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Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.

The Role of Attributions in Customer Satisfaction: A Reexamination


Author(s): MichaelTsiros, VikasMittal, and WilliamT.Ross, Jr.
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 31, No. 2 (September 2004), pp. 476-483
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/422124 .
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The Role of Attributions in Customer


Satisfaction: A Reexamination
MICHAEL TSIROS
VIKAS MITTAL
WILLIAM T. ROSS, JR.*
We investigate the role of disconfirmation, responsibility, and stability attributions
in the formation of satisfaction judgments. Building on the valence-expectancy
framework, we find that disconfirmation and attributions impact satisfaction in a
complex manner. Besides its main effect, responsibility moderates disconfirmations effect on satisfaction, manifested as a two-way interaction between the two.
Disconfirmation and responsibility jointly determine the valence component, and
stability determines the expectancy component of the satisfaction evaluation. This
is consistent with the three-way interaction among stability, responsibility, and
disconfirmation that we also find. These results clarify past studies and provide
new insights about the relationship among the constructs.

n the customer satisfaction literature, attribution theory


has mainly been used to understand consumer satisfaction
judgments under differential attributions. Taking a dimensional view, researchers have examined how attribution dimensions such as responsibility, controllability, and stability
influence satisfaction judgments. A survey of the empirical
attribution research in the area of satisfaction (see table 1)
shows that key questions in the area remain unexplored.
First, a conceptual model of how the various types of attributions combine with disconfirmation to impact satisfaction is lacking. We posit that the valence-expectancy framework (Oliver 1974; Teas 1981; Vroom 1964) provides the
beginnings of such a model. Second, though researchers
have examined more than one attribution dimension in a
single study, it is not clear how various types of attributions
interact with each other or with other antecedents of satisfaction. This article seeks to address these issues with respect
to two specific attribution dimensions: responsibility,
whether the consumer holds the service provider responsible
for the outcome, and stability, whether the consumer holds
the outcome to emanate from a stable versus unstable cause.
Our results show that disconfirmation and attributions in-

fluence satisfaction in a complex manner not captured by


either a simple main-effects approach or a set of simple twoway interactions. The rival models emanating from these
different approaches are summarized in figure 1 and discussed later. Results show that the pattern of observed interactions is consistent with the valence-expectancy framework (Oliver 1974; Teas 1981; Vroom 1964).

CAUSAL ATTRIBUTIONS AND


SATISFACTION: BACKGROUND
Most satisfaction studies have taken a multidimensional
view of attributions to examine if and how various attribution types influence satisfaction judgments and behavioral
intentions differently. From table 1, two conclusions can be
drawn. First, within the multidimensional view of attributions, the specific dimensions used have varied from study
to study. Thus, an issue that arises is: what attribution dimensions are salient to post purchase evaluation? Weiners
early conceptualization (1985) employed three attributional
dimensionslocus of causality, controllability, and stabilitythat have been used in most marketing studies (see
table 1). Recently, however, Weiner (2000) concluded that
attributions about responsibility and stability are most salient
for understanding postconsumption reactions. Following
this, we examine stability as one attributional dimension.
Responsibility, however, seems to incorporate both controllability and locus of causality. From a consumers perspective the issue is to assign responsibility for the obtained
outcome. Clearly, locus of causality, that is, who caused the
failure, is an important part of responsibility. But so too is
controllability, the degree of control the causal party had on

*Michael Tsiros is associate professor of marketing, School of Business


Administration, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124 (mtsiros
@exchange.sba.miami.edu) and Tassos Papastratos Research Associate Professor, ALBA, Athens, Greece, 16671. Vikas Mittal is associate professor
of marketing, Katz Graduate School of Business, and associate professor
of psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh,
PA 15260 (vmittal@katz.pitt.edu). William T. Ross, Jr., is professor of
marketing, Smeal College of Business Administration, Pennsylvania State
University, University Park, PA 16802 (wtr2@psu.edu). The authors acknowledge the helpful input of the editor, associate editor, and reviewers.

