ASAC 2002 Satya Dash
Winnipeg, Manitoba Indian Institute of Technology
University of Manitoba
SERVICE QUALITY AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP EXPECTATIONS IN
LONG-TERM BUYER-SELLER RELATIONSHIPS: A CROSS-CULTURAL
A plethora of books, special journal issues, and conference
proceedings bear testimony to the continuing interest in
relationship marketing. However, there has been limited research
on this topic from a cross-cultural perspective. This research
focuses on a cross-cultural comparison of relationship marketing
strategies. In this article, we review the past literature and suggest
the link between national culture and buyer-seller relationships
Although it has received only limited attention in the academic literature, culture
(particularly national culture) is related to service quality and interpersonal relationship
expectations and long-term buyer-seller relationships. But, what is culture? And how is it linked
to perceptions, expectations, and relationships in a marketing context?
The concept of culture is widely interpreted in the academic literature. Kroeber and
Kluckhohn (1952) identify more than 160 ways culture can be defined. Kluckhohn (1962) defines
culture as the part of human makeup “which is learned by people as the result of belonging to a
particular group, and is that part of learned behavior that is shared by others. It is our social
legacy, as contrasted to our organic heredity”(p-25).
To study national culture between two countries we turn to the seminal work of Hofstede
(1980, and 1991). He defined culture as the “collective programming of the mind which
distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from those of another”(p 5, 1991).
Hofstede’s typology of culture is one of the more important and popular theories of culture types.
A study of social science citation index listings found 1036 quotations from Hofestede's cultural
consequences in journals during the period 1980 to 1993 (Sondergaard, 1994). In the most
exhaustive cross-cultural study to date, based on questionnaire data from 117,000 IBM employees
in 66 countries across seven occupations, Hofstede (1980) established four dimensions of national
culture: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term
orientation. Although these dimensions initially were developed from employees of just one
firm, they have been found to be “generalizable” outside IBM and to represent well the
differences between cultures. Hofstede argues that countries can be placed differentially on these
dimensions according to their core values and institutions, including their work related values.
According to Hofstede, individualism pertains to characteristics of peoples of a society in
which the ties between individuals are loose; everyone is expected to look after himself and his or
her immediate family. Collectivism, as individualism’s opposite, pertains to societies in which
people from birth are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s
lifetimes continues to protect them in exchange for unquestionable loyalty. Power distance refers
to the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a
country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Masculinity is defined as the
degree to which achievement, competition, assertiveness, and performance are emphasized.
Thus, low masculinity cultures emphasize cooperation and interpersonal relationships.
Uncertainty avoidance is a tolerance to risk. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to
shun risk and seek ways to add structure and control to their organization. Finally,
confucian/dynamism (long term orientation) basically refers to the time orientation of a culture;
that is, whether that culture tends to operate in a long-term or short-term context. Cultures high in
confucian/ dynamism tend to emphasize long-term horizons.
Because of differences in the aforementioned characteristics highlighted in Hofstede's
work, it seems reasonable to conclude that buyer-seller relationships and perceptions of service
quality will vary across national cultures. The following section presents the results of past
research that addresses aspects of the linkage between relationship marketing and national
Cross-Cultural Research in Buyer-Seller Relationships
According to Jackson (1985a, 1985b), applying the relationship selling process to all
types of customers indiscriminately may lead to inappropriate interpersonal interaction if the
customer’s orientation is only short-term in nature. Therefore, if the objective of the salesperson
and his or her firm is to develop mutually beneficial buyer-seller relationships, then recognizing
the buyer’s actions, attitudes, and behaviors that indicated his or her preference for a working
relationship is necessary.
In a similar vein, Miles, Arnold and Nash (1990) suggest there are different selling styles
for different selling approaches for different types of buyer-seller interactions. They believe that
some customers are best sold on a one time, discrete transaction basis. In these situations, the
salesperson needs to adapt his or her selling approach to a task oriented means of communication
(mechanistic, goal oriented and purposeful) versus an interaction-oriented style (emphasizing
social context and interpersonal relationships).
