Understanding how satisfactory service relationships can be mutually beneficial in the higher education context

Neeru Malhotra, Bernadette Frech, Peter Leeflang, Young-Ah Kim, Helen Higson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose While extant research has predominantly focused on outcomes of customer satisfaction that benefit the focal firm such as customer engagement behaviors (CEBs), little is done to understand human capital-related outcomes that directly benefit customers and thus benefit the firm indirectly. Drawing on the theory of reasoned action, broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions and human capital theory, this study aims to understand how and why a satisfied customer benefits the firm directly (CEBs) and indirectly (human capital-related outcomes). Design/methodology/approach Following a sequential mixed-methods approach, two studies are conducted in an extended service encounter context (higher education) where customers also constitute key human capital of the service firm. First, a qualitative study is conducted, which is then followed by a quantitative study. Survey data collected from students working as interns in organizations and their immediate managers resulted in 209 “intern–manager” dyads. Findings The findings demonstrate that customer satisfaction on its own does not substantially account for either human capital-related outcomes or CEBs (except word of mouth [WOM]). Both emotional and cognitive mechanisms play key and unique mediating roles in translating satisfaction into outcomes that benefit a service firm directly and indirectly by benefiting its customers. Research limitations/implications While much research demonstrates benefits of customer satisfaction for the focal firm, this research advances our understanding of the novel consequences of customer satisfaction by shedding light on human capital-related outcomes that directly benefit customers. It also aids in explicating prior inconsistent findings on the relationship between customer satisfaction and CEBs by uncovering the underlying mediating mechanisms. Practical implications This investigation provides a deeper understanding of the significance of customer satisfaction by demonstrating how and why satisfied customers increase firm value beyond purchase, for instance, by being direct (through positive WOM) and indirect (through enhanced human capital performance) promoters, consultants (through participation) or investors (through monetary giving). A key implication of this research is that simply enhancing customer satisfaction on its own may not suffice as the findings suggest that satisfaction translates into beneficial outcomes only when satisfaction is channeled toward enhancing customer perceptions of competence and their positive emotions. Originality/value This study contributes to the literature by providing a deeper understanding of how and why customer satisfaction influences outcomes that not only benefit the firm but also its customers in extended service encounter context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-598
Number of pages37
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number2
Early online date29 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

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The published version of record for: Malhotra, N., Frech, B., Leeflang, P., Kim, Y.-A. and Higson, H. (2023), "Understanding how satisfactory service relationships can be mutually beneficial in the higher education context", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 57 No. 2, pp. 562-598 can be found at: https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-05-2021-0345


  • Competence
  • Customer engagement behaviors
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Higher education service
  • Human capital
  • Positive emotions


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