Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Do Salespeople's In-Role and Extrarole Brand-Building Behaviors Contribute to Customer Loyalty Transfer?

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Do Salespeople's In-Role and Extrarole Brand-Building Behaviors Contribute to Customer Loyalty Transfer?

Article excerpt

Selling firms and salespeople employ strategies aimed at enhancing customer loyalty (Palmatier, Scheer, Houston, Evans, & Gopalakrishna, 2007; Yim, Tse, & Chan, 2008). Some customer loyalty researchers have adopted a multifocused perspective to investigate customers' concurrent, or multifocal, loyalties to both the selling firm and to the salesperson (Palmatier, Houston, Dant, & Grewal, 2013). Customer loyalty to the selling firm refers to customers' "intention to perform a diverse set of behaviors that signal a motivation to maintain a relationship with the focal firm" (Sirdeshmukh, Singh, & Sabol, 2002, p. 20). It reflects a customer's relationship with a specific target (an employee, a brand, or a firm) that involves a psychological state (such as preference or attachment), cognitive attitude (evaluation), and behavioral intentions (e.g., to maintain the relationship, or to recommend products to others). Salesperson-owned loyalty (personal loyalty) is "customers' intention to perform behaviors that signal the motivation to maintain a relationship specifically with the focal salesperson" (Palmatier et al., 2007, p. 186). Both the selling firm and the salesperson engage in relationship-enhancing activities to secure customer loyalty (Palmatier et al., 2013). Staffmembers who have contact with customers constitute a critical link between customers and firms. It is, therefore, important to understand what that link is and how to strengthen it. However, to date no attempt has been made to determine how, and under what conditions, customer loyalty to one referent transfers to, or converges with, another referent.

With regard to strengthening the link, one assumption in the context of making connections between the firm and other entities (boundary spanning) is that a spanner is generally viewed as an agent of the firm - a condition that actually varies according to the firm's entitativity. According to social judgment theory (O'Laughlin & Malle, 2002), people apply different informationprocessing strategies based on the expected entitativity of individuals versus groups. Therefore, when employees act as brand ambassadors (Vallaster & de Chernatony, 2006) or brand builders (Morhart, Herzog, & Tomczak, 2009), they enhance customers' perceptions of entitativity and create affective bonds between the customer and the firm and brand. Customers are, therefore, likely to attribute employees' relational behaviors to the firm. In other words, employee brand-building behaviors can be catalysts in the customer loyalty transfer process.

Because this is so, our examination of how the loyalty transfer process can be strengthened by salespersons' in-role brand-building behavior (IRBBB) and extrarole brand-building behavior (ERBBB) in the Chinese direct-selling context, is relevant and illuminating for the study of customer loyalty as a whole. A better understanding of multifocused customer loyalties will also aid firms in the development of policies and strategies that utilize personal loyalty.

Theoretical Framework and Hypotheses Development

In the existing literature on customer loyalty researchers call for a multilevel or dual-process approach (Yim et al., 2008) to unfold the triangular relationship among customers, employees, and firms. Consistent with the logic set out in previous research, we maintain that an individual employee must depend on the firm's resources (e.g., brand) and support (e.g., promotion to reward the employee) to deliver products or services (Yim et al., 2008). The firm or brand lays the foundation upon which salespeople present the goods to the customers. From the role-playing perspective, customer-contact employees might play a dual role in their interaction with customers, acting as a service provider (functional or economic exchange) and sometimes also as a friend (social exchange). The first of these roles, and possibly also the second, cannot be separated from the setting in which the action takes place (i. …

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