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Relationship marketing and customer loyalty

Authors:
  • Qatar University Qatar and GCSMES

Abstract

Purpose – To examine the impact of relationship marketing strategy on customer loyalty. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire derived from previous studies and the relevant literature was completed by 220 bank customers in Malaysia. Multiple regression analysis assessed the impact on customer loyalty of four key constructs of relationship marketing (trust, commitment, communication and conflict handling). Findings – The four variables have a significant effect and predict a good proportion of the variance in customer loyalty. Moreover, they are significantly related to one another. Research limitations/implications – The relationships investigated in this study deserve further research. Because the data analysed were collected from one sector of the service industry in one country, more studies are required before general conclusions can be drawn. Practical implications – It is reasonable to conclude, on this evidence, that customer loyalty can be created, reinforced and retained by marketing plans aimed at building trust, demonstrating commitment to service, communicating with customers in a timely, reliable and proactive fashion, and handling conflict efficiently. Originality/value – Reinforces and refines the body of knowledge relating to customer loyalty in service industries.
Relationship marketing and
customer loyalty
Nelson Oly Ndubisi
Monash University Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia
Abstract
Purpose To examine the impact of relationship marketing strategy on customer loyalty.
Design/methodology/approach A questionnaire derived from previous studies and the relevant
literature was completed by 220 bank customers in Malaysia. Multiple regression analysis assessed
the impact on customer loyalty of four key constructs of relationship marketing (trust, commitment,
communication and conflict handling).
Findings The four variables have a significant effect and predict a good proportion of the variance
in customer loyalty. Moreover, they are significantly related to one another.
Research limitations/implications The relationships investigated in this study deserve further
research. Because the data analysed were collected from one sector of the service industry in one
country, more studies are required before general conclusions can be drawn.
Practical implications It is reasonable to conclude, on this evidence, that customer loyalty can be
created, reinforced and retained by marketing plans aimed at building trust, demonstrating
commitment to service, communicating with customers in a timely, reliable and proactive fashion, and
handling conflict efficiently.
Originality/value Reinforces and refines the body of knowledge relating to customer loyalty in
service industries.
Keywords Relationship marketing, Customer loyalty, Banks, Malaysia
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
There is undoubtedly a growing interest in the subject of relationship marketing.
The strong rivalry characterising today’s business environment has resulted to the
building of stronger firm-customer relationships. Webster (1992) noted that the
phenomenon described by this concept is strongly supported by on-going trends in
modern business. Ndubisi (2004) reported that more and more firms are capitalising on
strong firm-customer relationship to gain invaluable information on how best to serve
customers and keep them from defecting to competing brands. Hence, customer
relationship building creates mutual rewards (Rapp and Collins, 1990) which benefit
both the firm and the customer. By building relationship with customers, an
organisation can also gain quality sources of marketing intelligence for better planning
of marketing strategy.
It is important, therefore, to empirically examine the actual impact of the
underpinnings of relationship marketing of customer loyalty. Such understanding will
assist in better management of firm-customer relationship and in achieving higher
level of loyalty among customers. The research study reported here investigates the
impact of four underpinnings of relationship marketing trust, commitment,
communication, and conflict handling on customer loyalty in Malaysia. However,
Palmer (1997, p. 321) has cautioned that:
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0263-4503.htm
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Received February 2005
Revised October 2005
Accepted March 2006
Marketing Intelligence & Planning
Vol. 25 No. 1, 2007
pp. 98-106
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0263-4503
DOI 10.1108/02634500710722425
... relationship marketing means different things in different cultures and marketers should
be as wary of prescribing universal solutions for exchange bases as they are of developing
universal product and promotion for all markets.
