Customer identification: The missing link between relationship quality and supplier performance

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Industrial Marketing Management


Maintaining good relationship quality (RQ) with customers is crucial for supplier firms to remain competitive. Yet, empirical evidence linking RQ with supplier-firm performance remains inexplicably vague. Drawing on social identity theory and the relationship marketing literature, this study therefore examines the role of customer identification—a customer firm's sense of shared connection with a supplier organization—in bridging the gap between RQ and outcomes beneficial to the supplier firm. A study involving 389 CEOs and directors of Australian firms finds that customer identification mediates the effects of affective RQ-dimensions (i.e., benevolent trust and affective commitment) on customers' willingness-to-pay premium price (WTP) and positive word-of-mouth (WOM) behaviors. Further, the mediating effect of customer identification is moderated by organizational distance and supplier's relationship-specific investments (RSI), such that the indirect effects are stronger when the organizational distance between the supplier and customer firm is low and supplier's RSIs are high. Moreover, while cognitive RQ has direct effects on WTP, its influence on WOM is mediated by customer identification. By identifying the role of customer identification in facilitating the link between RQ and supplier-firm performance, our findings provide valuable insights for supplier firms to optimize their relationship marketing efforts.

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