With respect to the national culture aspects of buyer-seller relationships, Jones (2000)
studied the interaction expectations of Asian and North American buyers in the hotel industry. He
identified interaction constructs (i.e., structural bonding, social bonding, communication, trust,
and relationship commitment) as key constructs for his study. He found that communication
content, trust, and social bonding had a statistically significant and positive relationship with the
outcome variable of relationship commitment. Furthermore, it was discovered that trust and
communication content was given more importance in long-term relationships by North
American- based compared to Asian-based companies. He also found that buyers with higher
levels of eastern culture oriented values leads to higher expectations of long-term orientation and
social bonding in the relationship.
From the above discussion it is clear that a pattern of relationship marketing practiced in
one cultural may not be suitable in other cultural contexts. Therefore, different marketing
approaches may be necessary across cultures in order to satisfy varied interaction expectations.
Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry’s (1985, 1988, 1991b, 1993) work has identified five
dimensions of service quality. These dimensions are: reliability, responsiveness, assurance,
tangibles, and empathy. Reliability is the ability to perform the promised service dependably and
accurately. Responsiveness is the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
Assurance is the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and
confidence. Empathy is the caring, individualized attention provided to customers; and tangibles
are the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials.
Based on these dimensions, researchers measured perceptions of service quality in service and
Service quality has been argued to play a central role in understanding customer
satisfaction and retention (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry 1985). Service quality has been
identified as a potential antecedent of both satisfaction and customer retention. (Cronin and
Taylor, 1992). The contribution of service quality as an antecedent in establishing and
maintaining long-term relationships and customer loyalty is well established. Wetzels, Martin, et.
al., (2000) state that service quality characteristics are a decisive factor in determining customer
trust and commitment. Mackenzie (1992) provides evidence demonstrating that customer trust in
the office equipment market is influenced positively by customer perceptions of service offerings.
Similarly, Venetis (1997) reports empirical evidence for a positive relationship between service
quality and relationship commitment in advertising agency-client relationships.
The customer’s perception of quality is a construct quite similar to satisfaction and has
been discussed extensively, particularly in the context of service relationships (Persuraman,
Zeithaml and Berry 1988; Cronin and Taylor 1992; Tees 1994; and Rust and Oliver 1994). For
the most part, the aforementioned authors stress that service quality leads to customer
satisfaction, trust, commitment, relationship longevity, and to customer relationship profitability.
Service Quality and National Culture
Several studies have contributed towards linking service quality and various cultural
dimensions. Furrier et. al., (2000) tested a conceptual link between all five cultural dimensions
developed by Hofstede (1980, 1991) and variations in the relative performance of the five service
quality dimensions developed by Parsuraman, Zethamal, and Berry (1985, 1988; Parsuraman,
Berry, Zeithamal 1991b). They also developed a cultural service quality index (CSQI) that
evaluated the relative importance of each SERVQUAL dimension as a function of Hoefstede's
five cultural dimensions. The purpose was to determine if the index could segment multicultural
markets. They found that in cultures with high power distance, powerful customers attached
greater importance to responsiveness, reliability, empathy and tangibles. Weak customers, on the
other hand, attached importance to assurance and tangibles. In cultures with small power distance,
all customers indicated a similar pattern of importance to all service quality dimensions as the
difference between powerful and weak customers were small. Highly individualistic customers
indicated reliability and responsiveness were more important. Further, they found that cultures
having long-term orientations would attach more importance to reliability, responsiveness, and
Power distance. Matila (1999) studied the relationship between powerful customers and
weak service providers in a luxury hotel. She found that Asian-Indian travelers demonstrated
higher importance on personalized service than their westerner counterparts. She argued this
difference was due to the power distance dimension of culture. Western travelers, being
individualistic in nature, gave higher importance to physical environment features compared to
their Asian counterparts.
