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Extending the Tourism Experience: The Role of Customer Engagement

Authors:
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Extending the Tourism Experience: The Role of Customer
Engagement
Kevin Kam Fung So, University of South Carolina
Ceridwyn King, Temple University
Beverley Sparks, Griffith University
Keywords
Customer engagement, brand loyalty, brands, services, customer satisfaction, service quality,
perceived value, brand trust, service evaluation
This is a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Taylor & Francis in the
forthcoming book Customer engagement: Contemporary issues and challenges, edited by
R. J. Brodie, L. D. Hollebeek, and J. Conduit and due for publication in December 2015.
Book Description:
How customers and consumer behavior have been changing due to technology and other forces
is of prime interest. This book addresses the central questions regarding new emerging consumer
behavior; how does social media affect this behavior; how and at what points do emotions affect
consumer decisions; and what triggers this is: How should engagement be conceptualized,
defined and measured? How do social media and other marketing activities create engagement?
The book draws on the rich, extensive knowledge of the authors who are pioneers in the field.
The book's editors have identified the weakness in the current knowledge and aim to address this
gap by touching on significant conceptual and empirical contributions to this emerging literature
stream, providing readers with a comprehensive contemporary perspective of customer
engagement. The book also endeavors to develop a richer narrative around the notion of social
media and customer engagement, and the non-monetary notion of social media within new
media-based social networks.
More information about this book: http://www.tandf.net/books/details/9781138847385/
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Introduction
Tourism products and services are experiential in nature. The fundamental offering provided by
the tourism industry is a travel experience, which results from a combination of a wide variety of
services that a tourist consumes while travelling. These services range from hotel accommodation
to airline services, from a tour at Yellowstone National Park to a delightful theme park experience
at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. The essence of tourism is the development and delivery
of travel experiences to individuals or groups who wish to see, understand, and experience the
nature of different destinations and the way people live, work, and enjoy life in those destinations
(Ritchie, Tung, & Ritchie, 2011). Tourism products generally consist of multiple service touch
points which customers evaluate prior, during and after their tourism experience (Stickdorn &
Zehrer, 2009).
Given this ongoing evaluative process, tourism organizations, such as a hotel or airline, even
destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, and New York, have extensively implemented
customer engagement (CE) strategies, in one form or another, to engage with their customers at
various stages of consumption: pre, during and post. During each stage, certain CE strategies
become more prevalent than others. For example, at the pre-consumption stage, CE may be
primarily driven by a need to obtain or seek consumption related information. Asking questions or
commenting in an online forum help the individual form a consumption vision necessary to
determine product choice. In contrast, during the consumption stage, CE may be motivated by the
desire to share the experience with others, by checking in, or liking a post on Facebook etc. At the
post-consumption stage customers may still be motivated to share their experiences personally
with their friends and relatives, but also may desire maintaining a relationship with the tourism
organization, through following the brand via various social media outlets to receive updates and
newsletters. In addition some, but not a large percentage of customers, may also write comments
and reviews publicly on third party websites.
The prevalence of CE activities in the tourism industry is suggested to be the result of tourism
products' heavy emphasis on the experience. While tourism can be considered a part of the service
sector, and therefore subject to the well-established inherent service characteristics, the
experiential nature of a tourism product suggests that tourism consumers may be more likely to
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participate in CE activities in contrast to other service products. In the context of tourism, or other
experiential purchases, customers often rely on CE activities to make or reinforce purchase
decisions, as evident in the previous discussion. As such, from a tourism perspective, CE is an
extremely relevant and integral element of a customer’s experience, thus emphasizing its
significance for management of tourism organizations. For tourism organizations, CE extends the
customer experience beyond the actual service encounter, providing multiple opportunities, if
managed well, for organizations to have a positive and meaningful influence with respect to
consumer attitudes and behavior. It is from this perspective that the insight of this chapter is
illuminated. While CE can be considered a volitional act on behalf of individuals, the experiential
nature of tourism motivates consumers to participate in such activities, at a minimum to make an
informed decision thereby reducing perceived risk but ideally, from an organizational perspective,
to participate in conspicuous consumption. As such, the concept of CE has the potential to extend
the tourism experience beyond the service encounter through interacting and engaging with the
customers beyond purchase, particularly in the pre and post consumption period. Tourism brands
and organizations, therefore, have a unique opportunity, and to some extent obligation, to
effectively manage these interactions to enhance positive customer experiences. It is from this
perspective that we propose CE as being a necessary requirement for experiential brands to
manage, and rather than being seen as an additional benefit of a satisfied customer, being seen as
integral for a satisfied customer to be realized.
The remainder of this chapter is arranged as follows. The ensuing section presents an introduction
to the emergence of the CE concept, followed by a review of the conceptual roots and definitions
of CE. The subsequent section briefly reviews the characteristics of tourism services. Next, the
chapter provides discussion of three dominant CE activities in tourism including online reviews,
blogging and social networking. While CE is a phenomenon that could occur both in an online as
well as offline environment, this chapter focuses predominantly on engagement behaviour through
an online or social media platform. From a practitioner perspective, these customer engagement
behaviors (CEBs) are the ones that tourism organizations are most focused on and active in.
Interestingly, however, these CEBs emphasize engagement between customers or prospective
customers rather than engagement directly with the organizations. As such, the brand/organization
is more of a bystander that has limited control over the content and messages of these
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communications. Nonetheless, these CEBs are a key determinant in a tourism organization’s
success given the dominant role they play in shaping new and existing customer’s perceptions of
the brand and by default, extending the tourism experience beyond the service encounter. The
chapter concludes with a summary, highlighting the importance of understanding CE not only from
a behavioral perspective, but for a tourism organization, the importance of influencing the
psychological perspective which subsequently informs CEBs.
The rise of customer engagement
Entering a new technology era that is characterized by a tremendous increase in the popularity of
social media and the Internet, the emerging concept of CE has dominated many recent discussions
among marketing academics (Brodie et al., 2011; van Doorn et al., 2010; Verhoef, Reinartz, &
Krafft, 2010) and practitioners (Econsultancy, 2011). A significant level of interest in the CE
concept was stimulated by the 3rd Thought Leadership Conference on Customer Management held
in Montabaur, Germany in 2009. More than 40 leading scholars in the field of marketing
intensively discussed key issues in customer engagement. This conference resulted in a special
issue of articles that constitute seminal discussions of this relatively new, yet highly relevant,
marketing concept published in the Journal of Service Research. The articles provided critical new
insights for managers wrestling with these issues (Verhoef et al., 2010) as well as sparked a
significant line of continued academic investigations in the marketing literature. A Google Scholar
search with the term “customer engagement” generated approximately 1300 results prior to 2008.
