This study seeks to examine factors that enhance the development of interpersonal service relationships between consumers and service employees. It focuses on interpersonal service relationships that are extended in duration, affective or emotionally charged, and intimate in distance (EAI), or those which appear to be boundary open (Price and Arnould 1999; Price et al. 1995a, 1995b). It thus emphasizes relationships that are similar to personal acquaintances and friendships, rather than ones that are non-affective, and consist of little or no emotional content, such as professional relationships and casual acquaintances (Johnson and Selnes 2004; Coulter and Ligas 2004). Based on a review of the literature, five factors, namely, mutual understanding, personalization, authenticity, problem-solving behavior, and specialized treatment, are combined to form a parsimonious group of relational behaviors (RBs) that are expected to promote friendship-like relationships. A conceptual model is portrayed that shows interrelationships between the relational behaviors and relationship outcomes, including service quality, satisfaction, emotional trust, and loyalty (Sirdeshmukh et al. 2002).
In order to collect data, this study utilizes a self-report survey and cross-sectional design, within the context of hair care service. Additionally, web-based survey and sampling are utilized. The sample consists of individuals who are members of a professional business organization, whose occupation requires a professional appearance. Thus, they are expected to patronize hair care services. The final study consists of 191 usable surveys primarily from African-American females (65.4% African-American, 80.6% female), who have unique hair care needs. The sample is thus homogeneous with respect to various salon behaviors and demographics.
Using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and AMOS software, scales are assessed for unidimensionality, reliability, and validity. Results show, however, that this measurement model is not theoretically supported. Thus, an empirical approach is undertaken by performing CFA on the relationship outcome variables and exploratory factor analysis (EFA) on the relational behavior scale items. Results show that the revised relationship outcome measurement model is unidimensional, reliable, and valid. A revised, or emotional, relational behavior (ERB) measurement model is portrayed that consists of three constructs that are unidimensional, reliable, and valid, and include social communication, personable behavior, and customer care, behaviors that are expected to promote friendship-like relationships, and are distinguished from non-affective, cognitive relational behaviors (Sirdeshmukh et al. 2002).
By combining the two revised measurement models, a new structural model is formed. Results of the new hypotheses show that personable behavior and customer care are positively and significantly related to service quality. Service quality is positively and significantly related to satisfaction and emotional trust, and satisfaction and emotional trust are positively and significantly related to loyalty. Based on the results of this study, four (4) paths are suggested for increasing loyalty and developing friendship-like interpersonal consumer relationships in EAI services. The implications are that managers of EAI services may train employees to utilize either path, displaying ERBs, such as personable behavior and customer care, in order to increase loyalty. Future research may examine the role of these behaviors in other EAI and non-EAI service contexts, and using other samples.