Commitment defined

Commitment follows trust and is defined as ‘an exchange partner believing that an ongoing relationship with another is so important as to warrant maximum efforts at maintaining it’ (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Implicit in this definition is the perceived importance and high value of the relationship to the committed partner.

Garbarino and Johnson (1999) propose that customer satisfaction, perceived service quality, perceived value, trust and commitment are generally regarded as the basis of consumer behavior with respect to marketing organizations. Their research amongst visitors to a New York off-Broadway repertory theatre company, however, reveals that for high relational customers (consistent subscribers), trust and commitment, rather than satisfaction, are the mediators between component attitudes and future intentions.

How is commitment created?

According to Hocutt (1998), commitment may be regarded as a function of:

• Satisfaction with the service provider (bonding),
• Quality of alternative providers,
• Investments in the relationship.

Commitment is stronger when satisfaction levels are high, the quality of alternatives is perceived to be poor and when the investment is large.

How can trust and commitment be encouraged and nurtured?

A genuine customer orientation

The terms marketing and customer orientation can be used interchangeably. Customer orientation implies achieving organizational goals through a genuine concern and motivation to satisfy customers. This requires a clear understanding of customers through marketing research and, where appropriate, through empathy, dialogue and proximity within a RM framework. This also requires the development of systems, structures and a culture around customer needs and wants.

An efficient customer care and service mechanism inspired, and run, by well-trained staff

In order to create mutual understanding between supplier and customer, mechanisms must exist for efficient and effective contact between the two parties. The use of Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques and the empowerment of customer-facing staff can ensure that this contact can promote satisfaction.

Clear safeguards and redress mechanisms

Companies must accept that it is inevitable that transactions will occasionally fail and dissatisfaction will result. Proper mechanisms for recovery, which incorporate fairness and promptness, should be in place. Also any guarantees and warranties must be clearly communicated to customers, and ‘small print’ must be avoided.

Sharing of and confidentiality of information

RM implies the customization of products, which depends on a good understanding of the customer’s situation and requirements. This requires the sharing of information and knowledge which must be treated as confidential. Many customers are reluctant to pass on their details to producers for fear of the information being passed on to other companies or generating junk mail.

Sharing of power

By committing resources to the acquisition and retention of customers, the supplier surrenders some of its freedom, or power to discontinue the relationship, if the customer becomes increasingly difficult to satisfy. This in turn gives the customer greater power to negotiate the terms of the relationship. It is important to stress, however, that this works both ways. As the relationship continues, the customer will also see a greater risk in switching to a new producer, and the customer’s stake in the relationship will grow.