Following the illumination of the concept, academic attention started to increase with 448 results
identified in 2009, 619 results in 2010, 949 results in 2011, 1170 results in 2012, 1550 results in
2013 and, most recently, 1780 articles were published in 2014 that related to CE. This exponential
growth pattern suggests that academic interest in CE is likely to further intensify in the years to
come.
The importance of CE is increasingly recognized from a practitioner perspective as well. For
example, Econsultancy (2011) surveyed more than 1,000 companies and agencies across various
industries worldwide and found that 50% of the companies regard CE as “essential” for their
organizations, with 33% considering CE as “important”. The Gallup Group (2010), suggests
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World class organizations unleash their potential for growth by optimizing their customer
relationship. Organizations that have optimized engagement have outperformed their
competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. Their customers buy more,
spend more, return more often, and stay longer (p.1).
While not using the exact same term of CE, marketing scholars have long promoted the relevance
of engagement, suggesting that the strongest affirmation of brand loyalty occurs when customers
are willing to invest time or other resources in the brand beyond those expended during purchase
or consumption of the brand (Keller, 2003). Typical examples of such consumer activities include
joining a club centered on the brand, visiting brand-related websites, and participating in chat
rooms, which are forms of CE behaviors (Marketing Science Institute, 2010; Verhoef et al., 2010).
More recently, the Marketing Science Institute (2014) has identified CE as one of the key priority
areas for 2014-2016. Academic research has highlighted the benefits of deliberately enhancing CE
activities. For example, Sashi (2012) argues that CE expands the role of consumers by including
them in the value adding process as co-creators of value, which enhances need satisfaction of both
customers as well as the firm. Wirtz et al. (2013) suggest that when delighted or loyal customers
share their brand enthusiasm or delight in interactions with others via social networks they become
brand advocates, laying a strong foundation for an enduring relationship with the brand. Empirical
research indicates that CE in social media enhances self-brand connection and brand usage intent
(Hollebeek, Glynn, & Brodie, 2014). CE has also been found to enhance consumers’ evaluation of
a service brand and trust level attributed to the brand, as well as their subsequent brand loyalty (So
et al., 2014b). Furthermore, according to the Marketing Science Institute (2010), non-transactional
activities are increasingly seen as a route for creating, building and enhancing customer-firm
relationships, described as the “expanded domain of relationship marketing” (Vivek, Beatty &
Morgan, 2012, p. 129).
Definition of customer engagment
The term engagement, in a business-related context, originally referred to employee engagement
(EE), which is described as the simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s preferred
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self in task behaviors that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence, and
active, full role performances” (Kahn, 1990, p. 700). EE has been conceptualized as a motivational
construct comprising attention and absorption (Rothbard, 2001), and may include an identification
dimension (Bakker et al., 2008; Demerouti & Bakker, 2008). EE is “a positive, fulfilling, work-
related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption” (Schaufeli et al.,
2002, p. 74), suggesting that EE is a persistent and pervasive affective-cognitive state (Schaufeli
& Bakker, 2004). Consistent in these definitions is the focus on psychological aspects.
In contrast, marketing scholars have conceptualized CE to include a strong behavioral focus. For
example, the Marketing Science Institute (2010) identifies CE as a priority topic and describes the
concept as “customers’ behavioral manifestation toward a brand or firm beyond purchase, which
results from motivational drivers including: word-of-mouth activity, recommendations, customer-
to-customer interactions, blogging, writing reviews, and other similar activities” (p. 4). The
academic (e.g., Bijmolt et al., 2010; van Doorn et al., 2010; Verhoef et al., 2010) and practitioner
(e.g., Shevlin, 2007) literature also demonstrate a behavioral orientation.
However, several scholars argued that the conceptualization of CE needs to go beyond a pure
action focus to incorporate both psychological and behavioral dimensions (e.g., Brodie et al., 2011;
Hollebeek, 2009; Hollebeek, 2011a; Patterson, Yu, & de Ruyter, 2006). In particular, support for
broadening the conceptual domain of CE was grounded in the thinking that pure behavioral
participation in CE activities does not necessarily mean true CE with a brand. A customer may
engage in a brand discussion forum to acquire product information or reduce perceived risks
(Brodie et al., 2013), rather than to be connected to the brand. As the truly engaged customer must
have an enduring psychological connection with the brand in addition to behavioral participation
(Hollebeek, 2011b; So, King, & Sparks, 2014a), a multidimensional approach captures the full
conceptual domain of the CE concept.
Consistent with this approach, several multidimensional conceptualizations of CE have been
proposed (e.g., Brodie et al., 2013; Hollebeek, 2011b; So et al., 2014a; van Doorn et al., 2010),
which provide a significant conceptual foundation for CE. Based on an extensive review of the use
of the term “engagement” in the social science, management, and marketing literature, Brodie et
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al. (2011) define CE as a psychological state that occurs by virtue of interactive, cocreative
customer experiences with a focal object such as a brand in focal service relationships. They
further describe that CE happens under a specific set of context dependent conditions generating
differing CE levels, and suggest that CE is a multidimensional concept subject to a context- and/or
stakeholder-specific expression of relevant cognitive, emotional and/or behavioral dimensions.
This definition provided an important contribution to the advancement of the CE concept,
particularly by describing the nature of CE as well as its boundaries from definitional point of
view. In advocating that CE may require consideration be given to both the psychological aspects
of engagement, as well as behavioral participation, this conceptual definition also underlines that
CE is context specific suggesting understanding of CE requires consideration being given to the
context of the research settings. This is because CE will vary in its levels of intensity, complexity
as well as potentially at different points in time, based on the interactive experiences between a
focal CE subject (customer) and object (brand) under a specific set of situational conditions (e.g.