476
2004 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. Vol. 31 September 2004
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TABLE 1
A REVIEW OF EMPIRICAL FINDINGS ON ATTRIBUTION AND SATISFACTION
Study/method

Attribution/valence

Variables

Oliver and DeSarbo


(1988) experimental

Locus (internal/external)
Valence: positive and
negative

Folkes (1984; study 1)

Valence: negative

Experiment (study 2,
within subjects)

Locus, controllability, stability (not clear manipulation though: conditions


were not perfectly
comparable)
Valence: negative

Independent: locus (L),


controllability (C), stability
(S)
Dependent: expectancy
reactions (expectancy of
future performance), market equity reactions (refund or apology), anger
reaction

Folkes, Koletsky, and Graham (1987) survey, path


analysis

Stability, controllability
Valence: negative

Curren and Folkes (1987)


experiment (study 2)

Stability, controllability,
locus
Valence: negative

Experiment (study 3)

Stability, controllability
Valence: positive

Richins (1983) Survey

Locus (internal: consumer;


external: marketing
institution)
Valence: negative
Controllability, self-reported attribution measures (PREVENT: hotel
could have prevented the
problem; CONTROL: degree of control hotel had
over the problem); these
were covariates in study 2
and cant find their effect
in the findings
Valence: negative

Independent: stability,
controllability
Dependent: expectancy
reactions (expectancy of
future performance), market equity reactions (refund or apology), anger
reaction
Independent: stability, controllability, locus
Dependent: complaint intentions, negative word of
mouth
Independent: stability,
controllability
Dependent: compliment,
positive word of mouth
Independent: dissatisfaction, problem severity
Dependent: complaint behavior, word of mouth
Independent:
Between subjects: type of
failure, (process/outcome),
magnitude of failure (low/
high)
Within subjects: compensation (high/medium/
none), response speed
(immediate/delayed), apology (present/absent), recovery initiation (employee/customer).
Dependent: distributive
justice, procedural justice,
interactional justice, service encounter,
satisfaction

Smith, Bolton, and Wagner (1999) experiment


(two identical studies:
restaurant and hotel).
Study 2 examined
attributions

Independent: locus, expectations, performance,


disconfirmation, equity
Dependent: satisfaction

Main findings
Significant main effects. Significant two-way interactions between expectations and performance, disconfirmation, and equity.
Stable and controllable causes predominately lead to
product failure (these two dimensions are highly correlated, r p .94).
Expectancy reactions are influenced by stability. Market equity reactions are influenced by locus. Interaction effects: anger reactions are influenced by a twoway interaction (L # C). Market equity reactions are
influenced by two- and three-way interactions (L # S,
L # C, L # C # S). Apologies and refunds are less
deserved when consumer related than when manufacturer related. Manufacturer-uncontrolled-stable
causes deserve fewer apologies and refunds than (1)
manufacturer-controlled-stable cases and (2) manufacturer-controlled-unstable causes. Consumer-uncontrolled-stable causes deserve more apologies and
refunds than (1) consumer-uncontrolled-unstable
causes and (2) consumer-controlled-stable causes.
Controllability and stability influence anger, which influences complaint and repurchase intentions. Controllability and stability also have a direct effect on
complaint and repurchase intentions.

Locus influences complaint and word of mouth, stability influences word of mouth (same as Folkes
1984).
Found significant main effects.

Positive correlation between problem severity and


word of mouth. External attributions (blame the marketing institution for poor performance) lead to more
complaints and negative word of mouth
Main effects: service encounter satisfaction after a
service failure is influenced by type and magnitude of
failure. More dissatisfaction was experienced by customers experiencing process failures than outcome
failures. High-magnitude failures lead to more dissatisfaction than lo-magnitude failures. All three types of
justice influence satisfaction, with distributive justice
having the largest effect. Compensation increases
distributive justice. Speedy recovery increases procedural justice. Apology and employee-initiated recovery increase interactional justice. Interaction effects:
A speedy recovery has a greater effect on procedural
justice after an outcome failure. Compensation and
recovery speed have a greater effect on perceived
justice when failure magnitude is low.

