BANKING LOYALTY BY SME CUSTOMERS: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF THE HONG KONG MARKET. Regan Lam City University of Hong Kong

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1 BANKING LOYALTY BY SME CUSTOMERS: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF THE HONG KONG MARKET Regan Lam City University of Hong Kong Suzan Burton Macquarie Graduate School of Management Track: Market Orientation and Relationship Marketing Keywords: Buyer Behaviour, Customer Loyalty, Banking, Qualitative Study Abstract Customer loyalty has been the subject of extensive marketing research in recent years in a number of areas, including financial services. However there has been far less work into the extent of, and reasons underlying, loyalty by business customers. This paper reports on a qualitative study which investigated the extent of loyalty and the reasons underlying banking behaviour by business customers from the small to medium enterprise (SME) segment in Hong Kong. Results from seventeen in-depth interviews have identified a number of factors influencing business customers behaviour in the choice of, and use of a financial services provider. Lack of loyalty appears to be the norm in this group, with only three interviewees using one bank exclusively, posing a challenge to banks efforts to build loyalty and share of wallet by their business customers. Introduction Customer loyalty has increasingly been viewed as a source of competitive advantage for companies. Researchers have suggested that the cost of recruiting a new customer is five times more than the cost of retaining an existing customer (Reichheld & Sasser 1990; Barsky 1994) although these claims have been questioned (Dowling & Uncles 1997; Dowling 2002). Despite this lack of agreement on the precise impact of customer loyalty, it is said to be of particular importance in the highly competitive banking industry (Bloemer, Ruyter & Peeters 1998; Ennew & Binks 1999). However there has been very limited research into the determinants of loyalty by business banking customers, particularly in the high value area of business banking. Almost no academic research in this area examined the Asian banking sector. This paper addresses this gap in the literature through an exploratory study that investigates the extent of and the key determinants for business customer loyalty within the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector in the Hong Kong market. The SME sector is particularly appropriate for research, because the business owner will typically control the choice of bank, in contrast to larger organisations, where multiple decision makers make investigating the reasons for choice of bank more problematic. The sector is also highly attractive to banks as it represents approximately 98% of Hong Kong s enterprises, so it is imperative for banks to understand the determinants of bank choice for SME customers. ANZMAC 2003 Conference Proceedings Adelaide 1-3 December

2 Literature Review Loyalty has been studied in a number of industries; credit cards (Bolton, Kannan & Bramlett 2000); consumer low involvement products (Uncles et al. 1994; Ehrenberg, Goodhardt & Patrick Barwise 1990); insurance and newspapers (Andreassen & Lindestad 1998) and healthcare and car repair (Mittal & Lassar 1998). These studies have identified a number of factors affecting customer loyalty, and perhaps the prime determinant, customer satisfaction, has been explored by many researchers (Colgate 2001; Ganesh, Arnold & Reynolds K. E. 2000; Loveman 1998; Jones & Sasser 1995; Mittal & Lassar 1998; LaBarbera & Mazursky 1983; Patterson, Johnson & Spreng 1997). Loyalty has also been shown to be influenced by the customer s relationship with salespersons and with suppliers (Foster & Cadogan 2000). Corporate image is suggested to have a significant but indirect impact on customer loyalty (Andreassen & Lindestad 1998). Switching costs have been shown to be associated with repurchase intention and customer retention (Jones, Mothersbaugh & Beatty 2002). For banking, past research has focused on retail banking, with emphasis on customer satisfaction (Colgate 2001; Ganesh, Arnold & Reynolds K. E. 2000; Loveman 1998; Jamal & Naser 2002). A number of studies have also reviewed the extent of banks understanding of their business customers needs (Chan & Ma 1990; Nielsen, Terry & Trayler 1998; Zineldin 1995; Nielsen, Trayler & Brown 1995). However, little has been done in analysing the determinants of bank loyalty, although understanding these determinants is critical for banks to retain customers. The current study investigates the extent to which SME decision makers use more than one financial institution, and explores the factors causing them to retain and increase the usage of existing bank services or to simultaneously use different banks services. Methodology A qualitative study was chosen to perform the research due to the lack of previous research data. Interviewees were selected from the garment and electronics industries in Hong Kong, since these two sectors contribute over 60% of the total Hong Kong exports according to 2002 Hong Kong Trade Department figures. 70 companies were selected from The Hong Kong Dun & Bradstreet SME Business Directory 2002 by systematic sampling, and contacted by letter and by a follow-up telephone call. Eight companies agreed to participate in the interview. The low response rate illustrates the difficulty in gaining access to business markets, perhaps due to confidentiality of sensitive information (Tyler & Stanley 1999) and suggests a ongoing challenge in investigating customer responses to banking practices (Perrien & Ricard 1995; Turnbull & Gibbs 1989). Nine other SMEs were added and selected using purposive sampling. These nice respondents were nominated by the relationship managers of three different banks. In total, seventeen semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted at customers premises. All interviewees were the directors or general managers of their companies with the authority to choose banks. Each interview was taped, consisted of mostly open-ended questions, and lasted for approximately forty minutes. All interviews were conducted by the first author in order to permit a consistent interview situation. Content analysis was used to analyse the interview information, since it is suitable for systematically evaluating the symbolic content of all forms of recorded communications (Kolbe & Burnett 1991). As a research technique, it provides knowledge, new insights, a representation of facts, and a practical guide to action (Krippendorff 1980; Kolbe & Burnett Market Orientation and Relationship Marketing Track 971