CE in online versus offline environment) (see Brodie et al., 2011for a detailed discussion). This
consideration of context is also highlighted by Hollebeek (2011a) who suggests that CE is a
context-dependent state of mind characterized by specific levels of cognitive, emotional, and
behavioral activity in brand interactions.
While highlighting the propensity of CE to vary dependent upon the individual and the object, the
original multidimensional conceptualizations of CE stopped short of articulating the attributes
upon which this variability would be evident. Therefore, in seeking to build on the work of Brodie
et al. (2011) and others, So et al. (2014a) advanced a more prescriptive definition of the concept,
thereby affording a more nuanced, and therefore applied construct that could be easily
operationalized. Defining CE as a customers’ personal connection to a brand as manifested in
cognitive, affective and behavioral responses outside of the purchase, So et al. (2014a)
conceptualized CE as a higher-order construct comprising five first-order factors, including
enthusiasm (or vigor), attention, absorption, interaction, and identification.
Enthusiasm represents an individual’s strong level of excitement and interest regarding the focus
of engagement, such as a brand. In a work context, engagement encompasses the employee’s sense
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of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, and pride (e.g., Salanova, Agut, & Peiro, 2005; Schaufeli
& Bakker, 2004). An engaged employee feels enthusiastic and passionate about his/her work and
role in the organization, consistent with the CE dimensions of vigor (Patterson et al., 2006) and
activation (Hollebeek, 2009). Attention describes a consumer’s attentiveness to the brand. Within
the EE literature, attention is the duration of focus on, and mental preoccupation with, work
(Rothbard, 2001). Regulatory engagement theory also defines engagement as sustained attention,
where behaviorally turning attention away from something lowers the level of engagement
(Scholer & Higgins, 2009). Absorption is a pleasant state in which the customer is fully
concentrated, happy, and deeply engrossed while playing the role as a consumer of the brand. In a
work context, absorption partially defines engagement (Hakanen, Schaufeli, & Ahola, 2008),
which is characterized by being so fully concentrated and engrossed that time passes quickly and
one has difficulty detaching from his/her role. In the marketing domain, scholars have also argued
that strong engagement extends beyond concentrating on something to being absorbed or
engrossed with it (Scholer & Higgins, 2009). Interaction refers to a customer’s online and offline
participation with the brand, or other customers, outside of the purchase transaction. Marketing
researchers promote CE as manifesting in behaviors such as customer interactions (Bijmolt et al.,
2010; Marketing Science Institute, 2010; van Doorn et al., 2010). The relevance of customer
interaction at the brand level is supported by the well established notion of brand community,
which represents a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand (Muniz &
O'Guinn, 2001). Identification is an individual’s perceived oneness with, or belongingness to, the
brand. Work engagement is characterized by a strong identification with one’s work (Bakker et
al., 2008). Similarly, strong consumer-company relationships are based on consumers’
identification with the companies that help them satisfy one or more important self-definitional
needs (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003).
The five underlying dimensions collectively reflect the psychological and behavioral aspects of
CE. In describing the different dimensions of CE from both a psychological and behavioral
standpoint, So et al.’s (2014) conceptualization affords insight with respect to not only how CE is
realized, but also provides a diagnostic tool for determining areas of variability as well as drivers
of CE within different contexts. While informative to all contexts that seek to examine CE, So et
al.’s (2014) work is particularly insightful for experiential brands given that it was originally
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developed within the tourism industry, where consumer attitudes and behavior are influenced pre,
during, and post encounter due to the experiential nature of the tourism product. For example,
while the actual service encounter may have the most significant impact on a customers evaluation
of that particular transaction, experiences pre-encounter determine consumer choice and those post
encounter, not only have the potential to solidify customer preference, but also have a ripple effect
by impacting new consumer’s pre-encounter experience via word of mouth (WOM)
communications. It is for this reason that the conceptualization of CE is considered to have
extended our understanding of experiential organizations relationships with their customers,
beyond that of the core service encounter.
In a tourism context, where today’s CE activities, particularly those that are generated via online
mediums such as Tripadvisor and Yelp, are prevalent in management decision making processes,
the ability to appreciate the psychological mechanisms that drive CE behavior, is considered to be
essential for being able to measure the effects of various initiatives that are instigated for sole
purpose of generating CE. To appreciate how CE is an integral element of experiential services,
consideration, therefore, is given to its application in a tourism setting.
Tourism services: A case of experiential services
A tourism experience involves the provision and consumption of a collection of individual service
components. Within the service marketing literature, in differentiating between goods and
services, scholars have identified several unique features of services that distinguish them from
goods, namely intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity and perishability (e.g., Zeithaml, Bitner,
& Gremler, 2006; Zeithaml, Parasuraman, & Berry, 1985). While the difference between services
and goods has been increasingly challenged (e.g., Vargo & Lusch, 2004), these characteristics still
present a number of difficulties to tourism marketers and potential tourists. For example, on the
one hand, from a marketing perspective, the intangible nature of services creates difficulty for
marketers to display, demonstrate or effectively communicate a service offering to customers
(Grönroos, 1998), thus making the articulation of service attributes or benefits a challenge for
service marketers (Mattila, 2000).
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On the other hand, from a consumer perspective, the intangibility and heterogeneity features of
services make pre-purchase evaluation of a service more difficult than that of a manufactured good,
because manufactured goods are usually associated with a greater level of search qualities (Mittal
& Baker, 2002). For example, tangible products, such as mobile phones and clothing, can be easily
seen, touched and tried on prior to the actual purchase (Zeithaml et al., 2006). In contrast,
intangible services, such as hotel accommodations or holidays, have few physical elements of the
service performance for consumers to easily inspect prior to the actual experience (Mittal & Baker,
2002). In addition, services are characterized by experience qualities (e.g., Zeithaml et al., 2006),
and the quality of the purchase can only be evaluated after the service experience. For example,
for a hotel stay the consumer can assess many aspects of service only after checking in, such as
the quality of the facilities provided, the cleanliness of the rooms, and the friendliness of the staff.
Therefore, despite the substantial changes in the marketing literature that occurred in the last two
decades, the aforementioned challenges are still critically relevant, particularly for experiential
products such as a tourism experience.
