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Lawrence A. Crosby, Kenneth R.

Evans, & Deborah Cowles

Relationship Quality in Services Selling: An Interpersonal Influence Perspective

Salespeople involved in the marketing of complex services often perform the rote of "relationship manager." It is, in part, the quality of the relationship between the salesperson and the customer that determines the probability of continued interchange between those parties in the future. A relationship quality model is advanced and tested that examines the nature, consequences, and antecedents of relationship quality, as perceived by the customer. The findings suggest that future sales opportunities depend mostly on relationship quality (i.e., trust and satisfaction), whereas the ability to convert those opportunities into sales hinges more on conventional source characteristics of similarity and expertise. Relational selling behaviors such as cooperative intentions, mutual disclosure, and intensive followup contact generally produce a strong buyer-seller bond.

HE principal focus of personal selling research has been tangible goods exchange in single-transaction settings. The role of salespeople in service contexts, particularly those of a long-term relational nature, has received limited attention. Yet. exchange in many service contexts involves long-term commitments and a continual stream of interaction between buyer and seller (Lovelock 1983), which in part reflect the inherent risk and complexity of the services. Much of the conventional wisdom about the relationship selling of services seems to be based on an industrial marketing model for capital goods and equipment (e.g., mainframe computers) (Gummesson 1987; Levitt 1983). This analogy may be appropriate, however, as the ongoing services provided by the seller are often a major comp>onent of the exchange in inLawrence A. Crosby and Kenneth R. Evans are Associate Professors of Marketing, (Allege of Business, Arizona State University, Professor Crosby is also Managing Director, Walker CSM Worldwide. Deborah Cowles is Assistant Professor, Department of Marketing, Virginia Commonwealth University. The study was conducted under grants from the National Association of Life Underwriters, Washington, DC, the Life Office Management Association, Atlanta, GA, and the First Interstate Center for Services Marketing, ASU.

dustdal contexts involving relationship selling (e.g., Jackson 1985). The services literature recognizes the importance of personal interaction in creating satisfied customers (e.g., Crosby and Stephens 1987; Parasuraman, Zeithaml. and Ben7 1985; Solomon et al. 1985). The lack of concreteness of many services increases the value of the persons responsible for delivering them. A service encounter, or "moment of truth" (Normann 1983). occurs whenever the customer interacts directly with any contact person. Frequently, however, the service salesperson is the primaryif not sole contact point for the customer both before and after the purchase ("the salesperson is the company"). Under these conditions, the salesperson controls the level of service quality delivered. The concept of service quality has relevance to service marketing of both a transactional nature (impersonal, discrete, episodic exchange) and relational nature (close, enduring, interdependent associations). However, service quality can be considered a necessary, but not sufficient- condition for relationship quality (Crosby 1989). Successful exchange episodes can eventually lead to an enduring buyer-seller relationship provided they are properly managed from both
Journal of Marketing Vol. 54 (July 1990), 68-81

68 / Journal of Marketing, July 1990

a buyer and a seller perspective. By occupying a position close to the customer, the service salesperson is often best suited to perform the role of "relationship manager." Our study examines key dimensions of relationship quality in a service context. The literature has identified a need to expand the focus of buyer-seller interaction to include relational properties (e.g.. Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987; Jackson 1985; Johnston and Bonoma 1984; Wilson 1977). It has been suggested that customers make long-term commitments in order to reduce transaction costs and/ or the uncertainty of future benefits (cf. Schlenker, Helm, and Tedeschi 1973; Williamson 1979) and to obtain certain advantages (e.g.. counseling assistance) not available in short-term exchange relationships (cf. Marshall, Palmer, and Weisbart 1979). Collectively, these perspectives suggest that effective relationship selling will be most critical when: the service is complex, customized, and delivered over a continuous stream of transactions (Berry 1983; Levitt
1983; LovckKk 1983), many buyers are relatively unsophisticated about the service (Ghingold and Maier 1986), and Ihe environment is dynamic and uncertain in ways that affect future needs (demand) and offerings (supply) (Zeithaml 1981).

The Study ^
The focal variable in our study is the quality of the salesperson-customer relationship as perceived by the customer. We formulate a mode! that depicts some of the key antecedents and consequences of relationship quality. The model is tested in the context of the agentpolicyholder relationship involving life insurance. By selecting relationship quality as the study's focal variable, we are narrowing our concem to those service settings in which relationship marketing is appropriate and the salesperson assumes the key implementation role.

The Model
Figure 1 depicts the relationship quality sales model that is advanced and tested. The model represents an attempt to identify structural characteristics (antecedents and consequences) of enduring sales relationships in services selling. The model is consistent with previous conceptualizations (e.g., Dwyer. Schurr, and Oh 1987; Levitt 1981; Sheth 1975; Wilson 1977) and integrates relational variables advanced in the services marketing, sales, counseling, and social psychology literatures. The exogenous variables in the model can be classified as pertaining to either salesperson attributes (e.g., expertise and similarity) or relational selling behaviors (e.g.. contact intensity, mutual disclosure, cooperative intentions). The endogenous variable of relationship quality is conceived as a two-dimensional construct consisting of customer satisfaction and trust in the salesperson. Finally, observe in Figure 1 that sales effectiveness (e.g., account penetration, crossselling) and anticipation of future interaction (an esFIGURE 1 Relationship Quality Model

These characteristics apply to professional services such as accounting and to many financial (e.g., insurance, private banking, estate/financial planning) and business (e.g., advertising, commercial real estate) services.