3 1991), so it is particularly appropriate in a field such as this, where there has been limited previous research. A number of themes were identified from analysing the interviews, and they were then coded. The codes were grouped under a number of categories using the approach suggested by Holsti (1968). Results All interviewees were asked to provide demographic information for their company, information relating to the number of banks they have been using, and reasons for their existing and anticipated behaviour. The themes generated from analysing the qualitative responses from the interviews together with the key factors identified as influencing the business customer behaviour are discussed below. Bank Loyalty Perhaps the most notable finding is the lack of customer loyalty. Only three interviewees used only one bank, with the rest of respondents dividing their banking use between two to six banks. They were specifically asked the most important reason for them in remaining with their main bank. Perceived quality of service in terms of ability to accommodate credit needs and efficiency/ reliability of service (14 interviewees) together with relationship investment (7 interviewees), were cited as key determinants to explain the scenario. A typical quote illustrates this: We have already used this bank for more ten years. We really don t want to change banks due to the relationship and trust that have been built up. In particular, the responsiveness of relationship managers was seen as critical. Corporate image and pricing policy seemed not to affect retention by the SMEs with their main bank/s. Bank Selection And Usage In contrast to previous studies, deposit/loan interest rates, corporate image or bank reputation were not identified as key influents to SMEs in selecting their main banks, perhaps because these factors are not seen as distinguishing between competitors e.g. Loan and deposit interest rate is not important for me to choose which bank/s and I don t really mind to pay a bit more for better quality of services. There are several key constructs influencing SME choice and use of a bank. Accommodate credit needs The ability to understand and accommodate customer needs appeared to be particularly important to influence SMEs in choosing banks (14 out of 17 interviewees) e.g. Our main bank always knows our business and our credit needs. They always provide adequate trade facilities to us. Banks ability to provide specific services was identified as important by a number of respondents: They (a bank) provide invoice financing service which exactly suits my business, so we use more of that bank s service. The three interviewees who have been using only one bank also perceive the ability of accommodating their needs as the key factor causing them to use one bank while personal factor such as owner s perception on having more banks also appeared to be critical e.g. I am a conservative merchant and I don t want to have many banks to serve me as it would cause a headache. Efficient operations The majority of interviewees believe their perceived service quality of bank services are made up of efficient operations and servicing attitudes by banks. This factor ANZMAC 2003 Conference Proceedings Adelaide 1-3 December