Literature review
The relationship marketing concept emerged within the fields of service marketing and
industrial marketing (Christopher et al., 1991; Gummesson, 1991; Lindgreen et al.,
2004). Berry (1983) viewed relationship marketing as a strategy to attract, maintain
and enhance customer relationships. Gummesson (1993) defined the term as a strategy
in which the management of interactions, relationships and networks is a fundamental
issue. According to Gro
¨
nroos (1994), the aim of relationship marketing is to establish,
maintain, and enhance relationships with customers and other partners, at a profit, so
that the objectives of the parties involved are met. Rapp and Collins (1990) suggest,
similarly, that its goals are to create and maintain lasting relationships between the
firm and its customers that are rewarding for both sides. This is achieved by a mutual
symbiosis and fulfilment of promises (Ndubisi 2003a, b). In other words, a key
objective is to foster customer loyalty, which Oliver (1999) defined as a deeply held
commitment to re-buy or re-patronize a preferred product or service in the future
despite there are situational influence and marketing efforts having the potential to
cause switching behavior.
Blomqvist et al. (1993) proposed the following key characteristics of relationship
marketing: every customer is considered an individual person or unit; activities of the
firm are predominantly directed towards existing customers; implementation is based
on interactions and dialogues; and the firm is trying to achieve profitability through
the decrease of customer turnover and the strengthening of customer relationships.
The “underpinnings” of relationship marketing
The marketing literature has theorised key virtues that underpin relationship
marketing, such as trust (Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Veloutsou et al., 2002), commitment
(Grossman, 1998; Chan and Ndubisi, 2004), conflict handling (Dwyer et al., 1987; Ndubisi
and Chan, 2005), and communication or sharing of secrets (Ndubisi and Chan, 2005;
Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Crosby et al., 1990). These have been linked in this study to
customer loyalty. Ndubisi (2004) has suggested that companies should make sacrifices
and worthwhile investments in building relationships with loyal, or at least potentially
loyal, customers. It is argued here that the four identified underpinnings of relationship
marketing are directly linked to and are capable of predicting customer loyalty.
Trust has been defined as .. . a willingness to rely on an exchange partner in whom
one has confidence (Moorman et al., 1993). A betrayal of this trust by the supplier or
service provider could lead to defection. Schurr and Ozanne (1985) defined the term as
the belief that a partner’s word or promise is reliable and a party will fulfil his/her
obligations in the relationship. Other authors have defined trust in terms of
opportunistic behaviour (Dwyer et al., 1987), shared values (Morgan and Hunt, 1994),
mutual goals (Wilson, 1995), uncertainty (Crosby et al., 1990), actions with positive
outcomes (Anderson and Narus, 1984) and making and keeping promises (Bitner, 1995).
Calonius (1988) emphasized that an integral element of the relationship marketing
approach is the promise concept. He argued that the responsibilities of marketing do
not only, or predominantly, include giving promises and thus persuading customers as
Relationship
marketing and
customer loyalty
99
passive counterparts in the marketplace to act in a given way, but also in keeping
promises, which maintains and enhances evolving relationship. Fulfilling promises
that have been given is equally important as a means of achieving customer
satisfaction, retaining the customer base, and securing long-term profitability
(Reichheld and Sasser, 1990), besides fanning the fire of trust. Indeed, one would expect
a positive outcome from a partner on whose integrity one could confidently rely
(Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Gro
¨
nroos (1990) believed that the resources of the seller
personnel, technology and systems have to be used in such a manner that the
customer’s trust in them, and thereby in the firm itself, is maintained and strengthened.
Commitment is another important determinant of the strength of a marketing
relationship, and a useful construct for measuring the likelihood of customer loyalty
and predicting future purchase frequency (Gundlach et al., 1995; Morgan and Hunt,
1994; Dwyer et al., 1987). Wilson (1995) observed that commitment was the most
common dependent variable used in buyer-seller relationship studies. In sociology, the
concept of commitment is used to analyze both individual and organizational
behaviour (Becker, 1960) and mark out forms of action characteristic of particular
kinds of people or groups (Wong and Sohal, 2002), while psychologists define it in
terms of decisions or cognitions that fix or bind an individual to a behavioural
disposition (Kiesler, 1971). In the marketing literature, Moorman et al. (1992) have
defined commitment as an enduring desire to maintain a valued relationship. This
implies a higher level of obligation to make a relationship succeed and to make it
mutually satisfying and beneficial (Gundlach et al., 1995; Morgan and Hunt, 1994).
Since, commitment is higher among individuals who believe that they receive more
value from a relationship, highly committed customers should be willing to reciprocate
effort on behalf of a firm due to past benefits received (Mowday et al., 1982) and highly
committed firms will continue to enjoy the benefits of such reciprocity.
