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Customer service and its influence on customer care are in the focus of the attention of researchers in many fields. The reason for such focus is clear: an intuitive assumption is that satisfied customers are more likely to stay loyal to the provider of goods or services and thus contribute to the profitability of the organization. The following literature review explores the evidence of the relevance of the approach for non-profit and public administration organizations, reviews the current methods of assessment, looks into the role of IT as a factor, and inquires about the influence of cultural diversity on findings.
Relevance for Non-profit Organizations
Non-profit organizations often ignore the aspect of customer satisfaction. Some of the organizations are misled by the fact that they do not offer a “product” in a traditional sense. Often, their activity includes providing services on-demand, which leads them to a false conclusion that they do not need to seek customer loyalty and, by extension, must not strive for constant improvement (Mueller, 2012).
In other words, the absence of competition leads them to a belief that customer care must only be maintained on the necessary level and does not require improvement unless it is dysfunctional. In some cases, the very notion of a non-profit organization creates a false understanding that the company needs to be as distinctively different from business as possible. Mueller (2012) challenges these assumptions by illustrating the situation as more dependent on customer satisfaction: According to him, the non-profits rely on the three constituencies.
The clients of the organization are to be treated in the same way as the customers of businesses regardless of the amount of money they bring: even if customer service does not produce revenue at all, it still fosters loyalty and guarantees strengthening the image and increasing the inflow of new clients. Second, the donors of the organization are important as a source of financial and material support – and their readiness to provide it is directly influenced by the performance of the organization. Third, the volunteers who are engaged in supporting the organization by investing their time, skill, and effort, are driven both by the company’s image and its performance record. In turn, both of these criteria are visibly influenced by the satisfaction of the clients.
Another common misconception that often hampers the performance of the false identification of the customer and, by extension, of the objective the organization must pursue. This essentially leads to the misdirected effort of fostering the satisfaction of the customers. According to Steve Rothschild, a former General Mills executive who later applied his for-profit expertise to the non-profit sector to show excellent results, the non-profit organizations are misunderstanding their difference from a business by distancing from the marketing techniques (Burbank, 2012).
Also, many of them simplify the picture by treating their immediate clients as their only customers. On the other hand, at least in some cases, the interests of the organization influenced by the actions directed at the client’s by the non-profits are not taken into consideration. This leads to a situation where the clients receive proper service formally but become dissatisfied in the long run since their ultimate goals remain unfulfilled. Interestingly, Rothschild specifically mentions in the interview that his suggestions, especially the ones focused on marketing efforts, are met with criticism, with the most common countering being “That’s business language… We’re here for the social good” (Burbank, 2012, para. 6).
This coincides with the assumptions highlighted above and illustrates the false dichotomy of “selling out versus serving the good purpose.” Another notable aspect suggested by the author is the focus on a single customer to maximize the satisfaction without exhausting the resources (Burbank, 2012) since this element is often overlooked when dealing with the entities not centered on revenue.
Despite the recurring tendency among the organizations to ignore the role of adequate customer care and thus fail to improve customer loyalty, the current trends indicate an almost unanimous recognition of its importance among scholars. A growing body of evidence confirms the importance and effectiveness of customer satisfaction and ties it to customer service. However, the findings are not always consistent.
The main reason for this is the intangible nature of the phenomenon. This, in turn, creates difficulties in developing a conclusive method for quantitatively measuring the outcomes and, more importantly, applying the results to fields the framework was not originally designed for. A meta-analysis which aggregated findings of more than 500 correlations of customer satisfaction to the presumable causes such as performance, expectations, disconfirmation of expectations, and affects, produced the results which confirmed the existence of discrepancies (Szymanski & Henard, 2001).
First, the aggregation revealed weak consistency among the findings, although some tendencies were visibly more prominent than the others. For instance, the positive disconfirmation (a situation where customer expectations exceeded the outcome) demonstrated the strongest direct connection to customer satisfaction. At the same time, the relation to successful performance was noticeably weaker. The cumulative analysis further confirmed that performance was not a statistically significant determinant of customer satisfaction (Szymanski & Henard, 2001). Most importantly, the introduction of the multivariate context further weakened the statistical relation of all of the factors.
While these results illustrate the insufficient reliability of the research on the matter and introduce reasons for caution when utilizing them, it is worth noting that the absence of the universally applicable evaluation model is at least partially responsible for lack of agreement among the scholars. It would thus be wise to focus on the specific studies and determine their applicability in assessing customer satisfaction in Dubai courts.