4 appeared to be especially influencing SMEs in selecting banks from one bank to another e.g. I would say if the bank could process my L/C application more quickly and more efficiently, I will use more of that bank s services. Our relationship manager always shows excellent attitudes in serving us. He always takes an initiative to provide the latest SME banking service information to us which we don t have time to gather those information. Split Banking Respondents were specifically asked the key reasons for using a range of banks where the result has shown that split-banking behaviour appeared to be a norm in the business banking sector (14 out of 17 interviewees). Flexibility, perceived risk/s and bank specialised skills were identified as key factors to explain the underlying behaviour. Flexibility Interviewees believed that by using a range of banks services they could obtain increased flexibility in terms of utilizing credit facilities (3 interviewees) and fulfilling the needs of their customers (6 interviewees) e.g. Since our main banker could not offer another overdraft facility to us, we finally got another bank which would increase our flexibility to meet our needs. Our key customers could settle their payment in this bank which this bank is not our lead bank. If we have an account with this bank, we won t upset them. Perceived risk Perceived risk of using a single bank was also seen as another major factor (7 interviewees) e.g. I had a bad experience with a bank. When I put one dollar as a loan security and they just provided me only seventy cents of credit. We did not have enough facility to operate the business, they re just too conservative. This has taught me a lesson that eggs should not be put in only one basket. Another stated, If a bank s policy suddenly changes, it would affect our credit facility amount and hence our operation of business. For most SMEs of our size, usually we would diversify our finance needs to more than one bank because of this. Banks specialist skills Certain banks were perceived to have specialist skills or to offer a higher level of efficiency not available from their lead bank (10 interviewees) e.g. We really need a bank to have excellent China connection and our major banker suits my criteria. They are the largest bank in China and they always offer quick service in proceeding bank draft in the Mainland and T/T service, always! However, our next major banker (a local bank) offers better e-banking system and provident fund service so we also use their services. Switching Behaviour The majority of the interviewees have recently changed the extent of using their banks or have switched to other banks (10 interviewees). The key cause of switching appeared to be perceived service delivery failure by banks and/or inadequate relationship management after a change of relationship manager e.g. Our relationship manager left the bank two years ago and hence we were concerned about his successor who would not be able to understand our banking needs and so we found a new bank. Interviewees were specifically asked whether their perceived switching costs would influence them in staying with the main bank. The majority of them contended that switching costs would not be a barrier to change banks since they were seen as minimal (10 interviewees) e.g. Switching costs are minimal to us since the costs will be much higher in the long run if you are served by a bank offering you bad quality of services. A large portion of respondents (7 interviewees) revealed that they would not consider increasing the extent of usage of their main banks owing to the perceived risk of Market Orientation and Relationship Marketing Track 973

5 relying extensively on a particular bank. Interviewees were specifically asked whether they would consider recommending their existing main bank/s to their suppliers or manufacturers and the majority (12 interviewees) indicated they would do so. Discussion Almost all interviewees from this study used a range of banks. Two reasons are identified to explain this result. Firstly, some respondents believe they obtain more flexibility by using a range of banks since different banks have unique advantages, supporting similar findings from other research (Turnbull & Gibbs 1989). Banks with a China background were perceived as more efficient in terms of transferring time and follow-ups as they have a wider network in China. Secondly, some interviewees believe that there would be a risk associated with the use of just a single bank. A potential sudden change of bank lending policies and/or a change of relationship manager of the bank were seen as presenting a possible problem for the companies. Together, inadequate relationship management after a change of bank policy or bank managers in serving customers caused some customers to change banks. Bank management is suggested to pay more attention to the influence on customer switching behaviour whenever they decide to have any lending policy change. Proper account management skill by bank relationship managers is also critical to retain customers. With high levels of use of multiple banks, and low perceived switching costs, achieving and retaining loyal SME customers presents a difficult challenge for banks. This study offers an explanation that perceived service quality in the form of the ability to accommodate and understand customer needs appeared to largely affect business customer loyalty. This factor has been discussed by other authors as influencing the bank-customer relationship and the choice of the main bank (Turnbull & Gibbs 1987; Zineldin 1995) by customers, but not as an influential factor to banking loyalty. From the business customer s viewpoint, the bank s implicit commitment to provide ongoing credit assistance serves as an insurance policy especially during periods of financial distress. Perceived service quality in the form of efficiency and attitudes of service delivery was also an important determinant to SME loyalty which support previous studies on other financial markets (Tyler & Stanley 1999; Bloemer, Ruyter & Peeters 1998). It is even more critical to banks in providing efficient services to business customers with China connections. In general, customers behavioural intentions such as repeated purchases and loyalty show strong evidence of being influenced by service quality (Cronin & Taylor 1992; Taylor & Baker 1994; Zeithaml, Berry & Parasuraman 1996). Banks must understand their clients attitudes and needs so as to serve them satisfactorily which in turn will lead to better market share. Some interviewees viewed their relationship with their main banks as a partnership, highlighting the importance of relationship building and investment in loyalty building. There are important benefits associated with relationship building for both the banks and the business customers (Moriarty, Kimball & Gay 1983). Business customers will be more likely to share information (e.g. their potential financial needs) with the banks if they have maintained good relationship and in so doing, there will be a positive impact on quality and satisfaction and a mixed impact on retention and loyalty(ennew & Binks 1999). This appears to be critical from this study since inappropriate relationship management may lead customers to switch banks given the low perceived switching costs by SMEs. No direct relationships between overall bank image and loyalty were observed in this study. ANZMAC 2003 Conference Proceedings Adelaide 1-3 December