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JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH

478
FIGURE 1
PROPOSED MODELS OF CAUSAL ATTRIBUTIONS AND
SATISFACTION

tributions exist and should be examined, though such an


examination is beyond the scope of this article.
Second, at least some attributions directly affect satisfaction judgments. In response to the same outcome, satisfaction can vary based on the type of attributions made by the
consumer. It seems that attributions can have an interactive
effect on satisfaction judgments as well as direct effects.
However, within the satisfaction literature, we are aware of
only two studies that have actually included interactive effects (Folkes 1984, study 2; Oliver and DeSarbo 1988).
Folkes (1984, study 2) examined negative disconfirmation,
with anger, expectancy and market-equity reactionsnot
satisfaction judgments or behavioral intentionsas dependent variables. She found that fewer apologies and refunds
were warranted if the negative disconfirmation was due to
a cause that was stable but uncontrollable than if the cause
was stable but controllable. This study provides a conceptual
basis to argue for a complex approach to understanding the
role of attributions as antecedents of satisfaction and intentions. Oliver and DeSarbo (1988) experimentally manipulated locus of causality and disconfirmation but did not find
a significant interaction between them in determining satisfaction with stocks. They operationalized locus of causality
as being internal (respondents picked the stock themselves)
or external (respondents picked the stock based on a brokers
recommendation). However, locus of causality may have
been confounded with stability of attributions. Those attributing the stock pick to their decision (internal control)
may also have made stable attributions under positive disconfirmation (their own ability) but unstable attributions under negative disconfirmation (bad luck). This is all the more
likely, as their sample of MBA students had prior stock
market experience.

DISCONFIRMATION, ATTRIBUTIONS,
AND SATISFACTION: A VALENCEEXPECTANCY APPROACH

the circumstances. So, we follow Weiner (2000) and suggest


that the combination of these two dimensions enables the
consumer to determine responsibility.1 Thus, the second attribution dimension we use is responsibility. We do this with
the explicit acknowledgement that other dimensions of at1
Folkes (1984) measured these two attribution dimensions separately
and found a correlation (r) of .94. Thus, it seems that the locus of causality
and controllability dimensions should be highly correlated and jointly determine responsibility.

Within the valence-expectancy framework people independently gauge two factorsthe objects valence and expectancyto evaluate the object. Valence is the extent to
which someone feels positively or negatively about an event
occurring, and expectancy estimates enable the person to
gauge the likelihood of the event reoccurring. We argue that,
just as the valence-expectancy model has been used to determine factors that lead to motivation (Vroom 1964), it can
be used to consider how attributions and disconfirmation
combine to affect satisfaction. Disconfirmation is evaluative
in nature and should be a contributor to the valence component. Similarly, responsibility should be a contributor to
the consumers evaluation of the event and, thus, related to
the valence component. Finally, stability deals with how
likelyin the futurethe outcome is perceived by the consumer to continue. Thus, it should be a primary contributor
to the expectancy component. As a result, we suggest that
attributions and disconfirmation interact to determine sat-

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ATTRIBUTIONS AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