In addition to its service characteristics, tourism has long been described as an information-intense
industry (Sheldon, 1997), making it critical to understand changes in technologies and consumer
behavior that impacts the distribution and accessibility of travel-related information (Xiang &
Gretzel, 2010). Technology has dramatically changed the landscape of many industries including
tourism. In particular, the web, and what is known as Social Media or Web 2.0, have given
consumers much more control, information and power over the market process, posing tourism
operators with important challenges (Constantinides, Romero, & Boria, 2009). Conversely, Web
2.0 features such as interactivity and user generated content advance the potential for brand-to-
customer and customer-to-customer interactions, providing increased opportunities for tourism
firms to engage with their customers outside of the service encounter through non-transactional
customer activities such as writing reviews, joining a Facebook community, blogging, or similar
activities collectively termed CE behaviour (CEB) (van Doorn et al., 2010; Verhoef et al., 2010).
The significance of these beyond-purchase interactions is highlighted by Verhoef et al. (2009) who
posit that customer experience encompasses the total experience, including the search, purchase,
consumption, and after-sale phases of the experience, thus extending customer experience beyond
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the service encounter. The significance of these ‘outside of transaction’ experiences is evident in
the attention they get in both academia and industry. There has been a significant increase in the
number of tourism and hospitality articles dedicated to research related to online consumer
oriented platforms in recent years and the overwhelming majority of tourism providers, large and
small, have a presence in a variety of social media platforms. With this in mind, discussion turns
to the emphasis of both tourism academic and practitioner interest with respect to CE, namely
CEB. Specifically, three of the more dominant forms of CE activities in the tourism industry are
reviewed, highlighting their integral role in shaping a consumer’s tourism experiences.
Online reviews
One of the most common forms of CEB that are ubiquitous in tourism is customer participation in
online travel reviews. An AC Nielsen (2012) study attests that the primary reason for the growth
of this form of CEB is indicated by the fact that of the many forms of media, online reviews are
the second most trusted form of communication after personal recommendations, with 70 percent
of global consumers surveyed indicating they trust this platform. Online consumer reviews, as a
type of CEB highlighted by the Marketing Science Institute (2010), as well as a form of electronic
WOM, are having an unprecedented impact on how consumers view tourism and hospitality
products and services (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). They are considered to be a powerful source of
information affecting tourists’ pre-purchase evaluation of a holiday experience (Browning, So, &
Sparks, 2013; Hudson & Thal, 2013). The advent of the Internet has made it even easier for
consumers to interact with other customers or even the business firms, by posting or accessing
online reviews anonymously evaluating hotels and restaurants in any tourist destination (Buhalis
& Law, 2008). These interactions allow potential customers to leverage the highly experiential
aspects of people’s knowledge and information, making aggregated individual experiences
available to many others (Flanagin & Metzger, 2013). Information exchanged or obtained as a
result of the interactions are often perceived by consumers as having a higher level of credibility
and trustworthiness than traditional marketing communications (Akehurst, 2009), thus providing
a quick way for potential customers to evaluate a holiday destination or a particular hotel before
their actual visitation, and subsequently, a more influential way to shape consumer expectations
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of the experience than any form of communication channel that an organization may have control
over.
While common platforms for travelers to share their travel experiences include many online review
websites such as Yahoo! Travel, Igougo, and Lonely Planet (Lee, Law, & Murphy, 2011), one
particular platform that is worthy of mentioning is TripAdvisor, an American travel website that
provides reviews of travel-related content as well as interactive travel forums for travelers at
difference stages of their consumption journey: pre (reading), during (reading and/or writing) and
post consumption (writing). TripAdvisor is the world's largest travel site (comScore, 2014),
enabling travelers to plan and book the perfect trip (TripAdvisor, 2015). As one of the largest
platforms for customer interactions, it offers trusted advice from travelers and a wide variety of
travel choices and planning features with seamless links to booking tools that check hundreds of
websites to find the best hotel prices. TripAdvisor branded sites make up the largest travel
community in the world, reaching 315 million unique monthly visitors (Google Analytics, 2014),
and more than 200 million reviews and opinions covering more than 4.5 million accommodations,
restaurants, and attractions. The proliferation of third party review sites, such as TripAdvisor,
provides consumers with significantly expanded opportunities to generate publicly-available
commentaries on a hotel or destination. In addition to facilitating asynchronous customer
connections, these third party sites also facilitate customer-brand connections by allowing the
organizations that customers provided feedback about to openly comment and respond to customer
feedback.
As such, from an organizational perspective, the increasing usage of such a platform for customers
to engage in WOM related to a particular tourism organization or destination has allowed tourism
operators to actively engage with their customers outside of the encounter. Responding to
consumer comments or questions, whether positive or negative, result in a dialogue that is
characteristic of CE benefits for both the consumer and the organization. Therefore, while online
reviews are based on user generated content, which gives them a heighten level of credibility with
respect to influencing consumers, the ability for interaction affords the tourism organization an
opportunity to indirectly shape consumer attitudes and behavior (Sparks, So, & Bradley, 2016),
thereby expanding the customer’s experience with a tourism brand.
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The overwhelming significance of online reviews can be attributed to this one platform facilitating
engagement in several ways. For example, consumers can create content, while others may seek
information. As such, in the tourism domain, the impact of online reviews has attracted a number
of studies examining the effects of online review as a form of CEB from both the consumer and
the firm’s perspective. Specifically, previous studies have mainly focused on the increased use of
review sites and the influence that online reviews have on firm performance indicators such as
hotel room bookings (e.g., Ye, Law, & Gu, 2009) and restaurant popularity (e.g., Zhang et al.,
2010), as well as consumer outcomes such as consideration of hotel (e.g., Vermeulen & Seegers,
2009), trust in the hotel and intention to book the hotel (e.g., Sparks & Browning, 2011), as well
as their potential consumers’ attributions of service quality and firms’ ability to control service
delivery (Browning et al., 2013).This line of research clearly demonstrates that CEBs in the form
of online reviews, is a significant and influential factor shaping consumer attitudes and behavior,
that has the potential to alter the consumer’s evaluation of the service encounter thereby
highlighting the significance of CE for experiential brands.
Travel blogs
Another prominent platform that facilitates CEBs for experiential brands such as those in the
tourism industry is blogging. The popularity of blogs has grown substantially over the past few
years as advancements in communication technology have become more accessible, allowing
consumers to engage more easily in social commentaries. Blogging is one of the most increasingly
popular forms of social media, where people are engaged through being part of a conversation.