First, it is important to conclusively establish the connection between customer service and customer satisfaction. Although an intuitive approach suggests the direct and immediate causation between the two, the findings by Szymanski and Henard (2001) suggest that at least in some cases the effect is mediated rather than serves as a direct cause. These suggestions are strengthened by numerous separate studies.
For instance, a study by Yu et al. (2014) revealed the following: service quality has a direct effect on perceived value and customer satisfaction; both perceived value and customer satisfaction directly impact the repurchase intention of the customers; at the same time, no direct relationship is established between the service quality and repurchase intention (Yu et al., 2014). This essentially means that despite being interrelated, the quality of customer service does not directly imply the financial sustainability of the organization. On the contrary, the mediating effect of customer satisfaction needs to be achieved to positively ascertain loyalty.
Thus, the importance of monitoring customer satisfaction rate becomes evident. While the authors of the original study suggest monitoring service quality perceptions “to maintain high-quality services, prevent service errors, and promptly solve unforeseen problems” (Yu et al., 2014, p. 765), it is also obvious that without proper monitoring the mediating connection can be disrupted, which will lead to the loss of resources without receiving the desired effect.
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Employee’s behavior is also proven to be in direct relation to customer satisfaction. In fact, according to the research by Jamshaid, Qureshi, and Khokhar (2012), employee behavior, in particular, the orientation toward problem-solving, has a direct impact on the customer’s loyalty. At the same time, the fulfillment of expectations that are formed through an advertisement campaign plays an equally important role (Jamshaid et al., 2012).
However, the most important detail found by the researchers is the distinction between the actual fulfillment and the perception of the fact. In other words, while it is important to maintain the standards of service and performance which are expected from the organization, it does not guarantee the satisfaction of the customers unless they perceive the experience as fulfilling. The research does not focus on this aspect and the implications which can be made based on it – primarily because it deals with the correlations of customer loyalty and satisfaction.
However, it is likely that the court system, which is an entity prominent enough to draw public attention, should consider the benefits of including the existing public perception (currently a substitute for a marketing campaign in for-profit organizations) while developing a strategy for successful customer service. As was previously mentioned, in non-profit organizations the possibility of launching a marketing campaign is usually met with serious resistance. Thus, they are often at a disadvantage of being in limited control of their reputation and thus need to at least address it by planning their services to result in conclusions that are recognized as positive by the clients.
The discrepancy between the individual attributes responsible for overall satisfaction is also a matter of concern. As was previously noted, the majority of the studies produce only relatively consistent results. However, even within a single study, the influence of separate attributes may not correlate with the equalized overall satisfaction (Ažman & Gomišček, 2012). In other words, the rates of satisfaction of specific actions by the employees rarely coincide with the general view on the satisfaction with the services.
The study not only confirms the asymmetry but illustrates the degree of non-linearity it conveys. Generally, the levels of reported satisfaction on specific actions of the employees do not correlate with the expressed levels of dissatisfaction with respective actions ( Ažman & Gomišček, 2012). Moreover, none of these specific attributes relate to the overall level of satisfaction (Ažman & Gomišček, 2012). Most notably, the asymmetry is systematic, with dissatisfaction having less impact on the satisfaction when applied to attributes in separation and on the overall impression when aggregated with satisfactory attributes.
This essentially implies that the negative effects, such as unsuccessful fulfillment of expectations, can be effectively mitigated by providing additional sources of satisfaction. Another possible solution is the lack of consistency in the currently accepted satisfaction measurement tools, predominantly questionnaires. In their current form, they are designed to assess satisfaction by receiving feedback on multiple aspects of customer satisfaction.
However, if the asymmetry is indeed the case, this technique can not be safely used to produce meaningful results. It also should be noted that the authors caution against the adaptation of their findings into other fields, as they perceive the particularities of the studied field (automotive industry) to be at least partially responsible for the result (Ažman & Gomišček, 2012). Nevertheless, with proper adjustment and further research, they can be applied to courts in Dubai.
The Role of Information Technology
Finally, an emerging influence of information technology on customer satisfaction should be considered. Gradually more organizations utilize the opportunities it provides to improve communication with the customers, provide them with additional services, such as support, monitoring, logging, and access to relevant databases. Besides, in some cases, including that of the Dubai Courts, the information technologies are used for additional transparency of the operation. All of the mentioned factors are recognized as contributing to customer’s trust, improve the quality of customer care, and, by extension, foster their satisfaction (Chu, Lee, & Chao, 2012).
It was also reported that the appearance and visual appeal of the web-based services cater to the overall customer satisfaction (Chu et al., 2012) (which aligns well with the perceived satisfaction discussed earlier). However, while the benefits of the IT and the technical possibilities it provides are already unanimously recognized, supported by extensive research, and backed by an impressive record of case studies, their influence on customer satisfaction remains under-researched and resides mainly in the speculative domain. This means that the switch to the web-based services is almost inevitable across all establishments, but its actual impact upon adoption is unclear.