Donthu and Yoo (1998) argued that service providers have more power over their
consumers in some service activities (e.g. insurance, banking, consulting). In these situations, the
power of the service provider comes from her expertise, professional knowledge, or skills. They
develop hypotheses and test whether customers in high power distance cultures have lower
service quality expectations than low power distance oriented cultures. The results of the
empirical data supported their initial hypotheses: buyers in high power distance cultures are more
tolerant of service shortcomings compared to buyers in low power distance cultures.
Frazier, Gill, and Kale (1989) stated that, compared to western markets, many Indian
marketing channels possess an asymmetrical balance of power whereby sellers (suppliers) are
more powerful than buyers (dealers). India falls into the category of a high power distance
culture. Cultures with large power distance measures are characterized by important differences
between more powerful and less powerful people. These differences are visible in terms of social
class, education level, and occupation. Donthu and Yoo (1998) argue that customers of high
power distance cultures would tend to respect and defer to service providers. As a result of their
tolerance in accepting inequalities in power, they are likely to have lower service quality
expectations compared to customers of low power distance cultures. Consequently, buyer from
high power distance culture would tolerate poor service delivery due to service provider’s
expertise or power.
Individualism/Collectivism. In general, individualism refers to the value of the
individual’s rights, characteristics, and identity over those of the group. Cultures high in
individualism emphasize what is best for the person. Cultures low in this dimension approach
decisions from a “we” standpoint (Hofstede 1991). Thus, in an individualistic society the
customer’s primary goal is to achieve his own interests, not others’ (i.e. service providers)
interests. It follows, therefore, that individualistic customers will be less tolerate of poor service
quality providers. Further, they will tend to be less interested in long lasting relationships. Since
they are skilled at entering and leaving reference groups, upon experiencing poor service quality
from a service provider they will have a strong tendency to abandon the service provider. On the
other hand, collectivist customers will put stress on "we" (i.e. view both the service provider and
customer as one group) as they stress mutual interdependence in their relationship with the
service provider. They will be more tolerate of poor service quality because the service provider
is considered a member in their in-group. Since collectivists are interested in establishing and
maintaining long lasting relationships they will not easily leave the service provider.
The socialization patterns that are found in collectivist cultures emphasize obedience,
duty, sacrifice for the group, cooperation, preference towards members of the in-group,
acceptance of in-group authorities, nurturing, and interdependence. Conversely, patterns that are
found in individualistic cultures emphasize independence, self-reliance, creativity, and acceptance
of disobedience. In individualistic cultures, people are adept at entering and leaving groups, but
do not develop deep and lasting relationships with the same frequencies as collectivists. By
contrast, in collectivist cultures people tend towards shyness, tend to be less willing and able to
enter new groups, but also tend to establish more intimate and long-lasting relationships than do
individualists. (Triandis et. al., 1993).
Long-term orientation. Long-term orientation is the extent to which a society exhibits a
pragmatic future-oriented perspective (fostering virtues like perseverance and thrift) rather than a
short-term point of view. They would sacrifice today for a better future. Long-term orientation
places little importance on today-oriented values (Hofstede, 1991). It follows, therefore, that
long-term oriented customers are more likely to tolerate poor service. They will give time to
service providers to allow them to rectify their mistakes. On the other hand, short- term oriented
customers would expect that their every service experience with service providers should be
perfect in all respects. When experiencing poor service they would opt to leave without giving the
service provider time to improve.
From the above discussion we can conclude that buyers from individualistic, low power
distance, and short-term oriented societies will have higher over all service quality expectations
than similar type of buyers in collectivist, high power distance, and long-term oriented societies.
Further, the assurance dimension of service quality will be given higher importance by high
power distance buyers than low power distance buyers. We propose the following propositions:
P1 Service quality will be an antecedent of satisfaction, trust, commitment and
long-term relationships for all buyers regardless of Individualism, Power distance,
long-term orientation contexts.
