Perspectives on the management of customer/supplier relationships in a business-to-business, capital goods environment
Set in the Greek subsidiary of a multinational company whose products are capital goods and consumables sold through business-to-business channels, this work addresses a noticeable fall in sales over recent years from the perspective of a practitioner-researcher. A participative approach to the research work was chosen by reference to the Action Inquiry paradigm and the thesis outlines the reasons for this choice. It goes on to trace how the problem of falling sales was first explored through the literatures of customer satisfaction and customer relationship management before finding expression in the Service-Profit Chain model. The application of this model to a business-to-business environment is carefully considered throughout. From a wide client base, not all customers could be accommodated in the research and so a method of customer selection is outlined. To enable an evaluation of the progress of the work, a non-positivist process for benchmarking customer sentiment towards the subsidiary has been developed by extensive use of the Repertory Grid Technique. The thesis reports on two applications of this method, each a year apart, and on the ameliorating interventions made in the intervening period. These interventions were facilitated by the application of a key account management system in the company where the work took place. Both practical and theoretical issues concerning the KAM approach are discussed at length. The work may be seen as pursuing a gap in the literature recognized by several writers and as such it contributes to knowledge by virtue of being a rare piece of pragmatic research into customer relationships and their management. It demonstrates a practical integration of the fields of theory covered by the Service-Profit Chain, Customer Relationship Management and Key Account Management, whilst reinforcing the Service- Profit Chain model as an integrating theory within the business-to-business field. Finally, the research outlines a transferable process for the assessment of a company's standing with its customers in such an environment and for planning appropriate interventions with a view to influencing that standing on a cyclical basis.