6 Increasing the share of wallet or becoming the lead banker by business customers seems to be a difficult task given about one-third of the interviewees appeared to have no intention of doing so. They identified perceived risks along with bank specialised skills as the two key factors in encouraging use of more than one bank. This group of customers appears to belong to the Latent loyalty group according to Dick and Basu s (1994) and Griffin s (1995) definition. They are seen to have relatively high attitude toward a bank but low repeat patronage due to particular cognitive beliefs (e.g. a belief that banks with China background will have higher efficiency in performing remittance transactions) and situational effects (e.g. banks with non-china background do not have branches in the Mainland). Since creating an even higher relative attitude is expensive, bank rivals are suggested to focus on other competitive advantages such as having a wider branch network and better electronic infrastructure in developing their customer retention strategy. Conclusions And Future Research While the marketing literature has encouraged practitioners to seek loyalty from customers, this study suggests that actual levels of loyalty in SME banking are low, and are likely to remain low. By using a range of banks, SMEs perceive themselves as having more flexibility in utilizing banking facilities, especially in credit facilities. They appear to opt not to increase usage of a particular bank or to switch to another bank because of the perceived risks of relying extensively on a particular bank. The study suggests further research to investigate and understand the relationship investment by both the customer and service provider. This may enable banks to develop a better understanding of the way customers make judgments about using and retaining particular banks. Market Orientation and Relationship Marketing Track 975

7 References Andreassen, T. W. & Lindestad, B. 1998, 'The effect of corporate image in the formation of customer loyalty', Journal of Service Research, vol. 1, no. 1, pp Barsky, J. 1994, World-Class Customer Satisfaction, Irwin Professional Publishing, Burr Ridge, IL. Bloemer, J., Ruyter, K. d. & Peeters, P. 1998, 'Investigating drivers of bank loyalty: the complex relationship between image, service quality and satisfaction', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 16, no. 7, pp Bolton, R. N., Kannan, P. K. & Bramlett, M. D. 2000, 'Implications of Loyalty program membership and service experiences for customer retention and value', Academy of Marketing Science Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, pp Chan, A. K. K. & Ma, V. S. M. 1990, 'Corporate banking behaviour: a survey in Hong Kong', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 8, no. 2, pp Colgate, M., and Lang, B. 2001, 'Switching barriers in consumer markets: an investigation of the financial services industry', Journal of Consumer Marketing, vol. 18, no. 4, pp Cronin, J. J. & Taylor, S. A. 1992, 'Measuring service quality: a re-examination and extension', Journal of Marketing, vol. 56, no. July, pp Dick, A. S. & Basu, K. 1994, 'Customer loyalty: Toward an integrated conceptual framework', Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 22, no. 2, pp Dowling, G. 2002, 'Customer relationship management: in B2C markets, often less is more', California Management Review, vol. 44, no. 3, pp Dowling, G. R. & Uncles, M. 1997, 'Do Customer Loyalty Programs Really Work?' Sloan Management Review, vol. 38, no. 4, pp Ehrenberg, A. S. C., Goodhardt, G. J. & Patrick Barwise, T. 1990, 'Double Jeopardy Revisited', Journal of Marketing, vol. 54, no. July 1990, pp Ennew, C. T. & Binks, M. R. 1999, 'Impact of participative service relationships on quality, satisfaction and retention: an exploratory study', Journal of Business Research, vol. 46, pp Foster, B. D. & Cadogan, J. W. 2000, 'Relationship selling and customer loyalty: an empirical investigation', Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 18/4, pp Ganesh, J., Arnold, M. J. & Reynolds K. E. 2000, 'Understanding the customer base of service provider: an examination of the differences between switchers and stayers', Journal of Marketing, vol. 64, no. 3, pp ANZMAC 2003 Conference Proceedings Adelaide 1-3 December