P2 Buyers from individualistic, low power distance, and short-term oriented
societies will have comparatively higher service quality expectation than similar
type of buyers of collectivist, high power distance, and long-term oriented
P3 The assurance dimension of service quality will be given higher importance by
weak buyers in high power distance societies than with similar types of buyers in
low power distance societies.
Factors Affecting Long-Term Relationships
Dwyer et. al., (1987) have developed a model which considers both the interaction
between the buyer and seller as well as the process of change in that interaction . They suggest
that relationships between buyers and sellers evolve through five distinct phases. Each stage
represents a major transition in how parties regard each other. Awareness is the first phase that
refers to recognition of the feasibility of the exchange partner. The second stage is exploration,
which refers to the search and trial phase in the relational exchange. In this phase, potential
exchange partners first consider obligations, burdens, and the possibility of mutual benefits from
exchange. The exploration phase has five sub-processes: 1) attraction, 2) communication and
bargaining, 3) development of exercise of power, 4) norm development, and 5) expectation of
trust development. Phase three is the expansion phase, which refers to the continual deepening of
the relationship from benefits obtained by exchange partners and subsequently increases their
interdependence. The five sub-processes introduced in exploration phase (phase 2) also operate in
the expansion phase (phase three). The rudiments of trust and joint satisfaction established in the
exploration phase lead to increased interdependence in the third phase. Commitment is the fourth
phase that refers to an implicit or explicit pledge of relational continuity between exchange
partners. Dissolution is the final phase, which refers to the possibility of withdrawal or
disengagement from the relationship.
Wilson (1995) developed an integrated model that blends the variables for a successful
relationship with the five-stage process model of relationship developed by Dwyer et. al., (1987).
He identified a set of 13 success variables that have both theoretical and empirical support in the
relationship marketing research. The success variables are: commitment, trust, cooperation,
mutual goals, interdependence and power imbalance, performance satisfaction, structural bonds,
comparison level of alternatives, non-retrievable investments, shared technology, social bonds,
summative constructs and adaptation. Mishra (2000) conducted a meta-analysis and converged
into a correlation table the findings from earlier relationship research published in referred
journals. He identified satisfaction, trust, and interdependence as antecedent constructs to the
likelihood of a relationship to continue. He also reported that commitment, power,
communication, conflict resolution, and co-operation indirectly effected the likelihood of the
From the above literature review we surmise the following key success variables that
directly and indirectly affect long-term relationships between buyers and sellers: communication,
structural bonding, social bonding, adaptation, cooperation, satisfaction, trust and relationship
commitment. The remainding portions of this paper discusses each of these factors relative to
three of Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture: individualism, power distance, and long-term
A customer’s initial contact with a seller must include some form of either written or oral
communication. The style, tone and content of this initial communication will likely shape the
first impressions of either or both parties and may affect the nature of relationship that develops
(Wren and Simpson, 1996, pp-72). Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh (1987) argue that communication is
an important input to customer commitment. Anderson, Lodish and Weitz (1987) contend that
communication is positively associated with customer trust, which has been empirically verified
by Anderson and Narus (1990).
Sheth (1976) developed a conceptual framework of communication in buyer-seller
relationships. He characterized communication along two dimensions: content and style.
Content of communication represented the substantive aspects of the purpose for which the two
parties have gotten together. Communication content is further defined in five utility dimensions:
functional, social organizational, situational, emotional, and curiosity. The second
communication dimension is style and is sub-divided into three dimensions: task oriented,
interaction oriented and self-oriented. Sheth suggested that the determinant factors of
communication content and style are: 1) personal factors 2) organizational factors, and 3)
product-specific factors. Personal factors will drive communication style, organizational factors
drive both communication content and style, and product specific factors drive the
communication content in buyer-seller relationships (Sheth, 1976).