isfaction. We propose specific patterns of interactive effects


based on the valence-expectancy model.
Prior research (see table 1) has shown a consistent main
effect for responsibility. Hence, although we do not focus
on the direct effects of responsibility, we include it as a
direct predictor in our models. Evidence for stability is decidedly mixed in table 1, and our conceptualization, in fact,
implies that stability might not have a main effect; testing
our conceptualization against previous work requires inclusion of stability as a main effect in the models. Thus, disconfirmation (positive and negative) and responsibility attributions jointly affect the valence component of the
valence-expectancy framework. Specifically, responsibility
attributions should moderate the effect of disconfirmation
on satisfaction such that, when consumers hold the firm
responsible for an experienced outcome; disconfirmation
will have a stronger effect on satisfaction than when they
do not. Our reasoning here is consistent with Weiner (2000,
p. 385) who argues that responsibility attributions link to
inferences regarding personal responsibility, moral judgment, and moral emotions including anger, sympathy, and
gratitude, so that they are at the very heart of social behavior. Additionally, responsibility attributions may also
intensify the impact of disconfirmation on satisfaction via
the level of experienced regret (Tsiros and Mittal 2000). If
the company is responsible for negative disconfirmation,
consumers may regret choosing the brand more than if the
negative disconfirmation occurs due to non-company-related
factors (e.g., a natural disaster). Conversely, under positive
disconfirmation, consumers may rejoice in their choice more
if they find that the company itself is responsible than an
external factor. Counter to past studies, this model does not
posit responsibility attributions as affecting satisfaction only
directly. In addition to a direct impact, responsibility attributions affect the valence component of the valence-expectancy framework by moderating the role of disconfirmation.
Next, we argue that stability attributions affect the expectancy component. As such, stability attributions should
have a multiplicative effect with the valence component
(disconfirmation and responsibility attributions). In other
words, once consumers have formed a valence (as a result
of disconfirmation and responsibility), stability attributions
affect the expectancy associated with such valence. Thus,
when the cause of the experienced outcome is seen as stable,
the valence component (disconfirmation # responsibility)
should have a stronger effect on satisfaction than when the
cause is seen as unstable. This occurs because, when the
outcome is attributed to an unstable cause, it is likely to be
deemed transitory and have a weaker impact on satisfaction
than when stable causal attributions are made. Conceptually,
this implies that stability attributions will moderate the moderating impact of responsibility attributions on disconfirmation (the valence component) but is silent about whether
it will have its own direct effect. This is stated as follows:

479

lationship. Specifically, the moderating effect of


responsibility attributions is stronger when the experienced outcome is attributed to a stable cause,
but weaker when it is attributed to an unstable
cause.
Hypothesis 1 is consistent with prior attribution literature
suggesting that attributions regarding stability are likely to
affect consumer expectancies and thus influence probabilistic judgments about the likelihood of an outcome (Curren
and Folkes 1987; Folkes 1984; Weiner 1985, 2000). It is
also consistent with the satisfaction literature, where the
notion of stability affecting expectancies is consistent with
the belief-updating framework (cf., Anderson and Sullivan
1993). Accordingly, customers update their priors and incorporate them in their satisfaction judgment only when the
cause is also deemed to be stable.

Rival Models. Empirically, the valence-expectancy


framework posited above is contrasted against two rival
models shown in figure 1. In model A, the base model used
in most of the empirical research in table 1, disconfirmation
and attribution dimensions directly influence satisfaction.
Support for this model would manifest itself as statistically
significant main effects of disconfirmation, responsibility,
and stability. In model B, a simple interaction model, stability and responsibility moderate the effect of disconfirmation on satisfaction. This model would be supported by
statistically significant two-way interactions between responsibility and disconfirmation, and stability and disconfirmation, but no three-way interaction. Model C is consistent with the valence-expectancy framework where
responsibility attributions and disconfirmation jointly affect
the valence component. The valence part of this model
should manifest itself as significant main effects of disconfirmation and responsibility and as a two-way interaction
between responsibility and disconfirmation. The expectancy
part of the model should manifest as a significant three-way
interaction among disconfirmation, responsibility, and stability. A main effect of stability may or may not be present.

STUDY
Design and Procedure
The design was a two (disconfirmation: positive vs. negative) # two (stability of the cause: stable vs. unstable) #
two (responsibility: company-related vs. company-unrelated) between-subjects design. Respondents were 202 executive MBAs at a midwestern university. Averages were:
age, 29.3 yr.; work experience, over 6 yr. full-time; employees supervised, six or more full-time. Almost half were
involved in purchasing decisions, and one-third had evaluated a partner firms performance.

