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Title: Customer-to-customer interaction : impact on cruise experience and overall vacation satisfaction
Authors: Huang, Jue
Degree: Ph.D.
Issue Date: 2008
Abstract: Customer-to-customer (c2c) relationship was one understudied area in the relationship marketing literature (Clark & Martin, 1994). Similarly, in tourism, research on tourists' social encounters mainly focused on the tourist-host and tourist-service personnel relations, while much less was known about the interaction and relationships between tourists themselves. The present study attempted to fill this knowledge gap by investigating c2c interaction on cruise travel and its impact on the cruise experience and overall vacation satisfaction. For this purpose, a research strategy combining qualitative and quantitative methods was adopted in which exploratory qualitative research preceded and informed the more confirmatory quantitative study in the later stage. With an exploratory qualitative method, Study One intended to understand the relevance and significance of the research topic (i.e., c2c interaction on cruise vacation) from the subjective perspectives of the participants. The results indicated that customers from Western countries appeared to have more intensive c2c interaction and embrace it more than Hong Kong Chinese customers. Culture and size of travel companion groups might be the underlying stimuli for the discrepancy in c2c interactional behavior between Western and Chinese customers. Therefore, Study One identified North American cruise customers as the target population for the thesis, because c2c interaction appeared to be a more relevant part of Western travelers' cruise experiences, and North Americans accounted for the majority share of the worldwide cruise market. The objectives of Study Two were twofold. First, through interviews and virtual focus group discussions, Study Two intended to obtain in-depth insights about the research phenomenon as experienced by North American participants. Results of the study showed that participants had diverse levels of interaction with fellow passengers, starting from unilateral impression, through superficial contact, to increasing levels of mutuality (Levinger & Snoek, 1972). The study revealed that positive c2c interaction did contribute to the cruise experience to varying degrees. Apparently, c2c interaction only entailed special meanings when it exceeded the common role script for unacquainted travelers, and bonds were established with particular others. Second, Study Two collected contextualized empirical data for the development of instrument for the key constructs under study, which were used in the ensuing quantitative research. Specifically, themes discovered became dimensions for the constructs and repeated ideas were refined as scale items. Based on literature review, a conceptual model was proposed to guide the hypothesis testing about the relationships between the key constructs, and an instrument was developed based on literature review, in-depth interviews, and virtual focus group discussions. Measurements for two of the key constructs under study (quantity of c2c interaction and cruise experience) were developed following the procedures of measurement development proposed by Churchill (1979). The measurements for other constructs (including quality of c2c interaction, stimulation congruity, and overall vacation satisfaction) were adapted from the literature. A Pilot Study (n = 314) was designed to serve for several purposes. In addition to item purification for the measurements, it tested the feasibility of online questionnaire survey and provided preliminary analysis of a proposed moderating effect of stimulation congruity. The questionnaire was revised based on results of the Pilot Study, and the moderating effect of stimulation congruity was removed from further study. The objectives of the Main Survey were to empirically purify the measurements and test the relationships between the key constructs, formulated as hypotheses. The two aspects of c2c interaction - quantity and quality of interactions - were specified as the predictors in the structural model, and were proposed to have positive and direct effects on customers' cruise experience. They were also proposed to have indirect effect on customers' overall vacation satisfaction, mediated by the cruise experience. The Main Survey was conducted in March 2007, and a total of 613 cases were collected with an American online panel. Quota sampling was used to match the sample with the American cruise market profile reported by Cruise Lines International Association (2006). The data were analyzed with Structural Equation Modeling with maximum likelihood estimation method. However, suppression effects occurred between the two aspects of c2c interaction, as well as between one of the cruise experience dimensions (Self-reflect) and the other experience dimensions. Therefore, quantity of c2c interaction and Self-reflect were removed, and the model was re-estimated. The study confirmed that c2c interaction had direct positive impact on the cruise experience, and indirect positive impact on overall vacation satisfaction as mediated by the cruise experience; and the critical factor that came into play was the quality of interaction. When interpreting the findings of the present study, two cautions should be kept in mind. One concerns the generalizability of the study. The study focused on multi-day cruise vacations, a service context during which fellow customers are likely to engage in extended encounters with highly affective content and are in intimate or personal spatial proximity. Furthermore, American cruise customers were the population under study, while c2c interactional behavior was likely to differ among customers of diverse cultural background. Therefore, the service context and population under study suggested that the findings may not be applicable to other service contexts and cultural groups. The other caution was associated with several problems encountered in Structural Equation Modeling analysis. First, changes in the first-order factor loadings for the quality of interaction construct from the overall measurement model to the structural model may signal for interpretational confounding. Second, two variables (quantity of interaction and Self-reflect) were deleted from the final model due to the occurrence of suppression effects, and this may result in specification error. To view tourism as individual and subjective experience, the active role played by the tourist in the construction of the tourist experience needs to be recognized. Such construction involves interactions between the tourist, other tourists, the host community, and the site (S. Wearing & Wearing, 2001). A combination of social psychological and marketing approaches allowed the present study to focus on one component of the interactive tourist experience, namely interaction between fellow tourists encountered in the tourism space. This resonates with B. Wearing and Wearing's (1996) call for a feminist approach to studying tourist experience, focusing on the social interaction that occurs within the tourist space. The exploratory qualitative studies revealed that interaction with fellow cruise passengers added instrumental as well as expressive values to cruise vacations. It enabled the widening of one's perspective, prompted self-reflection, and developed a meaningful relationship that extended beyond the course of a cruise journey, thereby attesting to B. Wearing and Wearing's (1996) argument that the reality of tourist experience was the interactions that the tourist had within the tourist space, and the meaning that the tourist gave to these interactions. The Main Survey empirically confirmed the impact of c2c interaction on cruise experience and overall vacation satisfaction. Theoretically, the study contributed to existing marketing literature in three areas. First, the strong impact of c2c interaction on customer experience and satisfaction solidified C. L. Martin's (1996) proposal for the construction of a relationship marketing model that explicitly incorporates c2c relations as one component. This means that desirable c2c interaction and relationship represent a further link that could enhance the overall relationship between the customers and the business. Second, the strong predictive power of customer experience on customer satisfaction echoed Otto's (1997) argument for an evaluation of customer satisfaction with experiential services (especially tourism) from an affective experiential perspective, in addition to the traditional objective and attribute-based evaluation (e.g., service quality). Third, the study contributed to extant literature by developing measures of c2c interaction and tourist experience within the context of cruise vacations, which laid the ground for future research. For example, the measurement for c2c interaction could facilitate further empirical studies to examine its antecedents (e.g., social atmospherics) and consequences (e.g., customer loyalty). Practically, the study suggested that cultivating favorable c2c interaction could become a differentiating marketing strategy for businesses. Service providers could actively nurture communion between customers so that it becomes a channel for value creation and also a recognizable component of the service experience, distinguishing a service provider away from its competitors. The impact of c2c interaction on customer experience argued for proactively taking c2c interaction as one component of service experience design, which seeks to engineer memorable customer experience through careful planning of the physical and relational elements in the servicescape (Pullman & Gross, 2004). Purposefully designed activities and techniques could be undertaken to facilitate c2c interactions.
Subjects: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations.
Ocean travel -- Evaluation.
Cruise lines -- Management.
Customer relations.
Pages: xvi, 421 p. : ill. ; 31 cm.
Appears in Collections:Thesis

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