Communication and national culture. Regarding style of communication, Kale and
Barnes (1992) proposed that buyers from collectivist cultures preferred sales behavior would be
more cooperative, integrative, and interaction oriented, in comparison to buyer’s from
individualistic cultures. Miles, Arnold and Nash (1990) suggested that task oriented buyers will
expect a task oriented sales adaptation at all stages of the relationship, while the self and
interaction oriented buyer will expect an interaction style of communication in the early stages of
the relationship (i.e. awareness and exploration development) and a combination of interaction
style and task style communication in the latter stages (i.e. expansion and commitment). From
the above-cited literature we propose the following propositions:
P4 Communication will be an antecedent of trust and commitment in all societies
regardless of differences in individualism/collectivism, power distance, or long-
P5 Interaction oriented communication styles will be given higher importance by
P6 Task oriented communication styles will be given higher importance by
Adaptation is the process by which both buyer and supplier might modify their resources
to suit the other. It is required to maintain collaborative relationship building. According to Ford
(1980), “adaptations mark a commitment by the buyer or seller to the relationship.” Adaptive
selling is defined as, “altering of sales behaviors during a customer interactions based on
perceived interactions and perceived information about the nature of selling situation” (Weitz,
Sujan and Sujan, 1986, p-175). Adaptation mechanisms affect the level of trust and commitment.
Adaptation and national culture. According to Frazier, Gill and Kale (1989),
compared to western markets, Indian marketing channels still have an asymmetrical balance of
power where sellers (suppliers) are more powerful than buyers (dealers). In a high power distance
culture, the less powerful buyers would not demand adaptive selling from sellers. As a result of
their characteristics of accepting inequalities, they will tolerate non-adaptive styles from sellers.
Collectivist buyers will emphasize "we" (i.e. both buyer and seller as a group) rather than "I" as
they emphasize mutual dependence and trust in interpersonal relationships. They will tolerate
poor adaptive selling styles of sellers because they anticipate that problems will be rectified in the
Gulbro and Herbig (1996) stated that high context (collectivist) negotiators are less
programmatic and less rigid, particularly in time management, contract signing, and closing deals.
On the other hand, individualist buyers view themselves as dealing with the organization not
person. In low power distance cultures, the power difference between the buyer and seller is
small. The low power distance buyer will not tolerate poor adaptive selling style from sellers. An
individualistic society member will primarily see her own interest, not other’s (i.e. the service
providers) interest as dominant in the relationship. Whenever notice is made of poor adaptive
style on the part of the seller, the individualist will immediately quit the seller without giving time
for the seller to improve. This tendency is further reinforced by the propensity of the
individualist entering and leaving groups at ease. Thus, proposition six states:
P7 Buyers from collectivist, high power distance, long-term oriented societies will
have comparatively higher tolerance to poor adaptive selling approaches on the
part of sellers than buyers from individualistic, low power distance, and short-
term oriented societies.
Bonding is defined as the dimension of a business relationship that results in two parties
(customer and supplier) acting in a unified manner towards a desired goal. Various bonds exist
between parties that indicate different levels of a relationship (Collaghan, Jannelle, and Yau,
1994). Bonding has been successful in explaining within country buyer-seller relationships (IMP
Group, 1982; Wilson and Moller, 1988). In the literature, bonds are classified under two broad
categories: structural and social bonding.
Structural bonding is the task orientation between buyer and seller. It is the “degree to
which certain ties link and hold a buyer and seller together in a relationship as a result of some
mutually beneficial economic, strategic, technological, or organizational objective”(Williams
Han, and Qualls, 1998). Social bonding is the bonding that takes place between individuals (i.e.,
the buyer and seller). During social bonding, individuals are bonded together via the
organizational members’ personal and social relationship with their counterparts in a particular
firm. Personal factors such as trust or satisfaction with the relationship partner play an important
role in developing social bonding (Williams et. al.,1998). Wilson (1995) defined social bonding
as the degree of mutual personal friendship and liking shared by the buyer and seller.
