To ensure success in a highly competitive world it is important that an organization puts emphasis on customer satisfaction. Findings indicate that it is much easier to retain an existing customer than attract a new one. That is why it is important for any business entity to understand the needs of its customers and ensure the production of quality brands.
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Ensuring satisfaction usually compels a customer to come again to buy the products or get the service. It is also vital in ensuring referrals, whereby the customers are able to refer other people to the same business entity or brand. The quality of products or services is critical in influencing the attitudes of the customers towards a given brand. Customer satisfaction influences the consumers to have a positive attitude towards the brand while dissatisfaction leads to negative attitude (Antonides 1999: 88).
Customer satisfaction is vital in promoting a brand. Customer dissatisfaction on the other hand leads the consumers to present their complaints to the manufacturer or dealer of that particular product or even discourage other potential customers from using that product or service. To determine the quality of a product or service, it is quite important to determine the attitudes of the consumers towards that particular brand.
This could be done by issuing them with questionnaires or directly interviewing them. This is crucial in spotting the needs of customers and improving that particular brand. For any corporate entity to succeed in an extremely competitive world it must be customer oriented and it should put measures in place to retain the existing customers and attract new ones. After obtaining findings about the customer needs, it is important to act on them so as to ensure customer satisfaction.
It is quite important for an organization or business entity to determine the customer satisfaction levels at that particular time before putting any customer satisfaction measures. Improving quality is not enough to give an entity a competitive advantage over its competitors. It is therefore important that an organization puts less emphasis on internal structures and processes and focus on the market and customers (Baudrillard 1998: 432).
The issue of satisfaction is particularly important tin the hospitality industry. Customer satisfaction can be termed as a feeling of pleasure or fulfillment that comes with the obtaining and using a product or service.
Consumer Decision Making Process
According to Smith, before any purchase is made, the consumer usually goes through a number of stages. It is important for any marketer to understand the whole process while marketing any given brand. There is a stage in the buying process whereby the marketer might not be in a position to change the decision of the buyer.
While doing the routinely purchases however, it is quite common for the customer to skip or in some cases reverse some of these stages. Someone who is hungry is likely to skip the information seeking and evaluation stages. While purchasing certain commodities however, there is need for significant thought and deliberation. The buying process is very important in such a case (Blythe 1997: 231).
According to this model, before any purchase is made, the consumer recognizes a need like hunger, the need to purchase certain equipment or it might be in response to a given stimuli like a sweet aroma. The customer then goes a head to find the appropriate information. If the need is quite agent and there is a place to purchase the product/service, a decision is instantly made to acquire the same. If not then the quest to acquire the information continues.
Some of the information sources for the customer include;
- Personal sources which include; members of one’s family, friends or neighbors.
- Business sources like advertisements, sales people, packaging and displays, retailer as well as the retailers of that given product/service.
- Public sources, these include the media/press and consumer organizations.
- Experimental sources. They include the handling of the product, examining as well as using it.
During the evaluation stage, the customer is faced with the option of choosing among the different brands, products or other service providers (Brown 2002:33).
The customer uses the obtained information in determining the best brand in solving the apparent problem. An extensive evaluation is to be carried out if the purchasing is very much involving. High involvement purchases are those which either involve higher risks or are expensive. These might for instance be; the purchasing of a car, house or making an investment. Low involvement purchases on the other hand usually involve less evaluation as it is in the case of purchasing refreshments or purchasing foodstuff for preparing dinner.
A marketer needs to provide the customer with the appropriate information in the various purchasing situations. In high involvement purchases for instance, the marketer needs to give the customer accurate information about the quality of the brand and its importance and advantages over the competitors. He/she might have to give free samples or offer trials to the customer so as to make a sale and establish customer loyalty. (Cave 2002:461).
This is the final stage in the purchasing process. After purchasing, the customer might have concerns about that particular brand. This is usually done through cognitive dissonance. In the event that a consumer feels that an alternative product or service provider would have been better, he/she might not go for it immediately but might go for it next time he/she is in need.
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The person is less likely purchase the product or service that did not satisfy him/her. During the purchasing, the customer needs to be assured that the product or service would satisfy his/her need. Even after purchasing, the consumer has to be reassured that he/she made the right decision.
Application in the Hospitality Industry
This model is applicable in the hospitality industry although it has its own shortfalls. The aspect of decision making has not been an easy one in this industry given that it has been undergoing much complexity in the recent past. There are various factors that influence decision making in the hospitality industry some of which are socioeconomic. The aspects of the organizations image, its utility maximization as well as people’s knowledge about the products and services are also influential in the whole process (Ford 2005:33).