There are no known reasons to expect negative outcomes, but the possibility to analyze and predict the effect is still desirable. The PLS structural equation modeling developed by Chu et al. (2012) can be used as one possible solution. By applying the framework to the e-banking setting and integrating social exchange theory, the researchers were able to confirm the strong relationship between the service quality and customer satisfaction and between customer satisfaction and “e-loyalty,” which is loyalty to the particular e-banking services (Chu et al., 2012). While the latter is not entirely applicable to the Dubai courts, the former allows deeper insights into the possibilities provided by the introduction of IT-based services.
Applicability to Public Administration
As was noted above, customer-oriented practices are most common among private business entities. All of the research mentioned above was conducted in such an environment. We also were able to determine that at least some of the discussed findings do not apply to the clients of the courts. Nevertheless, a range of practices that are common in customer service can be applied to the field in question.
For instance, Wagenheim and Reurink suggest that “public administration and the private sector are very similar, especially in the areas of information exchange and delivery of services to the internal or external customer” (1991, p. 263). Furthermore, the authors imply that the internal customers, e.g. employees, usually benefit from the customer service improvements as well. They also provide a framework for redefining the key concepts, which are recognizable in the business world but may be confusing in the field of public administration, such as customers and their needs.
The latter are divided into seven categories, of which three are of particular value for the paper: problem resolution (as correlating to the primary responsibility of organization), the competence of the personnel (considering the amount of responsibility the employees face regarding their clients) and information and communication (which is especially beneficial since most of the information handled in the court is professional enough to create difficulties in comprehension) (Wagenheim & Reurink, 1991).
These suggestions are partially supported by the study by Hu, Cheng, Chiu, and Hong (2011). According to the study, customer satisfaction is primarily defined by the workplace environment, empathy, and employee behavior (Hu et al., 2011).
Interestingly, while the first and third points are relatively visible in all of the reviewed sources, empathy is only present in the more recent ones. This is representative of the common understanding of the situation, where the psychological aspects were previously treated as secondary to the actual competence and efficiency (the view which was proven inconsistent above) and, in some cases, irrelevant.
Another notable finding of the study is the significant negative association between customer satisfaction and customer complaints (Hu et al., 2011). The authors suggest that this relation allows treating the emergence and frequency of complaints as a direct indication of the decreasing satisfaction, which, in turn, provides us with additional means of monitoring the success of customer services and customer care. Finally, the study was performed in a non-business organization, which, while not immediately applicable to the topic of Dubai courts, still strengthens the hypothesis of the relevance of the customer services for the efficiency of the organization in question.
Finally, the cultural background needs to be taken into consideration. The diversity of the population in Dubai suggests additional challenges since the multi-cultural environment implies greater diversification of customer needs and expectations dictated by varying cultural backgrounds. It is thus important to define whether the previously determined individual attributes apply to such an environment.
A study by Voon, Douglas, and Singh (2012) was conducted in Malaysia, a country with similarly high diversity. The findings indicate the same determinants, including empathy and employee competence. It is also worth noting that empathy is determined to have a “significant and positive influence on all the variables (customer satisfaction, communication effectiveness, trust, and customer loyalty)” (Voon et al., 2012, p. 304).
In our case, communication effectiveness was previously defined as an important mediating attribute responsible for customer satisfaction, which makes all three attributes relevant to the study. Thus, we can make a preliminary assumption that the same factors will likely be responsible for customer satisfaction in Dubai despite its cultural diversity. Nevertheless, an adjustment may be required before these findings are used to conclude, and separate research is desirable to account for the current factors which are either overlooked or may have emerged in the highly dynamic cultural environment of the UAE.
The reviewed literature allows us to conclude that customer service and care has both a direct and indirect relation to customer satisfaction. The findings by other researchers suggest the relative applicability of these notions to the characteristic features of the Dubai courts.
It is thus necessary to confirm the immediate applicability of these results by researching the effects of customer service and customer care on customer satisfaction in Dubai courts, which represent an environment different to at least some extent from those reviewed above.
Ažman, S., & Gomišček, B. (2012). Asymmetric and nonlinear impact of attribute-level performance on overall customer satisfaction in the context of car servicing of four European automotive brands in Slovenia. Organizacija, 45(2), 75-86.
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Chu, P. Y., Lee, G. Y., & Chao, Y. (2012). Service quality, customer satisfaction, customer trust, and loyalty in an e-banking context. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 40(8), 1271-1283.
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