Decision Scenario
H1: Attributions of stability moderate the effect of responsibility on the disconfirmation-satisfaction re-

Participants assumed the role of the vice president of an


electronic equipment manufacturer currently evaluating a

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JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH

480

distributor and read the scenario in the appendix. In the


scenario they were told that they had constant sales (a growth
of 0%) based on their partnership with their current distributor (Alpha). Expectations for the next years sales were
also set at 0%, that is, constant. The scenario then shifted
to 1 yr. later, and participants were told about company
Alphas performance, which was either a 10% increase (positive disconfirmation) or a 10% decrease (negative disconfirmation). In addition, they were informed of the cause that
may have contributed to that level of observed outcome.
The cause varied on two dimensions, stability and responsibility. It was manipulated using a widely accepted classification (cf. Teas and McElroy 1986; Valle and Frieze
1976) as follows:

Stable
Unstable

Company related (company is responsible)


Ability
Effort

Company unrelated (company is not responsible)


Task difficulty
Luck

Next, respondents provided measures on satisfaction and


manipulation checks.

Measures
Dependent Measure. Satisfaction was measured using
a seven-point scale (1 p strongly disagree, 7 p strongly
agree). The three items are shown in the appendix and loaded
on a single factor (alpha p .95). They were averaged to
create a single measure where high score indicates a high
level of satisfaction.
Manipulation Checks. One-tailed t-tests were used to
assess the manipulations. Participants rated disconfirmation
using a seven-point scale (7 p much better than expected,
1 p much worse than expected). The positive disconfirmation group had higher ratings than the negative disconfirmation group (5.83 vs. 2.92, p ! .01). For responsibility,
participants rated their agreement (7 p strongly agree, 1 p
strongly disagree) with the statement Company Alpha is
responsible for the recent level of performance. The mean
was higher for the high than the low-responsibility condition
(5.49 vs. 2.58, p ! .01). For stability, participants rated their
agreement (7 p strongly agree, 1 p strongly disagree) with
the statement The cause of Alphas performance is stable.
The mean was higher for the stable-attribution group than
the unstable-attribution group (5.69 vs. 2.93, p ! .01). Thus,
all three manipulations were successful.
Orthogonality Check. The correlations between the
manipulation checks were statistically nonsignificant for
positive (r p .12, p p .15) and negative (r p .04, p p
.69) disconfirmation. Thus the manipulations were orthogonal.

Results
Table 2 shows the ANOVA, and figure 2 shows the means.
Hypothesis 1 posits a three-way interaction among discon-

TABLE 2
ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE
Source
Disconfirmation (D)
Responsibility (R)
Stability (S)
D#R
D#S
R#S
D#R#S
Error

df

Mean square

F-value

P-value

1
1
1
1
1
1
1
193

371.79
2.07
.41
20.85
.80
2.26
6.12
1.13

329.02
1.83
.359
18.45
.71
2.00
5.42

.001
.178
.550
.001
.405
.159
.020

firmation, stability, and responsibility. As shown in table 2,


there is a significant three-way interaction among disconfirmation, responsibility, and stability (F(1, 193) p 5.42, p
! .02, h2 p .04). The moderating effect of responsibility in
the disconfirmation-satisfaction relationship is much
stronger for the stable than for the unstable condition. In
panel 1 of figure 2, where attributions are unstable, there is
no difference in the effect of responsibility on disconfirmation and satisfaction. Whether the company is responsible
or not, the effect of disconfirmation is identical on satisfaction. We constructed a contrast (2.43 2.26 vs. 5.80
5.71) and found it to be statistically nonsignificant (p 1
.10). Conversely, in panel 2, where attributions are stable,
a moderating effect of responsibility on disconfirmation and
satisfaction is found. The effect of disconfirmation on satisfaction is stronger when the company is responsible than
when it is not. A contrast (1.31 3.50 vs. 6.12 5.54) was
significant ( p ! .01) and confirms this.

