postpurchase perceptions such as satisfaction, repurchase intentions, and word of mouth intentions after a moderate service failure. It is important to understand what influences these consumer perceptions because they are "leading indicators of financial performance" (Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler, 2012, p. 560). Specifically, the consumer perceptions explored here have been linked previously, either directly or indirectly, to important firm outcomes such as service quality perceptions, customer retention and loyalty, sales, and profitability (Anderson, Fomell, & Lehmann, 1994; Anderson & Mittal, 2000; Anderson & Sullivan, 1992; Reichheld & Sasser, 1990; Woodside, Frey, & Daly, 1989; Zeithaml et al, 1996). …

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