The conversation begins with one person publishing an article, in which readers give their
comments (Stickdorn & Zehrer, 2009). Blogs in the context of tourism, often described as travel
blogs, are defined by Pühringer and Taylor (2008) as individual entries which relate to planned,
current or past travel. Travel blogs have increased in use and popularity over the last few years
(Pan, MacLaurin, & Crotts, 2007). Travel blog sites such as TravelBlog.org and TravelPost.com
continue to grow in popularity, resulting in a growing recognition that they facilitate powerful
discussions that could affect consumer decisions and evaluations of destinations and even reshape
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the communication networks previously dominated by traditional information suppliers (Bosangit,
Dulnuan, & Mena, 2012; Xiang & Gretzel, 2010).
The most obvious form of blogs in tourism is those written by travelers who publish their travel
stories and recommendations online. The interaction occurs when blog contributors share detailed
narratives of their recent experience with specific tourism products leading to recommendations,
while users acquire information from them to base future purchase decisions on (Zehrer, Crotts, &
Magnini, 2011). Unlike online reviews, which allow consumers to provide both qualitative and
quantitative reviews of tourism products such as hotels, attractions, and other travel experiences
(O’Conner 2008), travel blogs are online diaries and stories meant to provide information and
engage the reader in the travel experience (Banyai & Glover, 2012). They are made up of one or
more individual entries strung together by a common theme (for example, a trip itinerary or the
purchase of a round the world ticket). They are often written by tourists to report back to friends,
families or other potential tourists about their activities and experiences during trips. BlogPulse
and Technocrati reported that the number of monitored blogs had increased significantly from 3
million in 2004 to 164 million in 2011 (Trenor, 2011), and the 2009 “State of Blogosphere”
reported that 20% of the blogs surveyed were tagged as travel blogs (Banyai & Glover, 2012).
This global phenomenon underlies the critical role of travel blogs as a CE activity for travelers.
Travel blog websites such as TravelBlog.org, hosts more than 700,000 blog entries with more than
200,000 members, increasing by about 100 new members that join daily (TravelBlog, 2015). It
provides an important platform for customer interactions by offering worldwide access to people
looking to share information with others about their travel experiences (Banyai & Glover, 2012).
One of the major reasons for customers engaging in this form of CEB, particularly at the pre-
purchase stage, is the perceived higher credibility of consumer opinions compared to traditional
tourist information sources (Schmallegger & Carson, 2008; Zehrer et al., 2011). This is because
they view blogs as authoritative WOM communication. From a tourist’s perspective, blogs,
therefore, are a form of digitized WOM communication enabling consumers to gain insight from
other consumers regarding tourism products (Zehrer et al., 2011). In contrast, at the post-purchase
consumption stage, millions of individuals have joined travel blog web sites to share their travel
experiences online thereby reinforcing their consumption memories. Through sharing their travel
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stories online, tourists communicate with an audience and construct their identities that often
include a brand and/or destination identity, thus strengthening the psychological bond between the
customer and the organization/destination. Scholars have suggested that blogging has become an
aspect of the tourist production and consumption process (Bosangit, McCabe, & Hibbert, 2009a),
forming part of the tourist experience (Bosangit et al., 2012). As such, blogging as a dominant
platform that facilitates CEBs, consistent with online reviews, is thought to extend the tourism
experience beyond the service transaction. Bosangit et al. (2012) suggest that an examination of
travel blogs and considering how tourists reconstruct their travel experiences and the actions
behind the blogging can provide a deeper understanding of the post-consumption behavior of
tourists.
From an organizational point of view, tourism firms or destinations can also leverage CE in
blogging. As travel blogs express the tourists’ experience at a specific destination, marketers need
to view blogs as a new technological phenomenon with implications for marketing and promotion
of a destination (Pan et al., 2007). The constraint-free feedback offered by tourists on their travel
blogs provide destination marketing organizations (DMOs) with information about tourists’
perceptions and impressions of the destination, thus shedding light on how tourists interpret the
destination (Banyai & Glover, 2012). As such, destination marketers need to pay particular
attention to this type of CEB given the wealth of insight about particularities of a destination
including attractions, facilities, infrastructure, and, at a more abstract value, the overall atmosphere
of the destination that is provided (Tussyadiah & Fesenmaier, 2008). Furthermore, travel blog
content can be used for improving and monitoring destination images and products by responding
to tourists’ demands and expectations, and also adjusting competitive strategies (Carson, 2008;
Litvin, Goldsmith, & Pan, 2008; Pan et al., 2007). This is in addition to the deeper understanding
of bloggers’ consumption and evaluation of tourism products that is also revealed (Bosangit,
McCabe, & Hibbert, 2009b; Tussyadiah & Fesenmaier, 2008). The experience of travel blogging,
whether that be as an author or reader/responder, is significant CEB that affords access to vital
marketing information that is both relevant to consumers and the organization, thereby extending
the tourism experience.
16
Social networks
Since their introduction, social network sites (SNSs) such as MySpace, Facebook, Cyworld, and
Bebo have attracted millions of users, many of whom have fully integrated these sites into their
daily lives. Social network sites (SNSs) are increasingly attracting the attention of academic and
industry researchers intrigued by their affordances and reach (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Of particular
significance is Facebook, which emerged as a leading social networking site with 350 million
active users in July 2009 (Treadaway & Smith, 2010) and grew to 500 million active users in 2010
which soon doubled to 1 billion in 2012 (Facebook, 2015). Through enhancing personal
connections through the site’s news feed, chat and messaging features, Facebook has become the
website Internet users spend the most time on.
While the emergence of social network sites such as Facebook has fundamentally changed the
marketing landscape in recent years, the CEBs exhibited in these platforms is of special relevance
to tourism. According to the 2013 Portrait of American TravelersSM study, Facebook users are
passionate about sharing their travel experiences. In 2012, Facebook reviewed the top stories
people shared to their Facebook timelines and discovered that the top story being shared by users
was travel experiences with 42% of stories shared to users Facebook timelines related to travel
experiences, more than double that of the next category. In the evolving digital marketing
landscape, it is clear that consumers want to share their travels with others (MMGY Global, 2014).