Bonds reflect and cause commitment in business relationships (Hakansson and Snehota,
1995). While studying members of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada, Smith
(1998) states that social, functional, and structural bonds provide the context from which
relational outcomes, such as trust, satisfaction and commitment, are evaluated. He introduces a
third form of bonding termed he calls functional bonding that is a further division of structural
bonding. He found that communication, cooperation, and relationship investment were important
predictors of social bonding, while relationship investment and relationalism predicted structural
bonding. Williams et. al., (1998) found that both social and structural bonding were positively
related to commitment. However, structural bonding had a greater effect on commitment than
Social bonding, structural bonding and national culture. Williams et. al., (1998)
related the individualism/collectivism construct to the buyer-seller relationship constructs of
social and structural bonding. They characterized individualistic national cultures as those with
less interpersonal orientation (i.e. social bonding), while collectivist national cultures would have
high needs of interpersonal orientation (i.e., high social bonding). Based on an empirical study of
international buyer-seller relationships from the United States, Germany, Costa Rica, and Jamaica
the authors confirmed their hypothesis that buyers from collectivist countries had the strongest
desire for social bonding. Conversely, buyers from highly individualistic countries had the
strongest desire for structural bonding. This finding is corroborated by Malhotra et. al., (1994)
who argue that business respondents developing countries give more importance to social
interaction and personal connectivity than do their counterparts from developed countries.
From the above discussion we conclude that buyers from collectivist countries will give
more emphasis to interpersonal orientation and will attach great importance to social bonding.
Buyers from individualistic countries, on the other hand, will place more emphasis on the tasks to
be performed and will attach greater importance to structural bonding. The following
propositions address this point:
P8 Social bonding as an antecedent to relationship commitment will be given
relatively higher importance by collectivist societies than individualistic
P9 Structural bonding as an antecedent to relationship commitment will be given
higher importance by individualistic societies than collectivities societies.
Cooperation refers to the extent to which parties in a working relationship help one
another and coordinate their actions (Anderson and Narus, 1990). Dwyer (1980) tested and found
that cooperation and satisfaction are correlated. Anderson and Narus (1990) found a strong,
indirect, positive relationship between cooperation and satisfaction; cooperation is linked to
satisfaction through trust.
Cooperation and national culture. According to (Triandis et. al., 1993), the
socialization patterns that are found in collectivist cultures emphasize obedience, duty, sacrifice
for group, cooperation, favoritism towards the in-group, acceptance of in-group authorities,
nurturing, and interdependence. The patterns that are found in individualist cultures emphasize
independence, self-reliance, creativity, and acceptance of disobedience. In individualistic
cultures people are very good at entering and leaving groups, but do not develop deep and lasting
relationships with the same frequencies as collectivists. By contrast, in collectivist cultures people
are very shy, or less able to enter new groups, but tend to establish more intimate and long-lasting
relationships that do individualists. Therefore, the collectivist buyers will attach more importance
on cooperation between buyer and seller than individualistic buyers. As such, the proposition
P10 Cooperation as an antecedent of trust and satisfaction will be given higher
importance by buyers from collectivistic societies and will be given less
importance in individualistic societies.
Gronroos (1991) stresses the importance of continuously assessing customer satisfaction
in a relationship-marketing situation. Higher levels of satisfaction have been found to lead to
higher levels of commitment. Satisfaction with a service provider acts as a mediating variable
between two related variables, trust and social bonding, and the outcome variable of commitment
(Gladstein, 1984; Kelly and Davis, 1994; Hocutt, 1998). Their findings indicate that satisfaction
has a direct effect upon trust and an indirect effect upon commitment through trust.