Research Issues and Questions

Because of limited research, many questions remain about the sales relationship in services selling. For example, does a strong customer-salesperson bond contribute to sales effectiveness (e.g., account penetration, cross-selling, retention)? If so. what are some of the key dimensions of relationship quality toward which services saiespieople might direct their efforts? Do communicator characteristics such as similarity and expertise, which have typified the short-term transaction perspective of previous sales research, contribute to sustaining an enduring relationship? How important are relational behaviors such as cooperative intentions, contact intensity, and mutual disclosure in building and maintaining long-term relations? To what extent does the present level of sales commitment by a customer to a salesperson determine future business opportunities? Answers to these questions are relevant to the design of sales strategies, tactics, and training programs that would enable salespeople to function effectively as relationship managers in service settings.

Relationship Quality in Services Selling / 69

sential determinant of relationship commitment) are represented as outcome variates. The relationship quality model reflects perceptions and outcomes recognized in the literature as germane within stable relationships {Taylor and Altman 1987). More specifically, the model seeks to identify and relate personal characteristics (of the salesperson), relational exchange characteristics, and outcomes of the exchange, all believed to be involved in social bonding. Though many of the causal linkages depicted in the model are likely to be reciprocal over time, the literature to date is unclear about the sequential properties of relationship development, a process that is typically complex and subject to a variety of simultaneous influences (Ford 1980). Hence, we deemed it appropriate to model the dominant flow of influence on and through relationship quality rather than the actual process of relationship development. Relationship Quality In some service contexts, buyers face considerable uncertainty stemming from such factors as intangibility, complexity, lack of service familiarity, and long time horizon of delivery. Uncertainty implies the potential for service failure and negative outcomes. Relationship quality from the customer's perspective is achieved through the salesperson's ability to reduce perceived uncertainty (Roloff and Miller 1987; ZeithamI 1981). High relationship quality, as represented in Figure 1, means that the customer is able to rely on the salesperson's integrity and has confidence in the salesperson's future performance because the level of past pertbrmance has been consistently satisfactory. Relationship quality, then, is viewed as a higher-order construct (Anderson and Gerbing 1988) composed of at least two dimensions, (1) trust in the salesperson (e.g.. Swan, Trawick, and Silva 1985) and (2) satisfaction with the salesperson (e.g., Crosby and Stephens 1987). Social psychology and related fields outside marketing have addressed the importance of trust in interpersonal dyads (e.g., Pruitt 1981; Rotter 1967; Schlenker, Helm, andTedeschi 1973). More recently, however, the role of trust in marketing, particularly its importance in long-term sales relationships, has begun to receive attention (e.g., Dwyer. Schurr. and Oh 1987; Swan, Trawick, and Silva 1985). Trust is particularly important in relational contexts where individuals seek predictable and obligatory behavior on the part of their relational partner such that a relatively high degree of certainty is attached to future rewards (MacNeil 1980; Millar and Rogers 1987). Cultivation of the buyer's trust is particularly important where uncertainty and risk are inherent and contracts and warranties are often absent (Schlenker. Helm, and Tedeschi 1973). The customer's trust in relational sales con-

texts can be defined as a confident belief that the salesperson can be relied upon to behave in such a manner that the long-term interest of the customer will be served. The long or indefinite time horizon of service delivery and the potential for inconsistent performance in meeting expectations contribute to a high level of uncertainty in relational contexts (Parasuraman, ZeithamI, and Berry 1985). The customer's best assurance of future performance is a continuous history of personalized, error-free interaction. Satisfaction in a relationship is centered around the roles assumed and performed by the individual parties (Murstein 1977). The dynamic, often complex, role performed by salespeople in long-term sales contexts increases the importance of the customer's perception and evaluation of the salesperson's efforts to manage the often multifaceted relationship over time (Frazier 1983). Satisfaction, then, is an "emotional state that occurs in response to an evaluation of these interaction experiences" (Westbrook 1981). Relationship Consequences Of the two hypothesized consequences of relational quality depicted in the proposed model, sales effectiveness is represented as a quantitative measure of overall sales activity within the relationship to date. The services and sales literatures suggest that both a high overall sales volume on a per-account basis and a large number of different products owned through the same service provider are desirable goals (Donnelly, Berry, and Thompson 1985; Rosenberg and Czepiel 1984). In many personal sales contexts, the costs of acquiring new customers may exceed investments made in retaining and/or building up current ones (Berry 1983). The linkage between relational quality and sales effectiveness in the proposed model (P;,) is intended to reflect sales outcomes of successful client relationships in service exchange settings (Spekman and Strauss 1986; Weitz 1981). This path is also consistent with social penetration theory, which states that partners will continue to deepen a relationship as long as anticipated benefits exceed anticipated costs (Altman and Taylor 1973). Anticipated levels of satisfaction/performance are likely to have an important effect on the stay-or-leave decision (Jackson 1985; Levitt 1981). Kellerman (1987) has identified "anticipation of future interaction" as an outcome goal of dyadic encounters. Low expectations of future exchange would be an outgrowth of current relational problems, whereas high expectations of future interchange would reflect a favorable perception of the current relationship. Hence, the best predictor of a customer's likelihood of seeking future contact, with a salesperson is the quality of the rela-

70 / Journal of Marketing, July 1990

tionship to date. This predictor is reflected in the proposed model by the path between relational quality and anticipation of future interaction (^3,) (Frazier 1983; Weitz 1981). We also propose, as illustrated in Figure 1, that the customer's expectation of future interaction is determined in part by the salesperson's account penetration and cross-selling ((3,2) effectiveness. Justification for this hypothesized relationship can be found in the scKial exchange theory (Kelley and Thibaut 1978) and relationship commitment literatures (Rusbult 1983; Sabatelli and Cecil-Pigo 1985). To the extent that the salesperson has been successful in a sales capacity, the customer has a greater economic investment in the relationship and faces higher costs of switching in replacing the multiservice relationship. Relational Selling Behaviors Relational selling behavior refers to a behavioral tendency exhibited by some sales representatives to husband/cultivate the buyer-seller relationship and see to its maintenance and growth. The extent to which such behavior positively influences the buyer-seller relationship depends on the expectations of the customer about the role(s) to be played by the salesperson (Solomon et al. 1985). Sheth (1975), noting the distinction between content and style in communication, suggested that the later recognizes the importance of ritualistic behavior patterns in shaping the outcomes of buyer/seller interactions. Similarly. Thibaut and Kelley (1959) indicated that in interpersonal relationships a major task for the interacting person is the mutual coordination of appropriate behavior vis-a-vis the other person. Hence, relational selling behavior appears as an exogenous construct in the proposed model and is hypothesized to influence relational quality