As the tourism experience is the dominant type of experience shared on Facebook, this platform
for CEBs offers many benefits to tourism brands. Facebook is a gathering place of a large pool of
consumers and this social networking site is also a mine of consumer information and a means of
spreading information to build market presence (Hsu, 2012). For example, in 2011, VisitBritain
invited consumers to register for a Unite the Invite app. Each individual was invited to upload a
picture of him or herself and they were then sent the photo of another random registrant, which
they were asked to upload to their Facebook wall, encouraging Facebook friends to share so that
they could locate their match on the social network. The fastest pair to “unite their invite” each
won a trip for two to the United Kingdom. The campaign’s goal was to attract people to visit the
Love UK Facebook page. Twelve thousand people entered Unite the Invite, and the Love UK
17
Facebook page shortly gained 25,000 fans during the campaign (Birkner, 2011; Hudson & Thal,
2013).
The platform has also evolved to facilitate business connections with consumers. Social network
sites such as Facebook serve as an important tool that supports both eMarketing and viral
marketing, enabling the process of building connections to a network or social circle (Zarella,
2010). Through Facebook Pages, Facebook Advertising, and Facebook Applications brands are
able to build long-term online dialogs and relationships with consumers while telling their unique
story to the world. Facebook offers travel brands, such as Hilton, Cathay Pacific, Shangri-La, and
even destinations including London, New York, and Australia, the ability to identify prospective
travelers, communicate directly with users, engage with advocates and create branded customer
experiences through advertisements and custom-developed Facebook applications, making it the
most powerful social media channel for travel marketers (MMGY Global, 2014). For example,
Tourism Australia's official Facebook page has attracted more than 6 million followers. Every day
the organization posts images of beautiful parts of Australia which attract thousands of likes and
shares among its followers, creating tremendous marketing exposure. Furthermore, Facebook
allows people to gather and form relationships within a virtual space and build personal pages and
then connect with friends to communicate and share content (Treadaway & Smith, 2010).
The effects of CE via a social network site on customer’s perceptions or evaluation of a tourism
service are supported in the literature. For example, Maurer and Wiegmann (2011) suggest that
Facebook provides the ideal platform for direct communication between organizations and
customers. In the context of special events, Paris, Lee, and Seery (2010) found that users’ trust and
expected relationship through Facebook had a significant effect on users’ acceptance of Facebook
and their intended offline behavior to attend the event. The results of their study suggest that
businesses should actively seek to build trust with their consumers using their Facebook pages,
and that their efforts should be made to focus on making their Facebook Events straightforward
and entertaining to be most effective. The findings also suggest that users’ acceptance of Facebook
Events can influence their actual intentions to attend an event. Similarly, Leung, Bai, and Stahura
(2013) found that hotel customers’ social media experiences in Facebook and Twitter influence
their attitudes-toward-social-media-site, which in turn influences their attitudes-toward-hotel-
18
brand, and that hotel customers’ attitudes-toward-hotel-brand affects their hotel booking intentions
and, in turn, intentions to spread electronic WOM.
Conclusion
This chapter has argued that CE plays a significant role in expanding the tourism experience of
customers. The chapter discussed three dominant forms of CEB in the tourism industry including
online reviews, travel blogs, and social networks. This is important, as there has been a sustained
growth in these forms of communication with customers and as such, an increase in the need for
business and research attention into ways to further engage customers using these channels is
vital. While the extant literature overwhelmingly supports the effects of these CEBs on how
consumers think and feel about a brand, it is worth noting that they are behavioral manifestations
of CE. Although these CEBs can occur pre, during, and post consumption, and therefore be
considered prolific, it is important to note that they only represent the outcome of CE. While
practitioners’ interests in fostering these CEBs are heightened, it should be noted that customers
that engage in these actions may not necessarily be truly connected or engaged with the brand.
Furthermore, as evident in the previous discussion, CEBs in a tourism context are predominantly
focused on customer to customer interactions, given its experiential nature, in contrast to customer
to brand. So what, therefore, is the role of the tourism organization in facilitating CE? For CEBs
to be evident, the psychological aspects of CE, such as identification, enthusiasm, and attention,
need to be considered. Through the provision of a service experience that enables consumers to
create a psychological connection to the organization, management can be assured that the
exhibition of CEBs pre, during, and post consumption are not just driven by transactional motives
(e.g., searching for information), but rather a deeper and more enduring desire to want to maintain
a relationship with the brand.
While the emphasis of this chapter was on illuminating how CE has extended the tourism
experience beyond the core service encounter, it is important to note that to only focus on the
outcome (i.e. CEBs) which is not within the control of the organization, in contrast to focusing on
19
developing the psychological connection, of which the organizations has more direct influence,
will be to the long term detriment of any tourism organization wanting to engage in a meaningful
way with customers. CE is more than behavioral participation. As identified in previous literature,
there are many facets of CE that lead to behavioral engagement (So et al., 2014a; Vivek, Beatty,
& Morgan, 2012). Advancing the concept of CE necessitates not only an understanding of mere
participation by customers, but also what drives that behavior, aspects of which organizations must
be aware of when developing a meaningful CE strategy.
20
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... However, factors such as satisfaction, loyalty and price perception are crucial for a destination's success. As tourism companies increasingly incorporate platforms for customer interaction in their business, a broader understanding of customer engagement strategies is needed because it can help explain and predict visitors' behavior more precisely (So et al., 2016a). Moreover, the tourism industry context in particular lacks research regarding the effects of customer engagement and its antecedents (Romero, 2017). ...
... Potential benefits of customer engagement are already discussed in the tourism and hospitality literature. For instance, visitors' recommendation behavior is able to have an impact on consumers' perceptions of service quality, enabling tourism organizations to attract more visitors (So et al., 2016a). Interactional characteristics of customer engagement include customers' participation with the brand as well as with other customers (So et al., 2014), influencing customers' value perceptions of hospitality services and experiences (Taheri et al., 2017). ...
... As touristic attractions are experiential in nature, customers heavily rely on WOM activities and referrals from other customers, representing two of the most common forms of CEB in tourism context. Particularly before deciding on a certain destination, both forms are an essential source of information influencing other visitors' evaluation of a holiday experience (Browning et al., 2013;So et al., 2016a). ...