The management of any hospitality company uses the knowledge of this model to make decisions concerning the branding and ensuring effective marketing strategies so as to retain the existing customers and attract new ones.
The problem recognition stage in the hospitality industry is characterized by customers need for comfort and places of relaxation, refreshment, accommodation, transportation and places where they can get good food and other entertainment services. It is upon the retailer to provide these services to the customers and inform them of the products and services offered by that particular business entity (Gottdiener 2000:67).
It is therefore important for the marketers to carry out some study on the customers needs so as to know the services they need and improve on the existing ones or eliminate those that are not relevant. It is important to understand the customers and the attributes that influence their decision making.
This is the only way that a hospitality firm can effectively deliver to its customers. With the aspects of post-modernism and globalization, today’s market has significantly changed. The customers are more sensitive to the prices and the focus is more on the psychological rather than physiological needs. A marketer needs to know the perception of the consumers concerning the alternative brands in the industry (Griffin 2002:55).
The hospitality industry usually aims at ensuring customer satisfaction which translates to profit making. Marketing is particularly very important in the hospitality industry. The industry also depends on the travel industry for its marketing and operational activities.
By understanding the decision making process, an organization is in a position to meet its organizational objectives by putting programs in place to ensure that the customers are satisfied which results in greater profitability. The hospitality industry must have the customer service culture. Much emphasis is put on customer service and satisfaction. The organizations culture is in such a way that the needs of the customers are given priority (Gronroos 2000:22)
A business entity in the hospitality industry needs to be consistent in its service provision so as to avoid customer dissatisfaction. The entity should do follow up even after the customers purchase their products or services so as to determine their level of satisfaction at the post-purchase stage. This helps in finding out whether the customers were satisfied or whether the product or service needs to be improved. This is crucial in minimizing dissatisfaction and establishing customer loyalty (Heath 2005:33).
Globalization has resulted in market complexity. The hospitality industry is therefore encountering greater competition from firms across the globe. The industry is faced with the challenge of ensuring that high ethical standards are upheld and the players in the industry observe corporate social responsibility.
The model has been found to be ineffective given that a lot of emphasis is put on the customers. The organizational structures and procedures of businesses are likely to be sidelined. In some cases, consumers might approve a brand as being of quality yet still go for the competitive brand. This is evidence that this model might not be absolutely effective in defining consumer behavior.
Kotler’s The Buyer Behavior Model
Consumer Markets and Their Buying Behavior
A consumer’s buying behavior has to do with the individuals or households buying goods and services for their own consumption. A marketer has to be concerned about the customer’s reaction to the marketing efforts of the company. According to this model, the buyers are attracted to buy a certain commodity or a service due to a number of stimuli that they are exposed to. They could be the marketing stimuli like the cost of that product or service, the location of the product, the promotional activities.
The other stimuli that influence the consumers buying behavior are the economic factors, the person’s cultural orientation, political factors and the aspects of technological advancement. All this factors help the consumer to decide on whether to buy a product or a service.
The consumer is usually stimulated by these factors to go for a particular brand or product. It is therefore the responsibility of the marketer to determine what goes into the mind of the consumer as this would determine his/her response to that particular brand. The buyer’s characteristics have an influence on his/her perception of the stimuli while his/her response to those particular stimuli would determine the person’s buying behavior.
According to this model, the customer’s decision to purchase a product or service is influenced by the family, peers, social group and the society in general. In the buyer’s mind, which is referred to as the back box in this model, his/her decision to go for a particular brand would be influence by the person’s attitude, knowledge, his or her personality, the persons lifestyle, motivations or perceptions.
In the decision making process, the person goes through the stages of buying, that is, the realization that a need exists, the person then seeks the relevant knowledge, the customer then carries out the alternative evaluation where he/she might compare the brand with the other brands in terms of quality and the cost.
The person then makes the purchasing decision. After buying the product or service, there is the post purchase stage where by the person looks at the performance of whatever he/she had purchased so as to approve or disapprove of its quality.
The consumer then makes a decision to remain loyal to the brand or go for an alternative brand on the next buying. The marketing stimuli are mainly planned by the respective companies while the environmental factors are influenced by the prevailing economic, cultural and political circumstances.
Factors Influencing Consumer Behavior
Marketing stimuli plays a very important role in determining the buying behavior of the consumer. A consumer will for instance go for a brand that has been well marketed, less costly, and easily accessible. The quality of the services, the value and the consumer’s future intentions has a correlation (Lashley 2000:222).
Image seems to play a very significant role in the choices that consumers make. The consumers are likely to go for a retailer with the best prices, good customer service and excellent delivery services. The attitude of a consumer towards a retailer is greatly influenced by the image of that particular retailer.