gotiation contexts (Pruitt 1981). Further, empirical support from work in game theory suggests that cooperation precedes trust (Axelrod 1984). The extent to which another party is expected to behave cooperatively in part reflects the rules for problem/conflict resolution. In a negotiation setting, cooperative versus competitive intentions have been found to be linked to satisfactory problem resolution (Evans and Beltramini 1987). Therefore, customer perception of the salesperson's cooperative intentions is hypothesized to be a dimension of relational selling behaviors of the salesperson. In a relational selling context, contact intensity is the frequency with which the salesperson communicates (face-to-face or indirectly) with the customer either for personal or business purposes. As a dimension of relational selling, contact intensity reflects an effort on the part of the salesperson to keep the communication channels open with the customer and exhibit a commitment to the relationship (Williamson 1983). Efforts to "stay in touch" with the customer have been identified as a key determinant of relationship maintenance in insurance (Crosby 1984), wholesale banking (Greenwich Associates 1987), and many other selling fields. As Swinth (1967) noted, parties in a relational context cannot be expected to trust each other in critical moments if these constitute their only opportunity to interact. Salesperson Attributes Though a variety of salesperson attributes have been advanced as contributing to sales effectiveness, two that have received considerable attention in the literature are similarity and expertise. Research results on the effects of similarity have been mixed (Wilson and Ghingold 1981), but the general presumption is that salespeople perceived as similar to the customer are more likely to be successful, all other things being equal (Wiener and Mowen 1985). Hence, salesperson similarity (appearance, lifestyle, and socioeconomic status) is hypothesized to be related positively (-y^,) to sales effectiveness in the proposed model (Evans 1963; Gadel 1964). Most research on the effect of similarity has examined short-term/single-transact ion contexts. Considerable empirical evidence drawn from outside the marketing literature (e.g., social psychology, counseling, communication) suggests that similarity among individuals in a relational context influences relationship satisfaction (e.g., Byme 1969; Tan 1981). In goalinterdependent situations, this research suggests that similarity (particularly attitude similarity) may be a cue for expecting the other party to facilitate one's goals, thereby resulting in increased attraction for the other party (Johnson and Johnson 1972). Accordingly, customer perception of salesperson similarity is

Among the behaviors often noted as important in establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships is mutual disclosure (Derlega et al. 1987). It is important to note that this dimension of relational selling behavior is cast as a reciprocal concept. That is, the perception that another party is engaging in disclosure behavior toward oneself that is not being reciprocated often is read as a weakness on the other party's part and may lead to an unhealthy relationship (Derlega et al. 1987). Likewise, a party engaging in unreciprocated disclosure is likely to distrust the other party. In a relational sales setting, customer disclosure is critical for the salesperson, who often is called upon to solve complex and ill-structured problems. Reluctance on the part of the customer to reveal critical personal and/or business-related information may block or severely delay satisfactory problem resolution. Cooperative versus competitive behavior has been linked to perceptions of trust and satisfaction in ne-

Relationship Quality in Services Selling / 71

hypothesized to affect relationship quality (-/n). Expertise often has been noted as an attribute of a communicator/salesperson that is linked positively to successful influence attempts toward a given target (audience/customer) (e.g., Busch and Wilson 1976; Taylor and Woodside 1981). A customer's perception of a salesperson's expertise refiects the identification of relevant competencies associated with the goods or service transaction (e.g., product/market knowledge, logistics) most often exhibited in the form of information provided by the salesperson. From a managerial perspective, sales organizations clearly view expertise as a vital determinant of sales effectiveness, as product knowledge is singularly the most pervasive investment in virtually all sales training programs (Stanton and Buskirk 1987). Expertise, as an attribute of the salesperson, is hypothesized to have a positive influence on sales effectiveness (722)The role of salesperson expertise in long-term transaction contexts has received limited attention in the marketing literature; however, some evidence suggests that relationship quality (satisfaction with and trust in a salesperson) is enhanced through perceived salesperson competency (712). Product/market knowledge often is noted among the most important criteria in determining customer satisfaction with salespeople (Purchasing 1984). Busch and Wilson (1976) found that salespeople with higher levels of perceived expert and referent power were viewed as more trustworthy by the customer, with expert power being more influential than referent power. Similarly. Swan, Trawick, and Silva (1985) noted competence to be an important determinant of the customer's perceived trast in the salesperson.

