Customer Experience Quality - An assessment in the context of the insurance and logistics industries in the UK

  • Valdemir De Oliveira

Student thesis: Phd


There is growing awareness of the role of contextual factors in shaping service research, particularly in customer value (Vargo et al., 2008) and service experience (Verhoef et al., 2009) research, but there is little empirical evidence of such a holistic view in the area of service quality research (Lemke et al., 2011). This thesis considers the search, experience and credence (SEC) concepts associated with quality assessment by customers, recognizing the challenges raised by the emergent customer experience literature, which have led to increased calls for more attention to be paid to the contextual elements affecting customer value assessments (Heinonen et al., 2010; Grönroos, 2006). Traditional SEC theories have adopted industry-, product- or attribute-specific conceptualizations (Huang et al., 2009; Okura and Lee, 2009; Babakus et al., 2004; Mitra et al., 1999; Nelson, 1970; Darby and Karni, 1973). In this thesis, a revised understanding of SEC theory is proposed that considers customer centricity (Helkkula, 2011; Heinonen et al., 2010; Grönroos, 2006) and customer context, highlighting the need to adopt different marketing approaches according to customers' different evaluative stages. In the context of customer assessment, the terms 'search' and 'experience' were defined in a study on economics of information (Nelson, 1970). A third concept, credence products, was added later (Darby and Karni, 1973). According to this latter concept, while some offers to the market can have their quality properties or states easily assessed by customers before purchase or use and others can only undergo assessment during or after the service experience, a third type cannot be easily assessed even after customers have experienced the service. Zeithaml (1988) applied SEC ( Search, Experience and Credence) theory to marketing questions, including how SEC classification of goods vary according to product features; it has been applied to service marketing with a focus on evaluative cues and customer knowledge (Devlin, 2011) and to service validity and reliability with a focus on SEC services (Galetzka et al., 2006). Alba et al. (1997) suggest that SEC theory should not be used to identify categories of products or services but their attributes. For example, in a restaurant meal, one can identify attributes that are easy to evaluate before purchase (e.g., price of the meal), while the flavour or taste of the meal can only be evaluated after a customer has consumed it. Finally, a third attribute, such as whether ingredients have been processed according to high hygiene standards, cannot be assessed even after experiencing the meal, unless at prohibitive costs. However, it is proposed in this thesis that SEC quality properties are not embedded in a product or a service attribute but are descriptions of a given situation that customers face. This concept had been mentioned before (Smith and Royne, 2010; Bloom and Pailin, 1995) but had not been empirically tested. In this thesis, an investigation is carried out in order to assess what elements of customer behaviour (functional vs. technical (Grönroos, 1982)) and risk (Mitra et al., 1999) customers prioritise in search situations relative to credence situations. As suggested by Eisingerich and Bell (2007), the lack of concreteness or tangibility of services high in credence attributes increases the importance of perceived functional quality, for example. These elements (functional and technical) and risk had not yet been conceptually developed and tested in a study that treats SEC classification of goods as reflections of situations. A case-study approach was adopted because it is suitable to demonstrate a multidimensional view of a situation in a specific context (Järvensivu and Törnroos, 2010). The unit of analysis of the case is the consumer perception of the quality of the service they experienced. The case was formed by the analysis of the most important attribute of the service in verbatim c
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJamie Burton (Supervisor) & John Murphy (Supervisor)


  • Customer Experience, Service Quality, Credence Theory

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