The attitudes of such consumers greatly influence their intentions. This is also influenced by the subjective norms of the consumer. A good experience with a retailer in terms of satisfactory service delivery is most likely to result in the consumer’s loyalty. (Reisinger 2003:22).
According to this model, a buyer’s decision to purchase a product or service is greatly influenced by the person’s culture, sub culture or social class. A person might refuse to go for a particular brand if his/her culture prohibits the brand. Subjective norms are very likely to influence the intentions of a consumer to purchase. These are the factors that dictate whether a person should purchase a particular product or not (Rosenblatt 1999:85)
Social factors play a very significant role in influencing the purchasing behavior of a shopper. Besides the need for variety and convenience a shopper is likely to be influenced by his/her relatives, peers, and the desire to be within a certain social class. Social sites like Facebook, MySpace and twitter are likely to influence a consumer to either purchase from a particular retailer or avoid that retailer.
Whenever shoppers develop a positive attitude towards a particular retailer, they are likely to influence each other positively and hence go for the products and services of that particular retailer. On the other hand, if they have a negative attitude towards the retailer, they are likely to influence each other against that particular retailer. This calls for the retailer to make effort in ensuring effective service delivery and building trust with the consumers.
Most companies and businesses in the hospitality industry have embraced the most current technologies in their service delivery. Some of them have introduced the touchscreen tables that enable the customers to make orders without having to speak to the waiters.
This is important as fur as improving the quality of services is concerned although success solely relies on the consumers perceptions of such technologies. Younger consumers might for instance be motivated by such technologies and might develop loyalty to such brands. This might not necessarily be the case with the older generation. Satisfaction is very significant in enhancing brand loyalty among the first-time consumers as compared to the regular customers.
A consumer’s efficiency in handling the current technological devices also plays a very important role in influencing the consumer to purchase a certain product/service or not. A customer that is technologically advanced and has a good knowledge of computer technology is more likely to embrace e-shopping than one who is not.
While making a hotel reservation for instance, a person needs to know how the computer system works and how to use the credit card in making online payments. Most of the e-consumers have embraced the technology as it is easier and more efficient than the traditional mode of making business transactions. The method is perceived as being clear and easy to navigate, get the relevant information and make comparison. It is more interactive than the traditional mode of shopping (Schiffman 2004).
The shopping behavior is also greatly influenced by the consumer traits like a person’s age gender, education level, and income range. Men for instance tend to be quick buyers. Women on the other hand are known to be selective and keen observers when it comes to shopping.
Well educated people tend to thoroughly seek the relevant information about a particular retailer before purchasing. Less educated people on the other hand tend to depend on cues and do not look for much information before purchasing. It is coincidental that most of the wealthier people are educated as well.
They therefore tend to collect all the relevant information about a product and a retailer before buying the same (Swarbrooke 1999:65). Considering the age factor, younger people are more likely to seek more information concerning a particular retailer than the elderly. This is because the elderly are characterized by loyalty to a particular brand while the younger people want to try out new things.
Application in the Hospitality Industry
Most customers of the hospitality industry look for places of relaxation where they can escape from the usual pressures of life or work. They therefore go forth to look for destinations where they can socialize and escape from the usual hustles and tussles of life. These are the factors that players in the hospitality industry should consider in order to ensure customer satisfaction.
Hospitality companies and businesses therefore ought to put structures that are consumer oriented in place so as to ensure consumer satisfaction which in the long run leads to loyalty. Players in the industry ought to be market oriented. A customer’s experience with a product or brand often has a psychological effect on him/her. The person is emotionally and psychologically attached to that particular brand or product as opposed to those who have not had an experience with that particular brand.
The person is therefore well placed to influence the attitude of others towards that particular brand. Dissatisfaction towards a brand would mean that the customer had a negative experience with it and is likely to negatively influence potential consumers. The consumer would most likely develop resentment towards that brand.
Having a positive experience with the brand would result in satisfaction which would result in the consumers positively influencing their colleges to go for the brand. It also results in the customers going for the brand in subsequent instances.
Relationship marketing is quite important in building customer loyalty. Such loyalty can be boosted by a hospitality business ensuring personalized services, upgrading rooms and taking the customers’ problems seriously. Customers need to be provided with security and accurate information so as to build customer loyalty.
Offering quality services is the only way for the firms or hospitality businesses to remain relevant and competitive in a post modern world (Lury 1996:44). Findings have shown that image is so significant in the hospitality industry. Quality services would automatically lead a consumer to come back for the same services or recommend the brand to others.