Article
Purpose The transition from multichannel to omnichannel retailing requires a better conceptualisation, especially for customer experience in smart shopping malls. Therefore, this study aims to propose a theoretical model that captures customers’ omnichannel experiences in smart shopping malls in terms of personal interaction, physical environment and virtual environment encounters. It examines the mediating role of flow experience on the relationship between the three types of encounters and customers’ intention to revisit smart shopping malls. Design/methodology/approach The study draws on four key theories: the service encounter model, trust-commitment theory, flow theory and experiential value theory. A total of 553 completed questionnaires were collected from customers (millennials) in the United Kingdom (UK). The data was analysed using partial least squares-structural equation modelling. Findings The findings show that physical environment encounters and personal interaction encounters play a significant role in customers’ omnichannel experiences in smart malls. Also, of significance are the following aspects of virtual environment encounters: interface design, personalisation, trust, privacy, consumer–peer interaction and relationship commitment. The findings highlight the significant mediating role of flow on the relationships between these three types of encounters and intention, and the effect of flow on omnichannel service usage in smart shopping malls. Originality/value The research contributes to the existing literature by proposing a conceptual model: the smart shopping mall omnichannel customer experience (SSMCE) model. The findings offer practical guidance to shopping malls and retailers who wish to enhance the customer omnichannel experience.
... However, factors such as satisfaction, loyalty and price perception are crucial for a destination's success. As tourism companies increasingly incorporate platforms for customer interaction in their business, a broader understanding of customer engagement strategies is needed because it can help explain and predict visitors' behavior more precisely (So et al., 2016a). Moreover, the tourism industry context in particular lacks research regarding the effects of customer engagement and its antecedents (Romero, 2017). ...
... Potential benefits of customer engagement are already discussed in the tourism and hospitality literature. For instance, visitors' recommendation behavior is able to have an impact on consumers' perceptions of service quality, enabling tourism organizations to attract more visitors (So et al., 2016a). Interactional characteristics of customer engagement include customers' participation with the brand as well as with other customers (So et al., 2014), influencing customers' value perceptions of hospitality services and experiences (Taheri et al., 2017). ...
... As touristic attractions are experiential in nature, customers heavily rely on WOM activities and referrals from other customers, representing two of the most common forms of CEB in tourism context. Particularly before deciding on a certain destination, both forms are an essential source of information influencing other visitors' evaluation of a holiday experience (Browning et al., 2013;So et al., 2016a). ...
Article
Purpose This study aims to investigate the influence of customer satisfaction on four facets of customer engagement: customer influencer behavior, knowledge behavior, referral behavior and purchase behavior. Furthermore, its (in)direct influence on affective attitude, price perception and loyalty is investigated. Design/methodology/approach Two studies were conducted. First, an experimental scenario design was set up to investigate the hypothesized relations between customer engagement; customers’ affective attitude and their loyalty; and their price perceptions. Second, a survey at a national forest park center helped to secure external validity. Findings The results indicate that engaged customers develop a more positive affective attitude, which leads to increased future loyalty and positive price perceptions. In addition, the results suggest that assessing cognitive approaches exclusively is not sufficient for understanding customers’ price perceptions. Research limitations/implications Future research should investigate antecedents of customer engagement behaviors (CEBs) other than satisfaction, and extend this research by taking into account further mediators that might be cognitive rather than affective. Practical implications The results are of superior importance for services or tourism destinations. Fostering CEB can help in improving a destinations’ performance. Originality/value This research expands the current state of literature by investigating several dimensions of CEB at one time, as well as by examining customers’ affective attitude toward the organization as a potential mediator, extending previous research approaches.
... Further, the broad spectrum of interactions that touristic facilities offer facilitates engagement (Taheri et al., 2014). As tourism products and services are experiential in nature, WOM activities are one of the most common forms of customers' engagement behavior in a tourism context and represent an essential source of information affecting other visitors' pre-purchase evaluation of a holiday experience (Browning, So, & Sparks, 2013;So, King, & Sparks, 2016a). For tourism organizations, customer engagement is of interest at various stages of consumption: before, during and after. ...
... In advance of the consumption, customer engagement is driven by the need for information and, during the consumption, by the desire to share the experience with others. After the consumption of a tourism service, customer engagement may still be driven by the wish to share personal experiences, as well as by the desire to maintain a relationship with the tourism organization (So et al., 2016a). ...
... This is consistent with the assumption that engagement has the ability to shape customers' attitudes and hence their loyalty (Sprott, Czellar, & Spangenberg, 2009). Among other things, it is the interactivity of customer engagement that supports the process of building enduring relationships that engender favorable attitudes such as trust and affective commitment (So et al., 2016a;Vivek et al., 2012). ...
Article
This research focuses on word-of-mouth behavior as a form of customer influencer behavior, which represents an important facet of customer engagement. While recent research suggests positive direct effects of engagement on loyalty and customers’ price perceptions, this research contributes to the literature by examining customers’ affective attitude toward the destination, extending previous research approaches. The study was conducted at the WWF-funded visitor center in a national forest park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Results indicate that engaged customers form more positive attitudes, resulting in increased future loyalty and positive price perceptions, empirically supporting various conceptual approaches. Furthermore, the results show that purely cognitive approaches are inadequate for understanding customers’ price perceptions. This is of importance for sustainable services or ecotourism destinations, as customers’ attitudes and willingness-to-pay judgments are influenced by, among other things, environmental beliefs and an interest in ecotourism.
... Especially in highly-co-creative services (such as hotels), CE plays a significant role because customers tend to rely on CE activities (e.g., previous experiences or the firm's social media presence) when making purchasing decisions (Bowden et al., 2014;So et al., 2016). Despite the importance of CE, the CE viewpoint in hotel studies has mostly related to online reviews and in general, word-of-mouth (WOM; e.g., He and Harris, 2014;Romero, 2017). ...
... This is closely linked to WOM, which benefits not only firms but also other customers (Wei et al., 2013). Online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, have changed how consumers give feedback to hotels (Park and Allen, 2013;So et al., 2016). Online reviews have an impact on other customers when they choose hotels (So et al., 2016;Vermeulen and Seegers, 2009). ...