8 Griffin, J. 1995, Customer Loyalty: How to earn it, How to keep it, Lexington Books, Lexington Mass. Holsti, O. R. 1968, The Handbook of Social Psychology, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Jamal, A. & Naser, K. 2002, 'Customer satisfaction and retail banking: an assessment of some of the key antecedents of customer satisfaction in retail banking', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 20, no. 4. Jones, M. A., Mothersbaugh, D. L. & Beatty, S. E. 2002, 'Why customers stay: measuring the underlying dimensions of services switching costs and managing their differential strategic outcomes', Journal of Business Research, vol. 55, pp Jones, T. O. & Sasser, W. E. 1995, 'Why satisfied customers defect', Harvard Business Review, vol. Nov-Dec., no. Nov-Dec., pp Kolbe, R. H. & Burnett, M. S. 1991, 'Content-analysis research: an examination of applications with directives for improving research reliability and objectivity', Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 18, no. September, pp Krippendorff, K. 1980, Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology, Sage Publications, Newbury Park CA. LaBarbera, P. A. & Mazursky, D. 1983, 'A Longitudinal assessment of consumer satisfaction/ dissatisfaction: The dynamic aspect of the cognitive process', Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 20, pp Loveman, G. W. 1998, 'Employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and financial performance: an empirical examination of the service profit chain in retail banking', Journal of Service Research, vol. 1, no. 1, pp Mittal, B. & Lassar, W. M. 1998, 'Why do customers switch? The dynamics of satisfaction versus loyalty', The Journal of Services Marketing, vol. 12, no. 3, pp Moriarty, R. T., Kimball, R. C. & Gay, J. H. 1983, 'The management of corporate banking relationships', Sloan Management Review, no. Spring, pp Nielsen, J. F., Terry, C. & Trayler, R. M. 1998, 'Business banking in Australia: a comparison of expectations', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 16, no. 6, pp Nielsen, J. F., Trayler, R. M. & Brown, B. M. 1995, 'Banking expectations: Do bankers really understand the needs of the small business customer?' Journal of Small Business Finance, vol. 4, no. 2/3, pp Patterson, P. G., Johnson, L. W. & Spreng, R. A. 1997, 'Modelling the determinants of customer satisfaction for business-to-business professional services', Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 25, no. 1, pp Perrien, J. & Ricard, L. 1995, 'The meaning of a marketing relationship', Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 24, pp Market Orientation and Relationship Marketing Track 977

9 Reichheld, F. & Sasser, W. E. J. 1990, 'Zero defections: quality comes to services', Harvard Business Review, vol. 69, no. Summer, pp Taylor, S. A. & Baker, T. L. 1994, 'An assessment of the relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction in the formation of consumers' purchase intentions', Journal of Retailing, vol. 70, no. 2, pp Turnbull, P. W. & Gibbs, M. L. 1987, 'Marketing bank services to corporate customers: the importance of relationships', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 5, no. 1, pp Turnbull, P. W. & Gibbs, M. L. 1989, 'The selection of banks and banking services among corporate customers in South Africa', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 7, no. 5, pp Tyler, K. & Stanley, E. 1999, 'UK bank-corporate relationships: large corporates' expectations of service', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 17, no. 4, pp Uncles, M. D., Hammond, K. A., Ehrenberg, A. S. C. & Davis, R. E. 1994, 'A replication study of two brand-loyalty measures', European Journal of Operational Research, vol. 76, no. 2, pp Zeithaml, V. A., Berry, L. L. & Parasuraman, A. 1996, 'The behavioural consequences of service quality', Journal of Marketing, vol. 60, no. April, pp Zineldin, M. 1995, 'Bank-company interactions and relationships: some empirical evidence', International Journal of Bank Marketing, vol. 13, no. 2, pp ANZMAC 2003 Conference Proceedings Adelaide 1-3 December

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