In this context, communication refers to the ability to provide timely and trustworthy
information. Today, there is a new view of communications as an interactive dialogue
between the company and its customers, which takes place during the pre-selling, selling,
consuming and post-consuming stages (Anderson and Narus, 1990). Communication in
relationship marketing means keeping in touch with valued customers, providing timely
and trustworthy information on service and service changes, and communicating
proactively if a delivery problem occurs. It is the communicator’s task in the early stages to
build awareness, develop consumer preference (by promoting value, performance and
other features), convince interested buyers, and encourage them to make the purchase
decision (Ndubisi and Chan, 2005). Communications also tell dissatisfied customers what
the organisation is doing to rectify the causes of dissatisfaction. When there is effective
communication between an organisation and its customers, a better relationship will
result and customers will be more loyal.
Dwyer et al. (1987) defined conflict handling as a supplier’s ability to avoid potential
conflicts, solve manifest conflicts before they create problems, and discuss solutions
openly when problems do arise. How well this is done will determine whether the
outcome is loyalty, “exit” or “voice”. Rusbult et al. (1988) concluded that the likelihood
of these behaviours in individual cases depends on the degree of prior satisfaction with
the relationship, the magnitude of the customer’s investment in the relationship, and an
evaluation of the alternatives available. Ndubisi and Chan (2005) found a significant
relationship between conflict handling and customer loyalty, indirectly through trust
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and perceived relationship quality. The ability of the product or service provider to
handle conflict well will also directly influence customer loyalty.
Thus, the research proposition is that:
... there is a significant positive relationship between customer loyalty and (a) trust, (b)
commitment, (c) communication and (d) conflict handling.
Methodology
Figure 1 shows a schema relating the four research constructs to the dependent
variable, customer loyalty.
Data was collected through a field survey of bank customers in Kota Kinabalu,
Malaysia. All 20 banks in the city were invited to participate in the survey; 15 accepted
the invitation. The sampling frame thus consisted of the customers of the volunteer
banks only. Systematic quasi-random sampling selected every second customer to
enter the bank on each day of the survey, starting with the first to come through the
doors at start of business, at 9.30 am. This sampling method was chosen because it
permits analysis of possible selection bias or error (Sher and Trull, 1996).
In the questionnaire completed by customers, items to measure the construct
dimensions were adapted from previous studies: Churchill and Surprenant (1982) for
the trust dimension, Morgan and Hunt (1994) for communication, commitment and
conflict handling, and Bloemer et al. (1999) for loyalty. The eventual total of 20 items
and 19 questions related to the five dimensions as follows:
Trust:
the bank is very concerned with security for my transactions;
the bank’s promises are reliable;
the bank is consistent in providing quality service;
employees of the bank show respect to customers;
the bank fulfils its obligations to customers; and
I have confidence in the bank’s services.
Commitment:
the bank makes adjustments to suit my needs;
Figure 1.
The research framework,
with p-values
Commitment
Trust
Customer
Loyalty
Communication
Conflict
Handling
0.039
0.011
0.014
0.042
Relationship
marketing and
customer loyalty
101
the bank offers personalized services to meet customer need;
the bank is flexible when its services are changed; and
the bank is flexible in serving my needs.
Communication:
the bank provides timely and trustworthy information;
the bank provides information when there is new banking service;
the bank makes and fulfils promises; and
information provided by the bank is always accurate.
Conflict handling:
the bank tries to avoid potential conflict;
the bank tries to solve manifest conflicts before they create problems; and
the bank has the ability to openly discuss solutions when problems arise.
Customer loyalty:
considering the bank as first choice among other banks in the area; and
the bank that first comes to my mind when making purchases decision on bank
services.
All items were measured by responses on a five-point Likert scale of agreement with
statements, ranging from 1 ¼ strongly disagree to 5 ¼ strongly agree. Multiple
regression analysis was performed to predict the relationship between the four
“underpinnings” of relationship marketing and customer loyalty, in this context.
Results
Demographic data show that a slight majority of respondents were female: 585, to
42 per cent male. Just less than three quarters (73 per cent) were under 40 years of age.