... Online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, have changed how consumers give feedback to hotels (Park and Allen, 2013;So et al., 2016). Online reviews have an impact on other customers when they choose hotels (So et al., 2016;Vermeulen and Seegers, 2009). Hotels which respond to guests' online reviews about their stay are in a better position to engage their customers and gain a competitive advantage than hotels which do not respond (Park and Allen, 2013). ...
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Research has focused on how customer engagement enables firms to involve their customers through offerings and social media and how customers can engage in creating experiences. However, empirical evidence is still lacking on how customer engagement is achieved, especially on how service experience and customer engagement are connected and customer engagement's negative outcomes. Hence, this paper studies customer engagement in the hotel context and explores the antecedents and outcomes of customer engagement. We conducted a qualitative study with a hotel chain and drew empirical data from 12 semi-structured interviews and 15 reflective diaries. We propose that customer engagement can be achieved through dialogue, customer engagement strategy, and service experience, the latter playing a significant role in achieving customer engagement. We also highlight the positive and negative outcomes of customer engagement. We contribute to the growing customer engagement literature by offering a holistic understanding of the concept, including antecedents and outcomes.
... Especially in highly-co-creative services (such as hotels), CE plays a significant role because customers tend to rely on CE activities (e.g., previous experiences or the firm's social media presence) when making purchasing decisions (Bowden et al., 2014;So et al., 2016). Despite the importance of CE, the CE viewpoint in hotel studies has mostly related to online reviews and in general, word-of-mouth (WOM; e.g., He and Harris, 2014;Romero, 2017). ...
... This is closely linked to WOM, which benefits not only firms but also other customers (Wei et al., 2013). Online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, have changed how consumers give feedback to hotels (Park and Allen, 2013;So et al., 2016). Online reviews have an impact on other customers when they choose hotels (So et al., 2016;Vermeulen and Seegers, 2009). ...
... Online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, have changed how consumers give feedback to hotels (Park and Allen, 2013;So et al., 2016). Online reviews have an impact on other customers when they choose hotels (So et al., 2016;Vermeulen and Seegers, 2009). Hotels which respond to guests' online reviews about their stay are in a better position to engage their customers and gain a competitive advantage than hotels which do not respond (Park and Allen, 2013). ...
... Tourism products and services are experiential, resulting from tourists' various services while travelling, (So, King, & Sparks, 2015). Content utilisation is an instrument to attract user projected interaction and engagement in social media. ...
... As a part of this ongoing evaluation and interaction process, tourism organisations such as destination marketing organisations from government agencies and private agencies have actively adopted customer engagement strategies to communicate with customers at different consumption stages, pre, during, and post, (So et al., 2015). Marketing Science Insitute (2010) described customer engagement as the customers' behavioural manifestation toward a brand or firm beyond purchase, resulting from motivational drivers including word-of-mouth activity, recommendations, customer-to-customer interactions, blogging, writing reviews, and other activities. ...
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Social media has tremendously changed the way people gather information on products and services. Muslim-friendly tourism organisations utilised social media and developed its whereabouts to increase awareness and engagement with the online community on Muslim-friendly tourism. The type of content post that influences people's online engagement is crucial to determining the content that attracts online interaction. This paper aims to examine the kind of expected content to have an impact on influencing online engagement. The data were extracted from four Muslim friendly tourism organisations Facebook pages and analysed using ANOVA. This study resulted in the type of content post that exerts a significant effect in influencing online engagement. This finding hopefully assists tourism organisations in selecting and providing relevant information to attract online engagement thus, increasing awareness and popularity towards the respective tourism organisation Facebook pages.
... pre, during, and post (So, King, & Sparks, 2015). ...
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This work is intended to be a contribution to the study of the impact that new technologies and current communication channels are having on tourism consumption. It is now established in literature how the identity of consumers is strongly implicated in their consumer choices, often used to communicate or promote a precise self-image (Sirgy, 1982). With the advent of social networks and different digital channels the expressive possibility of consumers and their cognitive, emotional and behavioral involvement in the various activities undertaken by brands (Customer Engagement) has definitely increased. The main cognitive and psychosocial processes underlying this phenomenon are therefore discussed, placing particular emphasis on their link with new promotional and marketing methods, above all based on the exchange of content (Digital Content Marketing), and on possible managerial implications.
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Our research examines the perceptions and evaluations of prospective customers toward an online negative review and any accompanying hotel response. The study explores two main issues: whether the presence (versus absence) of an organizational response to negative customer reviews affects the inferences potential consumers draw about the target business, and which aspects of responses affect their impressions. We test the effects of four variables associated with a response: source of response, voice of responder, speed of response, and action frame on two outcomes variables (i.e., customer concern and trust inferences). The provision of an online response (versus no response) enhanced inferences that potential consumers draw regarding the business's trustworthiness and the extent to which it cares about its customers. Using a human voice and a timely response yielded favorable customer inferences. Inferences did not vary with response source or action frame. Implications are drawn for effective management of negative online reviews.
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Using qualitative studies involving executives and customers, this study explores the nature and scope of customer engagement (CE), which is a vital component of relationship marketing. We define CE as the intensity of an individual's participation in and connection with an organization's offerings and/or organizational activities, which either the customer or the organization initiate. We argue that it is composed of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social elements. Finally, we offer a model of CE, in which the participation and involvement of current or potential customers serve as antecedents of CE, while value, trust, affective commitment, word of mouth, loyalty, and brand community involvement are potential consequences.
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The unprecedented popularity of social media outlets have forced scholars to inquire about their marketing effectiveness, especially in the hotel industry. This study attempted to explore the marketing effectiveness of two different social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) in the hotel industry. Integrating the attitude-toward-the-ad (Aad) model with the concepts of attitude-toward-social-media-page, the study proposed a theoretical model of hotel social media marketing effectiveness. Based on the data collected from an online survey, the goodness of fit of the model implied that the Aad model provides an appropriate theoretical framework to explain the marketing effectiveness of social media in the hotel industry. The results revealed that hotel customers' social media experiences influence their attitudes-toward-social-media-site, which in turn influences their attitudes-toward-hotel-brand, and that hotel customers' attitudes-toward-hotel-brand affects their hotel booking intentions and, in turn, intentions to spread electronic word of mouth. The study also indicated that different social media sites demonstrate the same marketing effectiveness, suggesting that hotel managers use the same marketing tactics for Facebook and Twitter marketing.
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