A multi-valenced investigation of customer engagement within a social service
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 23:28 by Kay Naumann
The literature on customer engagement continues to favour its positive valence, leaving limited research on the negative valences of consumer engagement and the detrimental impact they have on service relationships. This thesis explores positive engagement, disengagement and negative engagement to provide a more encompassing perspective of customers' service experiences. This thesis is the first study to explore three valences of engagement concurrently within a social service relationship, and uncover their affective, gognitive and behavioural dimensions. In addition, consumer engagement (CE) has seldom been applied in a social service context, despite the importance and centrality of social services to customers' lives. This thesis therefore explores positive, negative and disengaged valences of CE within a social service, being Australian local governments. Further, the literature has rarely considered how consumers engage with other touch points or objects, outside their direct interactions with a brand.As such, this thesis explores multiple valences of CE in relation to dual engagement objects, being a focal service organisation, and a service community. In order the examine the degrees to which CE is generalisable or contextually contingent, the thesis tests an empirical model of positive and negative CE across two contrasting service sectors: Australian local governments and social networking sites. The qualitative phase employed four focus groups and one in-depth interview to uncover the nature and characteristics of each engagement valence. Disengagement was characterised by passive, yet negatively-valenced responses of distrust, frustration, rejection and neglect. Negative engagement was more active and persistent, and involved anger, confrontive coping and collective complaining. Positive engagement was highly social, and manifested through trust, altruism and autonomous co-creation. Interestingly, consumer disengagement and negative CE were directed exclusively at the 'service organisation' object, being respondents' local governing body, whereas positive CE manifested exclusively towards their 'community' object, being the local community. The second, quantitative phase comprised of an empirical survey (n=625) administered to customers of Australian Local Government areas, and, users of the Social Networking Sites (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter). Structural Equation Modelling using AMOS 24 was employed. The results revealed involvement to be a strong antecedent of positive CE, and, positive CE to be a strong driver of WOM. These relationships were consistent across the dual objects and service types, suggesting the process of positive CE is generalisable across different foci and service contexts. Conversely, involvement had a moderately negative impact on negative CE, whereas negative CE acted as a positive driver of WOM. These relationships were revealed to have context specificity, as the negative impact of involvement on negative CE was stronger within the social service compared to Social Networking Sites. Further, negative CE was a stronger driver of WOM for the 'organisation' object in the social service. This suggests that negative feelings such as hatred and contempt, and anti-brand behaviours such as boycotting and blogging may be more relevant indicators of negative CE in local governments compared to social media platforms. The findings of this thesis provide several new insights into the nature of CE. Firstly, it clarifies how engagement can manifest through multiple valences by exploring customer disengagement and negative CE in conjunction with positive engagement. This illustrates that engagement is not exclusively positive, but, can adopt a range of valences that have both positive and negative impacts on service relationships. Secondly, this study elucidates the dynamic nature of engagement by exploring how it manifests towards two key aspects of a service relationship. Lastly, this thesis uncovers the contextual generalisability of CE by firstly, applying it within a new and unique social service setting, and secondly, testing its operation across two contrasting service types.