Satisfaction and national culture. In high power distance cultures, an asymmetric
balance of power exists between the relatively powerful and relatively weak partners. The more
powerful partners often exercise power by using coercive strategies to achieve their objectives. In
these cultures, the relatively powerful partners do not consult with their weaker counterpart. On
the other hand, in low power distance cultures, consultative and participative decision-making is
more common between powerful and weaker parties. The distribution of power tends to be more
symmetric and a greater recognition of mutual inter-dependence between powerful and weak
partners tends to occur. Consequently, the frequency of using coercion in these cultures is less
common. Frazier and Summers (1984; 1986) demonstrated that the dealers expressing less
satisfaction with the inter-firm relationship are more likely to dissolve their relationship when
their manufacturer uses coercion to achieve their objectives. Additionally, their empirical tests
confirmed that firms from low power distance cultures do not consciously use coercion in their
influence attempts. Kale and Mclntyre (1991) opine that firms experiencing less power in high
power distance societies would experience relatively lower levels of satisfaction in the channel
relationship compared with similar firms in low power distance societies. With respect to
satisfaction, proposition eleven and twelve posits that:
P11 Satisfaction will be the antecedent of trust for all buyers regardless of
individualism, power distance, or long-term orientation contexts.
P12 Buyers having low power in high power distance societies will perceive
relatively less satisfaction in comparison with buyers with similar power in low
power distance societies.
Trust is a fundamental relationship building block and is included in many relationship-
marketing models (Wilson, 1995). The centrality of trust in developing long-term relationships
has been emphasized repeatedly in the marketing channels literature (e.g., Anderson and Weitz,
1989; Dwyer et. al., 1987; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Even though a number of factors have been
proposed, three characteristics of trust appear often in the literature: ability, benevolence, and
integrity. As a set, the three characteristics appear to explain a major portion of trustworthiness
(Mayer et. al., 1995). Ganeson (1994) found that the long-term orientation towards partners is a
function of the amount of trust embedded in the relationship. Trust has been reported to be an
important precondition for increased commitment (Miettila and Moler, 1990).
Trust and national culture. Doney et. al., (1998) developed a model that conceptualized how
national culture affects the development of trust in the buyer-seller relationship. Specifically, the
five cognitive trust building processes in business relationships (i.e., calculative, prediction,
capability, intentionality, and transference) conceptualized by Doney and Cannon (1997) are
proposed as differentiating factors in cross-cultural relationships. Their research suggests that
those cultures exhibiting a high degree of individualism and low power distance will determine
trust by analytical means (calculative and capability processes). In contrast, trust is built more on
intentionality and transference in collectivist and high power distance cultures.
Individualist societies are characterized by a self-orientated and “loose” interpersonal
relationship culture. On the other hand, collectivist societies are characterized by a group-
oriented and “tight” interpersonal relationship culture. A buyer’s trust in a sales person is likely to
be a driver of commitment and long-term orientation only in cultures which emphasize greater
importance on interaction and group-oriented relationships. When performance evaluation is
based on individual achievement and rewards are measured on the level of performance only,
then short-term gains (such as good pricing and delivery time) are given greater importance. Less
relationship-oriented cultures are more likely to choose a supplier primarily based on objective
performance criteria. Conversely, buyers in more relationship- oriented cultures are more likely
to prefer dealing with firms and sales people whom they can trust.
As mentioned earlier, Malhotra et. al., (1994) indicated that developing countries give
more importance to social interaction and personal connectivity than developed countries. In a
similar vein, Adler et. al., (1987) found that relationships were more important to Mexican
negotiators (collectivists) than to negotiators from the United States(individualists). Although
Mexican negotiators made less profit, nonetheless, they achieved higher levels of satisfaction and
The research evidence indicates that individualistic-based cultures are task oriented
whereas collectivist-based societies tend to be interaction oriented. As the individualist culture
gives low priority to interpersonal relationships, trust in the sales person will not carry so much
importance with them for commitment and long-term orientation. In contrast, collectivist cultures
are characterized by their interaction and group orientation. Collectivists value interpersonal and
social relationships. Trust is therefore a key driver for long-term orientation of buyers. This
implication leads to the prediction that trust will not be considered as important to the
individualistic, low power distance, short-term oriented buyer.