Graduates accounted for 43 per cent of all respondents. Almost half (42 per cent) had
been with their current bank for 11 years or more, 39 per cent for between 6 and
10 years, and only one in five (19 per cent) had been customers for 5 years or less.
Loyalty is thus the starting point for relationship marketing, or at least inertia.
The internal consistency of the research instrument was tested by reliability
analysis. The descriptive statistics of the variables and reliability estimates are shown
in Table I.
The results of the regression analysis summarised in Table II show that trust,
communication, commitment, and conflict handling contribute significantly to customer
loyalty (F ¼ 21.12; p , 0.001) and predict 29 per cent of the variation found. They also
Dimensions Mean Standard deviation Cronbach’s a
Trust 3.95 0.53 0.84
Commitment 3.67 0.73 0.84
Communication 3.90 0.62 0.78
Conflict handling 3.73 0.64 0.73
Customer loyalty 3.99 0.74 0.93
Table I.
Descriptive statistics and
reliability estimates
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show a significant direct relationship between all five “underpinnings” and customer
loyalty at 5 per cent significance level. Therefore, and given the representativeness of
the sample, it is fair to conclude that Malaysian bank customers tend to be loyal if the
bank is:
.
trustworthy;
.
committed to service;
.
reliable and efficient in communicating to customers; and
.
able to handle conflicts well.
The positive sign of the estimates shows that the greater the extent of these
underpinnings, the higher the level of customer loyalty. All elements of the research
proposition are thus firmly supported.
To sum up the findings: the greater the trust in the bank, the higher the level of the
bank’s commitment, the more reliable and timely its communications and the more
satisfactorily it handles conflicts, the more loyal its customers will tend to be.
Implications
Theoretically, the outcome of this research provides empirical evidence for the
influence on customer loyalty of four underpinnings of relationship marketing: trust,
commitment, communication and conflict handling. This study adds value to the
literature by empirically linking a more comprehensive list of determinants to the
dependent variable. It builds on past studies in this area, which had either investigated
an incomplete list of potential underpinnings (Ndubisi, 2004; Wong and Sohal, 2002) or
related them to relationship quality (Wong and Sohal, 2002) and customer satisfaction
(Ndubisi and Chan, 2005) without taking into account the ultimate goal of any service
provider, which is to build loyal customers.
As for the practical implications of the study, a first conclusion is that banks
wishing to retain and develop loyal customers should be trustworthy and committed to
the service ethic, should communicate timely and accurately, and must resolve
conflicts in a manner that will eliminate unnecessary loss and inconvenience to
customers. It has been suggested (Ndubisi, 2004) that loyal customers are valuable
communicators of favourable word-of-mouth about organisations or products to
which they feel loyal. As evangelists, they can attract new customers for the
organisation and may even increase their own consumption collectively to the benefit
of its sales, revenue and profit. Loyalists can also serve as useful sources of new
product ideas.
Variables Beta coefficients t-value ( p-value)
Constant 3.287 (0.000)
Trust 0.187 2.469 (0.014)
Commitment 0.154 2.080 (0.039)
Communication 0.185 2.565 (0.011)
Conflict handling 0.152 2.050 (0.042)
Notes: R
2
¼ 0.285; F ¼ 21.12; Sig. F ¼ 0.000
Table II.
Relationship between RM
underpinnings and
customer loyalty
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marketing and
customer loyalty
103
Trust is an important ingredient in firm-customer relationships and ultimately in the
development of loyalty, in Malaysia and elsewhere. Therefore, banks should strive to win
customers’ trust. The ways in which this can be achieved include the giving and keeping
promises to customers, showing concern for the security of transactions, providing quality
services, showing respect for customers through front-line staff, fulfilling obligations, and
acting to build customers’ confidence in the bank and its services.
As for commitment as a critical factor in building customer loyalty, consisting in
this study of accommodating to customers’ needs, tailoring products to requirements,
and being generally flexible in their customer relationships. Banks should recognise
the potency of service commitment in keeping loyal customers, and act accordingly.
They must show genuine commitment to customer relations, not lip service.