to compare policies effectively even with the aid of computers and insurance experts; FTC 1985.) Because customers lack not only a concrete object but also the information and expertise necessary to assess performance, they often are forced to make assumptions about the quality of service (Zeithaml 1981). Second, one of the primary functions performed by life insurance agents is service customization. Agents are trained to conduct detailed "fact finding" (needs assessment), to provide explanations and advice about policy features, and ultimately to present a personalized proposal to the client. Third, there is usually recurring interaction between the customer and the same contact person. Whole life insurance is almost always sold by an agent who, in 80% of the cases, is the customer's only contact.' Interactions tend to be ongoing rather than single encounters because insurance policies must be updated periodically and sometimes replaced. Fourth, the customer's understanding of and familiarity with the service are limited. Studies have shown consistently that the average consumer is naive about insurance and readily admits being confused and uncertain (Johnston-O'Connor, O'Connor, and Zultowski 1984). Finally, at the time of data collection (1984), the insurance marketplace was highly dynamic and several new types of policies had recently been introduced (universal, variable, and adjustable life). Environmental uncertainty about the future rate of inflation in the economy also was present. Sample The population we intended to represent included heads of U.S. households between the ages of 25 and 44, who owned one or more whole life policies, and who were the household's primary insurance decider. Consumers in this age range have the greatest need for life insurance and are the main focus of industry marketing efforts. The sample frame consisted of members of a national panel of qualified policyholders who were participating in a series of interviews about their insurance attitudes, experiences, and coverage. This panel had been determined previously to be slightly "upscale" in relation to the 1981 U.S. population of 25-to-44-year-o!ds, but was thought to represent accurately consumers in this age range who own whole life policies (Crosby and Stephens 1987). Questionnaires that operationalized the variables in Figure 1 were sent to 469 randomly selected panel members;
'Policyholders who participated in this study were asked aboul their interaction experiences involving direct contact with the company. By combining the infonnation from several questions, we determined that only two in 10 had a service interaction with someone other than the agent (e.g.. a customer service representative) over a three-year period. One-way direct mail communications from the company were noi considered to be interactions. These findings are consistent with insurance industry research (Johnston-O'Connor. O'Connor, and Zultowski 1984).

We conducted survey research to determine the tenability of the model (Figure I) in a service context where enduring sales relationships appeared important (a priori), namely whole life insurance. To obtain adequate variability in responses, a cross-sectional approach to data collection was used, which allowed old and new dyads to be represented as well as dyads with different degrees of relationship quality. This approach was deemed appropriate because no specific predictions were made about the influence of relationship length on key variables or linkages. Context Whole life insurance fulfills the conditions of a "personal relationship marketing context" in all respects. First, the service is both highly complex and highly intangible. (Staff economists at the Federal Trade Commission branded the service as having significant "credence" properties after noting their own inability

72 / Journal of Marketing, July 1990

the 296 returned questionnaires represent a 63% response rate. Among the returns, 61 (21%) were eliminated because there was no agent responsible for servicing the policy (i.e., the relationship had been terminated at some point in the past).^ In addition, 84 (28%) were eliminated for random missing data, leaving 151 complete data cases available for analysis.^ The adequacy of this sample size for the analysis used is discussed subsequently. Measures No established measurement scales are available for most of the constructs examined in our study. Even in the case of trust, for which some scaling work has been done (e.g.. Rotter 1967), available measures tap the tendency to trust other people in general, as opposed to measuring trust in a particular individual in a specific marketing context. However, for two variables, satisfaction with the salesperson and interaction intensity, reliability and validity have been established in previous research (Crosby and Cowles 1986; Crosby and Stephens 1987). The measure of anticipation of future interaction has been found in longitudinal research to be predictive of relationship commitment (Crosby and Cowles 1985). In all other cases, measures were developed specifically for our analysis. The procedure for developing measures with convergent and discriminant validity involved the use of multiple multi-item indicators where possible, assessments of reliability and unidimensionality, and tests of correspondence between constructs and indicators. With the exception of (service domain) expertise and anticipation of future interaction, all of the latent constructs had multiple indicators. In addition, all of ihe indicators were themselves multi-item scales with one exceptiontotal insurance sales (Y4) was simply the respondent's estimate of the dollar coverage purchased through the agent (see Table 1). The Appendix contains a list of the raw questionnaire items that made up each measure, as well as an assessment of the reliability of the multi-item scales.
"Screening was necessary because the survey sampled policyholders at all stages of relationship developmenL, including those who were "orphaned" (i.e.. no longer had an agent). The relationship quality model is relevant only to existing (intaci) dyads. It attempts to predict relationships that will endure and prosper, as well as those that are in jeopardy of termination (leading to the policyholder becoming an orphan or replacing the agent). Both orphans and nonorphans were found lo be fairly heterogeneous groups. Forty percent of nonorphans had already replaced the selling agent. Many orphans became so because the policyholder had moved or the agent had quit the business (not because the relationship was of pcox quality). 'Analysis of ihe missing data pattern revealed that no single item was omitted by more than 15% of the respondents. Tliat 28% were eliminated listwise probably reflects Ihe cumulative effects of random missing data across the 62 items of data collection. The demographic characteristics of the fma! sample were compared with those of the study population. No significant differences were detected on any of the variabies (e.g.. sex. age, education, income).

With the exception of mutual disclosure, all of the indicators were intended to be unidimensional (Anderson and Gerbing 1988; Howell 1987). Mutual disclosure (Xfi) was conceived as composed of two subdimensions, agent disclosure (X^A) and customer disclosure (X^B)- Theoretically, mutual disclosure appears to be an appropriate indicator of relational selling behavior because it measures the salesperson's effectiveness in creating a dyadic atmosphere characterized by openness and candor, which involves berth leading and reciprocating the customer's disclosures. We assessed the dimensionality of the indicators by the following procedure. First, all 62 raw questionnaire items listed in the Apptendix were factor analyzed. This analysis produced 12 factors that mirrored the predetermined scales: appearance similarity (X,), lifestyle similarity (Xj). status similarity (X3), financial expertise (X4), interaction intensity (X5), agent disclosure (X^A). customer disclosure (X^a), cooperative intentions (X7), trust (Yi), satisfaction (Y2), crosssell (Y3), and anticipation of future interaction (Y5). Not surprisingly, the one single-item measure (total insurance sales) loaded with the multiple cross-sell items, which collectively reflect the higher-order construct of sales effectiveness. We then constructed multiitem scales by averaging item responses, correcting for reverse coding where appropriate. Reliability estimates for the 12 multi-item scales were uniformly high with alpha coefficients ranging from .79 to .99. To help ensure unidimensionality. items in each multi-item scale were factor analyzed separately and, in all but one case, a single factor emerged. Two factors resulted from the 8-item interaction intensity scale, with eigenvalues of 4.42 and 1.17. The first factor was a general factor (i.e., reflective of the whole scale) whereas the second emphasized more of the social aspects of interaction. Because the indicator was intended to represent the extent of foilowup contact, not the purpose of contact, it seemed appropriate to use all eight items in computing interaction intensity. Likewise, mutual disclosure (Xs) was measured by combining the agent (X^A) and customer (X^B) subdimensions. Finally, we conducted a confirmatory factor analysis for all six constructs and their indicators, using the correlation matrix/ An adequate degree of model fit was obtained (x^ = 53.82, d.f. = 43. p = .125, GH = .946, RMS = .042). All indicators loaded sig*This procedure follows the recommended two-step approach of Anderson and Gerbing (1988) that construct validity be assessed by estimating the measurement model (of all the exogenous and endogenous variables) prior to the simultaneous estimalion of the measurement and structural submodels. This is done to ensure that the alternate indicators of each construct are acceptably unidimensional, Anderson and Gerbing make special note of situaiion.s. such as our study, in which the indicators are composites and the constructs of interest are emiceptualized as higher-order factors (p. 415).