Interestingly, (Kale and Barnes 1992) have argued that high power-distance societies
typically view outsiders as threats and, as a result, show less inclination towards an initial trusting
relationship. People in such societies will discuss business only after developing trust in the
person. Conversely, people in low power distance societies feel less threatened by outsiders and
tend to trust them more. Thus, high power distance cultures consider trust as a more important
factor for commitment and long term relationships compared to low power distance cultures. Our
thirteenth proposition follows:
P13 Trust in the seller as an antecedent to relationship commitment and long term
relationship will be of higher importance for collectivistic, high power distance
buyers than for individualistic, low power distance cultures.
Commitment indicates the motivation one possesses to maintain a relationship.
Commitment is an important variable in discriminating between “stayers and leavers”
(Mummalaneni, 1987). The determinants of a long-term, mutually profitable buyer-seller
relationship have been established as including trust at the initial stages of the relationship
development leading to commitment in the more advanced stage (Dwyer et. al., 1987; Ganeson,
1994; Wilson, 1995). Commitment is the most significant and critical variable for future long-
term stability of buyer seller relationships. Commitment, according to Dwyer et. al., (1987, p-19)
refers to “an implicit or explicit pledge of relational continuity between exchange partners.”
Furthermore, the authors consider commitment to be the most advanced phase of the buyer-seller
relationship. Wilson and Mummalanei (1988) argue that the greater the commitment of the
organization to a specific relationship, the greater the stability of relationship. In turn, this
increased stability will lead to a longer duration of the relationship.
Kumar, Hibbard and Stern (1994) distinguish two different types of commitment:
affective and calculative. Affective commitment connotes a general positive feeling towards the
exchange partner. Calculative commitment, on the other hand, refers to firm’s motivation to
continue relationship on the basis of the net extrinsic benefits received. Trust leads to affective
commitment or, in other wards, a strong desire to maintain a relationship (Wetzels et.al., 2000) .
On the other hand, basing relationships on the perceived cost benefit ratios of the service provider
relative to other competitors leads to calculative commitment. Calculative commitment is based
on an economic rationale whereas affective commitment devolves from a psychological
predisposition based on economic and non-economic aspects (Geyskens et. al., 1996).
Commitment and national culture. The general culture in a collectivistic society is
described as interactive and group-oriented. Members of these cultures give more importance to
friendship and personal feelings in deciding whether or not to continue business relationships.
Buyers from collectivist cultures give more importance to personal relationships over
relationships based on economic benefits. According to Hui and Trandis (1986), individualists
decide and act on the basis of whether an action leads to personal gain. Thus, individualists are
generally described as task-oriented cultures where people count economic benefits more
important over personal relationship for continuing inter-personal relationships. Thus,
propositions for commitment are stated as follows:
P14 Relationship commitment will be positively related to long-term orientation.
P15 Calculative commitment as an antecedent of long-term relationships will be
higher in individualistic societies than in collectivist societies.
P16 Affective commitment as an antecedent of long-term relationships will be higher
in collectivist societies than in individualistic societies.
Several propositions clearly emerge from the above discussion. A number of Hofstede’s
national culture dimensions are important in understanding service quality and long-term buyer-
seller interpersonal relationships. Individualism/collectivism, power distance, and long-term
orientation are linked to perceptions and relational formation patterns across cultures. To ignore
the impacts of cultural differences is to run a risk that marketing practices in one country may
prove to be insufficient in another. This paper attempts to provide insights for marketing theorists
and practitioners about the relative importance of relationship marketing practices across different
cultures. The next step in our work is to develop testable hypotheses and structure a
measurement model in order to verify the propositions outlined in the paper.
References provided from authors upon request