Effective communication predisposes customers to stay with a provider of banking
services. Loyalty can be nurtured by providing timely and reliable information, for
example about the uses and benefits of new banking services or about the status of
transactions. It can also be reinforced by the provision of honest information on what
the bank is doing about existing problems and what it does to forestall potential ones.
Lastly, customers tend to be loyal to banks that handle customer complaints (which
will always happen, regardless) and other conflicts satisfactorily. It is therefore important
that effective conflict resolution mechanisms are not only in place but are proactive, so as
to pre-empt potential sources of conflict and address them before problems become
manifest. Effective reactive solutions should also be marshalled decisively and in time to
resolve problems and protect customers from avoidable losses. Sometimes, what may
cause a customer to defect is not so much the occurrence of a problem as how it is handled.
Banks should be willing to discuss problems openly with their customers.
Conclusions and future research
This study has demonstrated that measurement of the “underpinnings” of relationship
marketing can predict customer loyalty, at least in the Malaysian banking sector.
Therefore, researchers and strategists aiming to nurture loyal customers should pay
close attention to issues of trust, commitment, communication and conflict handling.
The research reported here has not delved into the possible influences of
socio-demographic factors on the relationship between relationship marketing
initiatives and customer loyalty. Earlier studies have suggested that women tended to
be more loyal than men (Ndubisi, 2005), and olderpeoplemore so thanyounger age groups.
Moreover, there is the tendency for higher-income customers to receive better attention
from banks, at least in Malaysia, because of their higher net worth and the larger volume of
business they generate for banks. This could make them more loyal than other customers.
Future research studies might fruitfully investigate such moderating influences.
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Corresponding author
Nelson Oly Ndubisi can be contacted at: nelson.ndubishi@buseco.monash.edu.my
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This research was conducted in order to thoroughly examine the impact of price satisfaction (comprised of price fairness, relative price, price reliability, and price confidence) and product quality toward customer loyalty on green product through customer satisfaction. In regard with the methodology implemented in this study, survey method was utilized, in which questionnaires were electronically distributed to the respondents originated or living in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Bali and Medan using google forms. All of these data then were analyzed using PLS-SEM method. A non-probability sampling method in the form of convenience sampling was implemented in order that all respondents had complied with the criteria set in this study, in which, respondents are those who’ve bought any kind of green (eco-friendly) products between 2019 to 2021. A total of 476 usable data were used and assessed in this research. Based on the findings obtained in this study, author concluded that price fairness, price confidence, and product quality positively affect customer loyalty through customer satisfaction, while the impact of the other variables toward customer loyalty had been proven to be insignificant. In the other hand, customer satisfaction positively mediates the effect of price fairness, price confidence, and product quality toward customer loyalty. Furthermore, based on these results, authors would like to also conclude that product quality plays a slightly more important role in affecting consumers’ loyalty toward green products as opposed to price satisfaction, since there are several variables which didn’t significantly affect customer’s level of loyalty toward green products. Bahasa Indonesia Abstrak: Penelitian ini dilakukan guna mengetahui secara mendalam bagaimana pengaruh yang diberikan oleh price fairness, relative price, price reliability, and price confidence (sebagai bagian dari price satisfaction) dan product quality di dalam meningkatkan loyalitas konsumen terhadap produk-produk ramah lingkungan (green products), baik secara langsung ataupun tidak langsung melalui customer satisfaction. Adapun metode survei dengan menggunakan kuesioner diimplementasikan pada penelitian ini, yang dimana, seluruh kuesioner disebarkan secara daring kepada seluruh responden. Responden pada penelitian ini sendiri berasal dari berbagai kota besar di Indonesia, diantaranya adalah Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Bali serta Medan. Selanjutnya, terkait dengan teknik sampling yang digunakan, teknik non-probability sampling dalam bentuk convenience sampling diimplementasikan pada penelitian ini guna memastikan bahwa memang seluruh responden yang berpartisipasi pada penelitian ini telah memenuhi seluruh persyaratan responden yang telah ditentukan, yang dimana, responden haruslah konsumen yang pernah membeli produk ramah lingkungan dalam kurun waktu 2 tahun terakhir antara 2019 hingga 2021. Terkait dengan jumlah sampel pada studi ini, sebanyak 476 data dikumpulkan dari para responden, yang dimana, berdasarkan hasil pengolahan data dengan menggunakan metode PLS-SEM, dapat disimpulkan bahwa price fairness, price confidence, and product quality berpengaruh signifikan terhadap customer loyalty melalui customer satisfaction. Selain itu juga, customer satisfaction mampu secara signifikan me-mediasi pengaruh dari price fairness, price confidence, dan product quality terhadap customer loyalty. Selain itu, ditemukan juga bahwa product quality memegang peranan yang lebih signifikan di dalam mempengaruhi loyalitas konsumen terhadap produk- produk ramah lingkungan, mengingat bahwa ada beberapa variabel yang merupakan bagian dari price satisfaction yang tidak berpengaruh signifikan terhadap loyalitas.