Model Comparison. It is useful to consider the results


of the rival models from figure 1. Model A, the base model,
tests previous research investigating only main effects and
has an adjusted R2 of 54%. Disconfirmation and responsibility have statistically significant main effects on satisfaction, and stability has a moderately significant main effect.
Model B, the simple-interaction model, includes only the
main effects and two-way interactions and has an adjusted
R2 of 60%. The main effect of stability approaches statistical
significance, and responsibility and disconfirmation have
significant main effects. There is only one statistically significant interaction, between responsibility and disconfirmation. Model C, the valence-expectancy framework, has
an adjusted R2 of 63%. Consistent with the valence-expectancy framework, disconfirmation has a statistically significant main effect and the main effect of responsibility only
approaches significance perhaps because the interaction between disconfirmation and responsibility attributions is statistically significant. Jointly, these components determine the
valence aspect of the model. Consistent with the expectancy
part of the model, there is a statistically significant threeway interaction. In summary, model C is the preferred
model.

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ATTRIBUTIONS AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION


FIGURE 2
EFFECT OF DISCONFIRMATION, RESPONSIBILITY, AND
STABILITY ON SATISFACTION

481

DISCUSSION
These results were replicated in two additional studies.
The first consisted of a survey of 109 business managers
who evaluated an actual business partner rather than a fictitious business partner used in the current study. In the
second study, 250 undergraduates evaluated a recent purchase they had made. In both these studies we found an
identical pattern to the one reported here. Thus, we are
comfortable about the generalizability of the claims made
here. Replication in these other studies also attests to the
context invariance of the results, effectively demonstrating
that attributional responses are important in both business
and consumer environments. Finally, we note that in the
study of managers, we used a performance measure, rather
than disconfirmation, with identical results. This is reassuring, since other research (e.g., Churchill and Suprenant
1982; Mittal, Ross, and Baldasare 1998; Tse and Wilton
1988) has shown performance to have an independent effect
on satisfaction beyond disconfirmation. Thus, both performance and disconfirmation can be subsumed within the valence component of the model.
The key theoretical contribution of this research is in
providing the valence-expectancy framework as a basis for
understanding the way in which disconfirmation and attributions affect satisfaction (model C in fig. 1). Responsibility
attributions and disconfirmation jointly form the valence
component. More importantly, as per the expectancy component, stability attributions moderate the extent to which
the valence component (disconfirmation and responsibility
attributions) affects satisfaction. Such a conceptualization
best accounts for the observed pattern of results. A simple
main-effects model (model A in fig. 1), or a model examining only the two-way interactions (model B in fig. 1), is
unable to account for the complex pattern of results observed. Yet, it is these two types of models that underlie
most of the research examining attributions and satisfaction.
These results have several theoretical implications. First,
the dimensional view of attributions taken by previous studies is appropriate, though the impact of these dimensions
on satisfaction is better interpreted within the context of the
valence-expectancy framework. This being the case, future
studies should conceptually determine if an attribution dimension affects the valence and/or the expectancy part. Only
those dimensions affecting the valence part should theoretically interact with disconfirmation, while those affecting
expectancies should be more relevant to the higher-order
interactions. Thus the two-way interaction model (panel B
in fig. 1) may only be appropriate if the researcher believes
that the attribution dimensions are part of the valence component. For attribution dimensions that may constitute the
expectancy component, a three-way interaction is appropriate. When researchers have no a priori notions in this
regard, it is not advisable simply to add two-way interactions among disconfirmation and attribution dimensions
but rather to include higher order interactions as well. Such
a theory-driven approach can guide researchers in deter-

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JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH

482

mining which of the three rival models is appropriate for


their data.
Clearly, a pressing research need is to classify how different attribution dimensions map on to the valence and/or
expectancy component. Such attempts at careful theoretical
mapping can probably shed light on inconsistent past findings. Smith, Bolton, and Wagner (1999) did not find a separation of the two types of attribution in their empirical
work. Our work suggests that it may not be enough to use
conceptually distinct attribution dimensions. Rather, it is imperative to understand how these conceptually distinct attribution dimensions map on to the valence and/or expectancy component of the valence-expectancy framework.
Another research opportunity is to examine the applicability of the valence-expectancy framework in areas other
than postpurchase satisfaction, which is our focus. For example, McGill has an interesting series of articles (e.g., Iacobucci and McGill, 1990; McGill 1989) examining how
background or context influences respondents attributions,
including one cross-cultural article (McGill 1995) that suggests that cultural background affects whether the respondent actually makes external attributions at all. Incorporating this line of reasoning is an opportunity for further
work with the valence-expectancy framework in a satisfaction context.
The valence-expectancy framework could be further expanded to include instrumentality (Vroom 1964). This would
be especially useful in understanding consumers behavioral
responses, in addition to satisfaction. In including instrumentality, we believe that taking an attribute-level approach
to formulating satisfaction judgment (see Mittal et al. 1998)
is a useful way to proceed. It is likely that the instrumentality
of different attributes in determining satisfaction and behavioral responses varies, and that may moderate the extent
to which both the valence and expectancies can have an
effect.