Relationship Quality in Services Selling / 73

nificantly on the latent variables (factors) they were intended to represent, providing evidence of convergent validity. As an assessment of discriminant validity, we determined that the confidence intervals ( two standard errors) around the correlation estimates between any two factors {^i^) never included 1.0 (Anderson and Gerbing 1988. p. 416). Table 1 is a complete correlation matrix of the variables analyzed.

The relationships among the variables were assessed simultaneously via analysis of covariance. Maximum likelihood (ML) estimation (Joreskog and Sorbom 1984) was used to estimate model parameters with the covariance matrix as data input. The ML estimation method has been described as being well suited to theory testing and development (Anderson and Gerbing 1988). has the advantage of being scale free, and has "desirable properties for statistical testing" (Long 1983, p. 59). Though it is generally accepted thatwith a large sampleML estimators are unbiased, consistent, and efficient (Kmenta 1971). the literature does not provide a clear indication of how big a "large" sample must be. A study reported by Anderson and Gerbing (1984) and Gerbing and Anderson (1985) concluded that a sample size of 150 or more typically provides "parameter estimates that have standard errors which are small enough to be of practical usefulness" (Anderson and Gerbing 1988, p. 415). Our study therefore meets the minimum sample size requirement. The approach to model fit assessment involved using several diagnostics to judge the simultaneous fit of the measurement and structural models to the data collected for the study (e.g., Fomell and Larcker 1981; Shimp and Karas 1984). The goodness-of-fit index (GFI) for the overall model is a respectable .94, with

a marginally significant chi square value (p = .06, x^ = 60.60, d.f. = 45). Other diagnostics, including the normalized residuals and residual q-plot, also suggest that the input and implied covariance matrices are reasonably equivalent. None of the normalized residuals exceed 2.00 and the residual q-plot is steeper than 45 degrees, as recommended by Joreskog and Sorbom (1984). Given the model is moderately complex (i.e., six unobserved constructs and 12 observed variables), these diagnostics combine to suggest that the overall model is tenable given the data (see Table 3). Measurement Model Results Table 2 contains unstandardized ML parameter estimates for the measurement model,' construct reliability values, and propt)rtions of variance extracted. As previously noted, two constructs (expertise and anticipation of future interaction) were measured by single indicators; however, in each case, the indicator was a multiple-item scale. As it is unlikely that a single indicator perfectly measures a construct, an estimate of error variance was needed. The literature suggests several approaches to error estimation in such cases (e.g., Anderson and Gerbing 1988; Howell 1987). As described in a footnote to Table 2, error tenns (theta delta and theta epsilon, respectively) for the indicators of the expertise and anticipation of future interaction constructs were fixed at (I a)CT^, with the lambdas fixed at a'^V. Indicator coefficients for both the exogenous and endogenous constructs are generally large; likewise, estimates of reliability for the constructs are high. Finally, the percent-of-variance-extracted index exceeds .50 for each construct (Fomell and Larcker 1981), which is interpreted to mean that the variance ac*Simultaneously estimated with the stniclural model.

TABLE 1 Correlation Matrix of Variables*

Intercorrelations X Endogenous Variable Indicators Y, Trust in salesperson Yi Satisfaction with salesperson Ya Cross-sell Y4 Total insurance sales Ys Anticipation of future interaction Exogenous Variable Indicators X, Appearance similarity X i Lifestyle similarity X3 Status similarity X4 Financial expertise X5 Interaction intensity Xs Mutual disclosure X, Cooperative intentions See Appendix for definitions of variables. 4.66 5.66 .25 .54 3.98 4.25 4.31 4.54 3.68 1.80 3.21 4.28 S.D. .78 1.32 .83 1.01 1.55 1.36 1.09 1.28 .70 .73 1.29 1.17 Y, 1.00 .63 .28 .23 .29 .38 .42 .37 .51 .30 .45 .56 Ya










1.00 .22 .24 .40 .33 .28 .30 .52 .36 .37 .56

1.00 .51 .20 .29 .36 .29 .37 .21 .31 .24 1.00 .28 .20 .39 .29 .34 .18 .39 .29 1.00 .17 .21 .15 .31 .37 .29 .40 1.00 .57 .48 .30 .15 .29 .18

1.00 .59 .30 .29 .41 .33

1.00 .32 .30 .35 .30

1.00 .29 .42 .49

1.00 .44 .46

1.00 .63


7 4 / Journal of Marketing, July 1990

TABLE 2 Measurement Model Results

Unstandardized ML Paratneter Estimates' X Exogenous Constructs Similarity (^,) X, Appearance similarity index X; Lifestyle similarity index X3 Status similarity index Service domain expertise (,2) X4 Financial expertise index Relational selling behavior {^3) X5 Interaction intensity index Xfi Mutual disclosure index X? Cooperative intentions index Endogenous Constructs Relationship quality ii]-,) Yi Trust index Y; Satisfaction index Sales effectiveness {1)2) Vj Cross-sell index Y4 Total insurance sales Anticipated future interaction (7)3) Yf, AFt index
"i> = {^\V ivar)/{(:LX)' (var) + 5; errors). ^0v, = {i:x')(var}/((2X^)(var) + S errors).

