Engaging the student as a customer: a relationship marketing approach

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Increasingly organizations are recognizing the value of establishing close relationships with their customers. Despite this, research has not deeply explored how the intangible aspects of relational exchange such as customer satisfaction, as well as affective commitment, calculative commitment, and trust, combine to determine loyalty in the higher-education sector. This is in part a result of reluctance within the sector to view students as customers of institutional brands. This research uses a structural equation modeling approach and a sample of 474 students to examine, first, the determinants of loyalty within the higher-education sector and, second, the role of relationship strength as a moderator of those determinants. The results indicate that student loyalty was most strongly determined by psychological attachment, and a sense of belonging to the brand. Student satisfaction, while a contributing determinant, alone was insufficient in generating loyalty. The results also indicated that students rejected the notion of loyalty determined by inertia and high switching costs. In addition, trust was not found to be a strong determinant of recommendation or return. Importantly, while relationship strength has been found to determine loyalty in other service contexts, the drivers of loyalty remained the same despite the strength of the relationship that students perceived that they had with their institution. The findings of this study suggest the need for a more comprehensive, involved, and proactive strategy to developing, managing, and maintaining the student–university relationship. The study also encourages the sector to adopt a relationship marketing approach to the management of higher-education services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-228
Number of pages18
JournalMarketing education review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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