... Akademisyenler ve uygulayıcılar, sürekli olarak yeni müşteriler edinmeye kıyasla mevcut müşterileri elde tutmanın getirdiği ekonomik avantajlar nedeni ile ilişkisel pazarlama stratejilerine giderek daha fazla önem vermektedirler (Ndubisi, 2007). Bu, özellikle beş yıldızlı oteller ve restoranlar gibi lüks hizmetler bağlamında önemlidir çünkü bu tüketiciler daha sadık olma ve işletmeye önemli gelir sağlama eğilimi göstermektedirler (Narteh vd., 2013). ...
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... Akademisyenler ve uygulayıcılar, sürekli olarak yeni müşteriler edinmeye kıyasla mevcut müşterileri elde tutmanın getirdiği ekonomik avantajlar nedeni ile ilişkisel pazarlama stratejilerine giderek daha fazla önem vermektedirler (Ndubisi, 2007). Bu, özellikle beş yıldızlı oteller ve restoranlar gibi lüks hizmetler bağlamında önemlidir çünkü bu tüketiciler daha sadık olma ve işletmeye önemli gelir sağlama eğilimi göstermektedirler (Narteh vd., 2013). ...
... The conducted systematic review revealed that customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are considered as the key objectives for CRM (Ndubisi, 2007;Ndubisi et al., 2007;Bodet, 2008;Prasad & Aryasri, 2008;Xu & Gursoy, 2015;Nyadzayo & Khajehzadeh, 2016;Ibojo & Dunmade, 2016;Abtin & Pouramiri, 2016;Filipe et al., 2017;Srivastava & Rai, 2018;Solimun & Fernandes, 2018). ...
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This research proposes a framework linking supply chain management (SCM) practices to customer relationship management (CRM) objectives through better organizational performance. First, critical review was conducted to identify the relationship between SCM practices and organizational performance. Then, a systematic review of published research work on CRM objectives for last two decades was conducted with the purpose of identifying key variables for CRM objectives and their impact on SCM practices through managing organizational performance. The review revealed a set of main variables for CRM objectives (customer satisfaction and customer loyalty). Upon which, a theoretical framework has been developed linking SCM practices to CRM objectives through enhancing organizational performance. This work brings together the concepts of SCM practices and organizational performance. It also provides a comprehensive review on CRM objectives over a time span (2000–2019) in order to develop the framework between SCM practices and CRM objectives through better organizational performance. The proposed framework can help practitioners to understand SCM practices that can lead to better CRM and hence better organizational performance.
... Others stated that brand trust includes a process that is thought out well and considered carefully (Zehir et al., 2011). Three aspects are crucial to measuring the brand's trust (Ndubisi, 2007): the brand promises to prove reliable, consistent with providing quality service, and respect customers. ...
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... Commitment is at the core of relationship marketing research, as it is able to determine the success of a relationship marketing campaign (Addison, Lingham, Uslay, & Lee, 2017;Miquel-Romero, Caplliure-Giner, & Adame-Sánchez, 2014;Moorman, Deshpande, & Zaltman, 2006;Ndubisi, 2007;Verma, Sharma, & Sheth, 2016). Trust, the delivery and fulfilment of promises, is the second pillar and it is, as such, indispensable for a healthy public sector climate and for the capacity to develop a relationship and let it mature (Churchill and Surpernant, 1982;Miquel-Romero et al., 2014;Moorman et al., 2006;Verma et al., 2016). ...
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