5 or f.

Construct ReliabilJtY"

Percent Variance Extracted"

1.00 1.00" .99 .65" .43 . 1.00'' 1.06 1.00*^ 1.68 1.00'' 1.22 1.40"

1.02 .35 .82 .06' .37 .76 .37


.88 .79


.22 .67 .34 .50

'_ .67 .82

.51 ' .82


"All estimated parameters are statistically significant, p < .05. ''Fixed parameter to set metric of construct. "Lambda fixed at a^'^a for single indicator. 'Error fixed at (1 - a) cr' for single indicator.

counted for by each of the constructs is greater than the variance accounted for by measurement error. Structural Model Evaluation All but one of the relationships predicted in the structural model are found to be in the hypothesized direction (P21 is Ihe exception; Table 3). Furthermore, the model explains a substantial portion of the variance in all the endogenous variables: relationship quality 72%. sales effectiveness 45%, and anticipation of future interaction 27%. The total coefficient of determination for the structural equations is .81. However, applying the rule that parameter estimates should be Iwo times their standard errors to be considered significant, we fmd that three paths appear not to be different from zero (^u. 321. P.i2)The standardized solution estimated by the LISREL VI program was used for interpreting the structural relations results. As implied by the path coefficients, relational selling behavior exerted a strong, direct influence on the quality of the customer-salesperson relationship (.53). Customer perceptions of a salesperst>n's expertise in the service domain had a moderately strong effect (.30) on relationship quality whereas similarity had no demonstrable influence. Results suggest that perceived similarity and expertise both played an important role in determining sales effectiveness (.47 and .38. respectively), but that the out-

come effects of relationship quality were limited to the customer's expectation of future interaction with the salesperson (.43). Sales effectiveness does not appear to have influenced anticipation of future interaction (nonsignificant path),

Most service marketers today recognize the importance of keeping customers and making them into better customers (Berry 1983). In marketing whole life insurance (and, perhaps, similar services), the salesperson's ability to affect the customer's commitment and dependency on the provider may be determined largely by the interpersonal relationship he or she establishes with the customer. Likewise, in service contexts characterized by continuous exchange activity and considerable purchase uncertainty, the long-term interests of the customer may be best served by initiating and maintaining enduring relationships with salespeople. Relationship Quality Relationship quality, as measured in our study, had a significant influence on the customer's anticipation of future interaction with the salesperson. Contrary to the initial hypothesis, relationship quality is not found to

Relationship Qualitv in Services Selling / 75

TABLE 3 Structural Model Results

UnstandardJzed ML Parameter Estimates Model Parameter Symbol


S.E. .06 .09 .06 .09 .08 .16 .19 .20

.10 .10 .11

Similarity-relationship quality Similarity-sates effectiveness Expertise-relationship quality Expertise-sales effectiveness Relational selling-relationship quality Relationship quality-sales effectiveness Relationship quality-AFl Sales effectiveness-AFI Similarity-expertise Similarity-relational selling Expertise-relational selling Relationship quality-relationship quality Sales effectiveness-sales effectiveness AFl-AFI R^, relationship quality R^, sales effectiveness R^ anticipated future interaction

7l2 722 7i3 P21

.10 .30 .19 .22

.36 -.06 .69 .26 .39 .46 .58 .11 .19 .74 .72 .45 .27 60.80 45.00 .06 .94



.03 .06 .12


d.f. P Goodness-of-fit index

affect sales effectiveness significantly. However, the customers' perceptions of salesperson similarity and expertise appear to have influenced sales success. An interpretation of these results is that relationship quality serves as an indicator of the health and future wellbeing of long-term service sales relationships. Confronting the uncertainty often present in complex service exchange settings, relationship quality contributes to a lasting bond by offering assurance that the salesperson will continue to meet the customer's expectations (satisfaction), and not knowingly distort infonnation or otherwise subvert the customer's interests (trust). The continuity of interaction that relationship quality provides then creates for the seller ongoing opportunities to identify the customer's unmet needs and propose new business. Ultimately, though, the salesperson's ability to close on these sales opportunities will depend on the salesperson's attractiveness and competence, factors that make him or her a persuasive source for the buyer.
Relational Selling

tomers on a relatively frequent basis (contact intensity) through simply staying in touch, periodic needs reassessment, purchase reinforcement, and personal touches such as cards and gifts. Further, they are more likely to be successful at soliciting customer disclosure of personal and needs-related information and to be perceived by the customer as reciprocating in kind. Finally, relational sellers are prone to express to the customer their cooperative intentions. The nature of many long-term service exchange settings calls for the mutual resolution of one or more complex problems. The customer's perception of the cooperative versus competitive intentions of the salesperson, who often serves as the customer's principal diagnostician and counselor, is critical in communicating the salesperson's intention to invest in. versus take from, the sales relationship.
Salesperson Attributes

Another noteworthy fmding is the effect of relational selling behaviors on relationship quality. Results suggest a tendency for some salespeople to engage in a constellation of selling behaviors focused on the longterm relationship (high contact intensity, mutual disclosure, and cooperative intentions), which in turn have a favorable effect on the customer's perception of relational quality. Relational sellers appear to seek out their cus-

Our fmdings indicate that a short-term exchange perspective limited to salesperson attributes (i.e., similarity and expertise) would be both inappropriate and inadequate to explain the sales relationship in a longterm exchange context such as insurance. Though similarity and expertise are found to influence sales effectiveness directly, only expertise is found to influence the long-term sales relationship through its impact on t^lational quality. More revealing is the lack of a direct effect by either of these salesperson attributes and/or sales effectiveness on the anticipation of future interaction, indicating that continued sales op-