APPENDIX
Imagine you are the Sales Vice President of BestTools,
Inc., an electronics equipment manufacturer that supplies
companies with a wide selection of industrial machinery.
Your company has been in business for the past 30 years
and you have been at your current position since 1986.
BestTools hires independent distribution companies to sell
its products. These companies, however, carry similar equipment from several of your competitors.
One of the companies that you currently employ is Alpha
Inc. Recently, however, you have been approached by other
distribution companies. Although these other distribution
companies provided attractive offers, you decided to go with
company Alpha, since hooking up with them would include
some additional investment and their superior performance
was questionable.
Tomorrow, you have to provide an estimate of the predicted sales figures for the next year to your superiors. This
estimate is crucial because it determines the amount of resources that your department will be given to achieve its

goals. In addition, this estimate is used as a benchmark


against which the performance of your department is measured. Therefore, it is important neither to inflate nor to
deflate this estimate. Based on past experience and on the
current economic conditions, you expect the sales figures
to continue to remain at the same level as last year (an
increase of 0%).

NOW, ONE YEAR LATER


One year has passed since you predicted the sales figures
to remain constant. The figures for the past year have just
been computed and you find out that sales have increased
(decreased) at the annual rate of 10%. Thus, company Alpha
has performed better than it had in the past.
This will not only improve your companys financial
standing but will also improve your standing in the company.

LOOKING BACK
Ability. Company Alphas performance has been consistent during the last several years. Their sales representatives are (are not) being continuously trained and educated
on the latest changes in technology and on the products that
they carry. They also have several years of (very little) work
experience in this business. Their performance, therefore, is
mainly due to their high (low) level of ability.
Effort. Company Alphas performance has been inconsistent during the last several years. They have a low (high)
turnover ratio and, therefore, most of their sales representatives have considerable (little) work experience in this
business. In addition, they always (do not always) devote
the same amount of effort and attention to their customers.
Their performance on this task, therefore, is mainly due to
their high (low) level of effort.
Luck. Company Alphas performance has been inconsistent during the last several years. Their performance is
determined mainly by the competitive strategies employed
by your major competitors during a particular period. In
addition, other unpredictable events and specific situations
may play a major role in determining company Alphas
performance in selling your products. Their performance,
therefore, is mainly due to bad (good) luck.
Difficulty. Company Alphas performance has been consistent during the last several years. The geographic area
that they service is (is not) a difficult one and that mainly
determines their level of performance. This is so because
the area that they service has been historically one of the
most (least) difficult in terms of the presence (absence) of
major competition from other manufacturers. Their performance, therefore, is mainly due to the difficulty (lack of
difficulty) of the task.

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ATTRIBUTIONS AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

MEASURES
Manipulation Checks
1. Company Alphas performance was ___ (7, much better
that expected; 1, much worse than expected).
2. Company Alpha is responsible for the recent level of
performance (1, strongly disagree; 7, strongly agree).
3. The cause of Alphas performance is stable (1, strongly
disagree; 7, strongly agree).
Satisfaction (a p .95): (7-point scale: 1, strongly disagree;
7, strongly agree)
1. I feel satisfied with company Alphas performance.
2. I am happy with company Alphas performance.
3. I am pleased with company Alphas performance.
[Dawn Iacobucci served as editor and Kent B. Monroe
served as associate editor for this article.]

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