A mediated model for positive word of mouth intention in the electronic banking environment
It is generally acknowledged that positive word of mouth concerns consumers’ communication of favourable information about an organisation’s products and services to others. Accordingly, positive word of mouth is highly beneficial for organisations since current customers can persuade potential customers to accept and use the organisation’s products or services. Among the range of predictors of positive word of mouth previously identified, it was further noted that key relationship quality dimensions (trust and commitment) as well as perceived value (perceived usefulness) may positively and significantly impact on positive word of mouth. It further seems that these dimensions do not operate in isolation, but in fact are interconnected. According to extant literature customers may first become committed towards the organisation, owing to the development of trusting perceptions, before engaging in positive word of mouth behaviour. Similarly, it has been found that perceived value may impact on views of relationship quality. The perceived value of a purchase serves as a building block of perceived relationship quality. Therefore, customers perceiving a service as useful and per se having value may become committed towards the organisation, which then serves as an indicator of relationship quality. Considering these relationships, it is consequently possible that commitment (a relationship quality factor) may serve a mediating role on the relationship between perceived usefulness (a perceived value factor) and positive word of mouth. Similarly, the relationship between trust (another relationship quality dimension) and commitment, as well as between commitment and positive word-of-mouth, also point towards the possibility of commitment to serve a mediating role on the impact of trust on positive word-of-mouth. Little, however, is known about these matters since they appear to have been overlooked in academic research. The researcher could not find any evidence of a mediating model of perceived usefulness, trust, commitment and positive word of mouth, as described above. Confirmation of the proposed relationships though could further knowledge of relationship marketing practices and the contributions of the selected perceived value and relationship quality factors in enhancing positive word of mouth. Accordingly, in response to the stated research gap, and to contribute to theory and practice, it was then the aim of this study to examine the interrelationships between trust, commitment and perceived usefulness, as proposed above, and to assess their ultimate effect on positive word of mouth. The research context was electronic banking services in South Africa that may benefit from a mediated model for positive word of mouth to assist in advancing the adoption and use of electronic banking services among their customers. Given the research setting, the study was specifically interested in electronic banking customers’ perceptions of the perceived usefulness of electronic banking services in enhancing their productivity, the extent to which electronic banking customers have competence trust and thus belief in the reliability of electronic banking services, whether customers are prepared to make a continued investment in the sphere of electronic banking services and therefore have continuance commitment and if they have the intention to engage in positive word of mouth behaviour and recommend the benefits of electronic banking services to other potential customers. The research design was quantitative and explanatory in nature and involved the distribution of self-administered questionnaires to 500 current customers of electronic banking services. The target population was defined as males and females, eighteen years and older, residing in selected cities and towns in urban and semi-urban areas in South Africa and who are making use of at least one form of electronic banking service. Non-probability sampling was used which included purposive (judgement) sampling to select the sampling units (regions), while convenience sampling and quota sampling was used to select the sampling elements (respondents) within each region. The gender quotas was filled by approaching an equal number of male and female respondents in each region. A structured self-administered questionnaire was used to collect information from the respondents. Previously validated measurement scales were used to measure the research constructs. The respondents were requested to indicate their level of agreement with each statement, using a Likert-type scale that ranged from 1 being "strongly disagree", to 5 representing "strongly agree". In the end, a total of 511 useable questionnaires were obtained that was included in the analysis. The data analysis involved frequencies, descriptive statistics, an assessment of the reliability and validity of the measurement scales used as well as structural equation modelling (SEM) analysis to test the proposed theoretical model. The findings showed that the measurement scales implemented to measure the constructs of the study are all valid and reliable. Content validity, convergent validity, discriminant validity and ultimately construct validity of the measurement model was obtained. The structural model also presented acceptable model fit. Furthermore, continuance commitment was found to mediate the relationships between perceived usefulness and competence trust with positive word-of-mouth intention, respectively. From a theoretical perspective, the research findings are strategically significant for relationship marketing researchers interested in the impact of relationship marketing practices on positive word of mouth behaviour. It appears that customers’ perceptions of service attributes and the value received must be considered when furthering knowledge on trust and commitment and developing strategic recommendations for enhancing word of mouth communication. Second, there has been little published research on the impact of customer perceived value on relationship quality. Although marketing research recognises this relationship, only a scarce amount of studies could be found that empirically support this relationship. Hence, the current findings provide further evidence that customer perceptions of perceived value may contribute to relationship quality, such as continuance commitment. It seems that within the electronic banking environment, customers who perceive the service as useful and improving their productivity may also view the cost connected with leaving the relationship to be too high, and therefore want to keep on being continuously committed. Third, this study’s research findings confirm the formerly recognised relationship amongst trust and commitment. In the context of this study then direct relationships have been determined amongst competence trust and continuance commitment. It appears that customers who believe the service is reliable may feel that the cost of terminating the service would be too high, and therefore would rather remain committed to the current service. Lastly, the significant and positive relationship amongst competence trust and positive word of mouth intention, which remains significant after the mediating effect of continuance commitment, points to the vital importance of a trusting relationship within the electronic banking environment and customers’ inclination to recommend a service they perceive as reliable to other possible customers. From a managerial perspective, the research findings also have strategic importance to the banking industry that is struggling with customers who are reluctant to convert to electronic banking services. It seems that banking institutions should approach existing users of electronic banking services for assistance to convince fellow customers of the benefits of the service. Customers may believe the advice obtained from friends and family over that of a sales consultant who may be perceived as not having their best interest at heart. However, current electronic banking users’ inclination to engage in positive word of mouth, may depend on the extent to which they are convinced of the service’s usefulness, whether they believe the service can be trusted, and the extent to which they are committed to the service. All these elements need to be present, as their interrelationship may contribute to greater positive word of mouth intention. Finally, while the current study makes a valuable contribution in advancing knowledge on relationship marketing and positive word of mouth intention, more research can be conducted to further enhance the impact of the identified model. For example, the current model only concentrates on perceived usefulness as a belief factor that may contribute to commitment. Future research studies may consider including other belief factors that may also be relevant within the self-service technology environment and that may have a positive and significant impact on continuance commitment. More dimensions of relationship quality can be added to the model which could contribute to positive word of mouth intention. Moreover, it is recommended that the study be repeated in other service sectors to confirm the relevance of the proposed model in other research contexts.