76 / Journal of Marketing, July 1930

porlunities are a privilege earned through attention to the perceived quality of the customer-salesperson relationship rather than through previous sales successes. The findings on salesperson expertise suggest that both short- and long-term effectiveness is influenced by this salesperson attribute. This influence is not surprising because one of the main "performances" that help to define complex services is salesperson problem-solving assistance. As noted, perceived expertise includes the basic product line (in this instance Insurance), but in long-term exchange relationships takes on added meaning as the salesperson's consultative role expands and it becomes clear that solutions to the client's problems must transcend traditional service boundaries. Managerial and Research Implications A variety of managerial and research implications can be derived from our findings. When hiring sales personnel, marketing and sales managers can screen for the stKial abilities that facilitate establishing and maintaining long-term interpersonal relationships. This screening can be done via relevant personal histories and through the use of interpersonal role-playing situations within the interview environment. In concert with these efforts, trust-building activities on the part of all contact employees should be encouraged and taught. Managers can utilize the apparent connection between relational selling behaviors (contact intensity, mutual disclosure, and cooperative intentions) and relationship quality (trust and satisfaction). Relational selling behaviors should be rewarded as they demonstrate continued attention both to transaction-specific details and to the interpersonal qualities of the relationship. Recent work by Anderson and Oliver (1987) suggests that an often overlooked aspect of .sales management is identification and measurement of qualitative outputs of the salesforce. This oversight may be extremely poignant where customer-salesperson relationships are long-term. In insurance and similar contexts, many customers may seek to establish long-term interpersonal relationships and are unlikely to object to the seller's efforts to foster quality interaction. Contact people should be sensitized to the nature of the stKial prtx:ess underlying interpersonal relationship development. For example, efforts to elicit information disclosure from customers, which may be vital in appropriately diagnosing and fulfilling their needs, must be met with reciprocal disclosure by the seller. Training and account management programs should emphasize that customers may use disclosure to "test" the seller's motives and trustworthiness. Analysis can be made of the types of disclosures and the range of reciprocal disclosures that are appropri-

ate. Development of disclosure-handling skills is a normal part of the training program for counselors and therapists. Analogous modules might be incorporated in the training of service marketers. Though expertise may be necessary for the development of long-term service sales relationships, this characteristic alone does not appear sufficient. Further, as the relationship endures, expertise should reflect demonstrated competency in the broader aspects of the customer's purchase/usage systemparticularly when the customer makes multiple purchases in a service category and expects the salesperson to understand the interrelationship among those purchases. For example, some customers who seek to establish long-term relationships with service providers are looking for an effective and efficient means of obtaining information across a range of complementary services. Though sales training programs generally provide the tools necessary for the salesperson to represent his or her core service and immediate industry, these programs often fail to offer initial and ongoing training in related fields (e.g., cross training of residential real estate agents in the areas of mortgage financing and property insurance). In instances where the breadth of knowledge required is beyond any one individual's capability, a firm may elect to use teams of salespeople dedicated to particular clients. This approach also serves as a vehicle for protecting market share in the event of salesperson turnover. Finally, and perhaps most imptirtant. salespeople representing complex services must recognize their role as relationship managers. The cumulative effect of past sales does not appear to be a determinant of future sales opportunities as is the quality of the customersalesperson relationship developed through previous sales interactions. Relationship quality appears to increase the probability of sales opportunities whereas interpersonal influence variates (e.g., expertise and similarity) determine individual sales outcomes. All other things being equal, however, more sales opportunities should yield higher sales performance.

Study Limitations
Our study is subject to several shortcomings that limit interpretation of the results. Certainly future researchers might consider additional predictor variables, such as perceived switching uncertainty, switching benefits, switching costs, search costs, and investment costs (ref. Thibaut and Kelley 1959). In addition, the domain of some of the latent constructs might be modified. For instance, relational selling behavior could be extended to include the salesperson's frequency of compromise behavior, willingness to meet at times convenient for the customer, and sensitivity to customers' personal problems. Likewise, relationship quality might be broadened to include additional in-

Relationship Quality in Services Selling / 77

dicators such as role consensus, perceived cooperation/competition/conflict, and equity. The service-sales context and cross-sectional method of our study also limit the interpretation of the findings. Future research should seek to ascertain the validity of our relationship quality model in alternative long-term sales contexts (e.g., business-to-business). Longitudinal methods would be particularly useful for capturing the process dynamics and the cumulative effects of individual exchange episodes in establishing long-term sales relationships.
Questions for Future Research

vanced here and/or identify alternative paradigms suitable for representing long-term buyer-seller relationships.

Appendix Summary of Measures

Indicators of Similarity {^i)
a = .86 Appearance similarity index (very similar 6 . . . very dissimilar 1) Rating of agent's appearance Rating of agent's dress Rating of agent's mannerisms Rating of agent's speech Rating of agent's personality a = .79 Lifestyle similarity index (very similar 6 . . . very dissimilar 1) Rating of agent's family situation Rating of agent's interests/hobbies Rating of agent's political views Rating of agent's values a = .82 Status similarity index (very similar 6 . . . very dissimilar 1) Rating of agent's education level Rating of agent's income level Rating of agent's social class