Customer satisfaction is based on the attitudes of the customers towards a particular brand and that is why it is very important for any business entity to know the perceptions of the customers towards that particular brand. The success of any particular brand cannot solely be based on the frequency of purchase of that particular brand (Kotler 1999:33).
The model has been characterized by a number of shortfalls. The model therefore fails to fully explain how these other factors affect consumer behavior. With the aspects of globalization and post modernism, the aspects of customer satisfaction have become a challenge hence the need to ensure quality services if customer satisfaction is to be achieved.
Findings have shown that the needs of e-customers and typical customers are similar. With the current technological advancement, the number of e-consumers in the hospitality industry has significantly increased. There are a number of factors influencing e-consumer behavior. Functionality seems to be the driving factor in the behavior of the online consumers.
Most people are still very reluctant to embrace online purchase as it is a new phenomenon. E-consumers rely on their past experience with the brand to make decisions. In such cases much emphasis is put on the quality of services. Good services would definitely attract the e-consumer to purchase the goods and services in subsequent instances. Most businesses in the hospitality industry have embraced online services.
Hotels have for instance made it possible for someone to make online bookings and reservations possible. People are able to make online payments for instance by using credit cards. This has been convenient to most consumers who do not have time to travel to that particular hotel or destination just to make a reservation. Those businesses that have embraced the current technologies in their service provision are therefore most likely to attract e-consumers and this plays a very significant role in improving their image among these consumers.
Trust is very important in making the consumers to have confidence in any particular service provider. The consumers need to be assured of privacy, safety of their information and effectiveness in service delivery. Once confidence and trust is established, the consumers will become regular shoppers (Solomon 2002:11).
Experiential factors of e-shopping
E-shopping is not only about purchasing. Interactivity plays a very important role in this type of trade. A consumer would for instance be appealed by the ability to customize some of the features on the retailer’s website. Interactivity plays a big role in influencing the attitude of the customer towards the retailer which significantly affects the aspects of trust.
An interesting website that allows for easy compatibility and interactivity is preferable to that which lacks such features. These aspects can be exploited by players in the hospitality industry in ensuring that their websites are very much interactive. They should use attractive features like music, videos and 3D in ensuring that their customers and potential consumers are attracted to the website.
This is crucial because a person’s first encounter with a website would determine whether the person will visit the site again or not. The features of a given website portray the image of the respective e-retailer, hence the need to develop a highly interactive website that ensures consumer satisfaction (Stalnaker 2002:22).
Consumer behavior is influenced by a number of factors. According to Smith, consumer behavior is characterized by a number of interrelated stages. It is therefore important for the marketer to know the stage at which the consumer is so as to try to influence his/her decision to go for that given brand.
Even after purchasing, it is important for the marketer to follow up and know the opinion of the customer concerning that brand and even convince the person that she/he made the right decision by selecting the brand. According to the Black Box model, it is quite important for a retailer to ensure effective marketing so as to positively influence the consumer to develop loyalty towards that particular brand (Taylor 2004:87).
According to this model, brand image is perceived to be a very significant factor that influences customer behavior. A good image results in brand loyalty while a negative image leads to disloyalty. It is therefore the responsibility of the retailer to develop a positive image of the brand. The image of a brand does not just affect the consumers alone. This is because the consumer has the ability to influence other potential customers to try out the brand or avoid it.
List of References
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Blythe, J. (1997) The essence of consumer behaviour. London: FT Publishing.
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Gottdiener, M. (Ed.) (2000) New forms of consumption: consumers, culture and commodification. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
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Heath, J., and Potter, A. (2005) The Rebel Sell: how the counterculture became consumer culture. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.
Kotler, P., Bowen, J., and Makens, J. (1999) Marketing for hospitality and tourism. 2nd Ed., London: Prentice-Hall International (UK) Ltd.
Lashley, C., and Morrison, A. (2000) In search of hospitality: theoretical perspectives and debates. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Lury, C. (1996) Consumer culture. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press.
Reisinger, Y., and Turner, L. (2003) Cross-cultural behaviour in tourism: concepts and analysis. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Rosenblatt, R. (1999) Consumer desires. New York: Island Press.
Schiffman, L. G., and Kanuk, L. L. (2004) Consumer Behaviour. 8nd Ed., New Jersey: Pearson Prentice-Hall.
Solomon, M., Bamossy, G., and Askegaard, S. (2002) Consumer behaviour: a European perspective. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Stalnaker, S. (2002) Hub Culture: the next wave of urban consumers. Singapore:Wiley and Sons.
Swarbrooke and Horner (1999) Consumer behaviour in tourism. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Taylor, D. (2004) Brand stretch: why 1 in 2 extensions fail, and how to beat the odds. New Jersey: Wiley and Sons.