The following research questions relating directly to the relationship quality model might guide future research in the behavioral aspects of relationship marketing; ' _ ' ^
1. Are there structural detemiinant.s of mutual self-disclosure? For instance, at what titne and with what frequency should personal versus transaction-specific disclosure be advanced? From a salesperson perspective, is it more advantageous to initiate self-disclosure soliciting reciprocity from the buyer or to delay disclosure until initiated by the buyer? 2. To what extent does relationship quality restrain the customer from switching to another salesperson/supplier due, in part, to the customer's recognition of the personal investment necessary to identify and develop a suitable alternative relationship? 3. How do disconftrmations of participant role expectations influence perceptions of relational quality early versus later in complex service exchange settings? For instance, how are violations of trust that occur early in a relationship received by dyadic participants versus violations that occur later in a more mature relationship? 4. How does the seller's perception of relationship quality with the customer influence the nature of the dyad and relationship development? Though it is natural to focus on the customer's perception of the interpersonal relationship with the seller, relational maturity requires both parties to engage in reciprocal behavior. Do customers engage in behaviors that attempt to encourage relationship development with the seller, and under what circumstances? 5. How is the domain of behavioral expectations pertaining to relationship quality established by dyadic participants? The influencing anempts and posturing moves described in ihe negotiation literature may prove helpful in directing inquiry in this area. ^

Indicator of Service Domain Expertise (^2)

a .89 Financial expertise index (way above average 5 . . . way below average I) Training/knowledge/experience in insurance Training/knowledge/experience in IRAs Training/knowledge/experience in investment funds Training/knowledge/experience in tax planning Training/knowledge/experience in financial planning

Indicators of Relational Selling Behavior (^3}

a = .88 Interaction intensity index (five times or more 5 . . . never 1) Was contacted by my agent who wanted to stay "in touch" and make sure I was still satisfied. Was contacted by my agent who wanted to keep abreast of changes in my family and insurance needs. Was contacted by my agent who wanted to make changes in this policy to better serve my needs. Was contacted by my agent who wanted to restructure my insurance program to better serve my needs. My agent explained why it is a good idea to keep this whole life policy in force. Received something of a personal nature from my agent (e.g., birthday card, holiday gift, etc.). Was contacted by my agent who wanted to sell me more life insurance. Was contacted by my agent who wanted to describe new types of policies that had become available. a = .95 Agent disclosure index (very accurate 6 . . . very inaccurate 1) My agent has confided in me a lot of information about his/her own financial situation and dealings. My agent has confided in me a lot of information about his/her own financial goals and objectives, even hopes and dreams for the future.

The relationship quality model we have advanced addresses many of the limitations of previous sales research, but considerable work needs to be done to enhance the marketer's understanding of factors that influence long-term service sales interactions. Clearly, the preliminary evidence suggests that the perpetuation of a long-term service exchange is influenced by the customer's perception of the quality of the sales relationship. We hope future researchers will seek to modify and extend the relationship quality model ad-

78 / Journal of Marketing, July 1990

My agent has confided in me a lot of information about his/her background, personal life, and family situation. My agent has told me about fmancial mistakes h e / she made in the past. My agent has told me a lot about his/her job (e.g., responsibilities, failures and accomplishments, likes and dislikes for occupation). My agent has confided in me a lot of information about his/her values, religious beliefs, and political beliefs. a = .93 Customer disclosure index (very accurate 6 . . .very inaccurate 1) I have confided in the agent a lot of information about my current llnanciai situation (e.g., income, assets, investments, and obligations). I have confided in the agent a lot of information about my fmancial goals and objectives, even my hopes and dreams for the future. I have confided in the agent a lot of information about my background, personal life, and family situation. I have told the agent about financial mistakes I've made in the past. I have told the agent a lot about my job (e.g., responsibilities, failures and accomplishments, likes and dislikes of occupation). I have expressed to my agent my liking and respect for him/her as a pxirson. I have confided in the agent a lot of information about my values, religious beliefs, and political beliefs. I have expressed to the agent my dissatisfaction with other financial advisors I have such as my lawyer, accountant, banker, stockbroker, or other insurance agents. a = .80 Cooperative intentions index (very accurate 6 . . . very inaccurate I) My agent has expressed a willingness to help me make my financial decisions even if there's nothing in it for him/her. My agent takes the time to prepare formal proposals for me to evaluate. My agent treats me the same whether we're talking about $5,000 policy or a $50,000 policy. My agent has expressed a desire to develop a longterm relationship.

Favorable 7 . . . Unfavorable 1 a = ,89 Trust in salesperson index (strongly agree 7 . . . strongly disagree 1) My agent can be relied upon to keep his/her promises. There are times when I fmd my agent to be a bit insincere, (reverse coded] I find it necessary to be cautious in dealing with my life insurance agent. |reverse coded] My agent is tnistworthy. My agent and I are in competitionhe/she is trying to sell me a lot of insurance and I am trying to avoid buying it. [reverse coded] My agent puts the customer's interests before his/her own. Some people, including my agent, are not above "bending the facts" to create the impression they want, (reverse coded) My agent is dishonest ]reverse coded] I suspect that my agent has sometimes withheld certain pieces of critical information that might have affected my decision-making, (reverse coded]

Indicators of Sales Effectiveness (iji}

<x - N/ATotal insurance sales (SOO.OCXl's) What is the total amount of life insurance coverage that has been purchased through the agent responsible for your whole life policy? Include only those policies that are still in force, a = .88 Cross-sell index (yes from agent 1 . . . otherwise 0) Indicate whether you own or use each of the financial products/services listed below and whether they are obtained from the agent responsible for your whole life policy. Tax planning . . . Financial planning . . . Money market/mutual funds . , . IRAs

Indicator of Anticipation of Future Interaction

a = .82 Anticipation of future interaction index (strongly agree 7 . . . strongly disagree 1) Please indicate the chances that you will engage in each of these actions some time in the next year. Will discuss the value of this whole life policy with the agent responsible for servicing it. Working with the agent responsible for this policy, will restruclure my life insurance program to better serve my needs ("program" refers to all policies owned).

Indicators of Relationship Quality (ji-,)

tt - .99 Satisfaction with salesperson index Satisfied 7 . . . Dissatisfied 1 Pleased 7 . . . Displeased I


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