10.4185/RLCS-2017-1190en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS, 72-2017 | |
Analysis of communication factors influencing customer loyalty among university students
Translation by CA Martínez-Arcos
Higher education institutions have been created to respond to the needs of the communities in which they operate, and specifically to prepare individuals in different areas of knowledge, so that they can serve society as productive entities, with a high humanistic approach and a solid scientific-technical basis. This is why it is argued that: “the cultivation of science and the humanities takes place in another level of collective existence” (Revista EKOS, 2009: 126).
In Ecuador, higher education is a field that involves the participation of different types of institutions that offer a diversity of degrees in different learning modalities. One of the common drawbacks faced by these organisations is student dropout, which has “social and economic consequences that directly affect the family environment, the academic community and the country, and are not only limited to Ecuador” (Fernández, 2014:34)
Figure 1: Dropout rate in an Ecuadorian university
According to various studies conducted in the last decade, student dropout is higher in distance education programmes, especially in the first years. The factors that have been identified as the causes of non-completion include: teaching methods, economic problems and lack of time to study. An example of this reality is shown in Figure 1, taken from the “Study of undergraduate non-completion rates and causes in distance learning programmes”, which found out that more than 50% of the student population abandon their studies in the initial stage.
Faced with this scenario, customer loyalty can contribute to the decreasing of student dropout rates. Based on the previous premise, this research presents the case study of an Ecuadorian distance learning university that aims to identify the communication factors that influence the customer loyalty.
Loyalty is understood as “a positive attitude, which involves the union of customer satisfaction (formed by rational elements, affection and behaviours) and a stable and durable consumption action” (Alcaide, cited by Agüero and Collado, 2014: 3)
Today, meeting the needs of customers is necessary to provide consumers with products and services that meet their expectations and desires, which is what builds loyalty.
According to the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (2011), loyalty includes the “actions carried out by a company to set up stable relationships with clients in the long term, to create in the customer a sense of belonging towards the organisation, and consequently generate positive conversations about it”.
From this theoretical approach, customer loyalty, in the current context faced by organisations, can be turned into a sustainable competitive advantage for the company over the industry.
The service culture evolves according to the dynamics of the environment; where the market and the client’s profile change. This dynamic has transformed the concept from transaction-based sales to relational sales, where the construction of relations with the customer is a priority and becomes a differentiating element to achieve greater competitiveness in the market. In this new scenario, communication takes a leading role, because its management enables the construction of relationships and links (p.17)
Loyalty does not only imply retaining customers, but also turning these audiences into letters of introduction for potential customers, through recommendation.
Thus, organisations of all kinds, as in the present case study, which belongs to the higher education field, should focus their efforts on achieving high levels of satisfaction in their customers, which is the basis for ensuring their loyalty. Therefore, the company should show its interest and commitment with its public.
However, establishing links with stakeholders is one of the primary tasks of communication. To this end, communication management and business marketing should be directed at enhancing and optimising customer service, which consists in ensuring that stakeholders and consumers become loyal clients of the organisation.
Fundamentals of customer loyalty building
Emotions constitute one of the strategic tools to build customer loyalty. This is shown in the following Figure, which addresses the five aspects considered in loyalty building: differentiation, personification, satisfaction, loyalty and regularity, each of which integrates a series of actions to be achieved.
Figure 2: Fundamentals of customer loyalty building
Source: Authors’ adaptation of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (no date)
1.2. Loyalty matrix
Schnarch (2011) proposes an interesting loyalty matrix that enables the classification and measuring of the degree of customer satisfaction and relationship, which is shown below:
Figure 3: Loyalty matrix
Source: Schnarch (2011: 72)
The author explains the meaning of each of the terms used in this matrix:
Placing university students in one of these categories is certainly necessary to determine their level of satisfaction with the educational service provided by the institution, and develop suitable strategies to make all kinds of publics to be identified as apostles.
1.3. Customer loyalty indicators and categories
Artel (cited by Romero, 2014) classifies loyalty indicators and categories (p.17) in the following way:
Artel also explains that loyalty is divided into the following three aspects:
Identifying these factors in the relationship between customer and organisation allows us to determine customers’ position and level of commitment to the organisation, as well as the current state and perception of the service offered by the company.
1.4. Benefits of loyalty
According to Vieites, (2012), satisfied customers do not only represent the possibility for repeated purchases, but also a series of added benefits to the company:
Our study adopted a mixed research approach, i.e., it combined qualitative and quantitative techniques, to know the perception of diverse institutional aspects of the university under study and particularly of its distance learning study programmes.
Quantitative data were obtained by means of the survey technique, based on closed questions of perception and weighting, applied to a research sample.
The inductive and deductive methods, which go from the particular to the general and vice versa, were direct observation and documentary analysis, and subsequently to contrast the diagnosis of the situation and the final conclusions. The in-depth interview was also used to collect the opinions of the institution’s management team.
The study adopts an exploratory and descriptive approach. It is exploratory because it seeks to establish and highlight the fundamental aspects of a given problem and find the appropriate procedures to correctly diagnose the current situation of the communication management and the actions to build customer loyalty. It is descriptive because it seeks to collect systematic, precise and objective data that will be used in the analysis and interpretation of results. These two approaches allowed for a clearer and more objective understanding of the subject matter, and provided the basis for the final proposed.
The techniques used in this research are:
2.2.1. Direct observation
This technique allowed us to carry out in-depth observation of the case study, and to establish a direct relationship between the object of study and the researcher, which facilitated the understanding of the context of study.
Three in-depth interviews were conducted with the leaders of the teams directly linked to the customers of the distance learning study programmes.
An online survey of 10 questions of weight and perception was applied to a sample of 395 students, obtained with the following formula:
3. Results and discussion
In the development of this research, we considered it was necessary to establish the reasons why students preferred the distance learning mode, because this is a determining factor for the potentialities of loyalty.
Figure 4: Reasons to choose the distance-learning mode
More than half of the surveyed population, 55.69%, chose to study in distance-learning mode because their job did not leave enough spare time for on-site education. The second most common answer was people’s need to obtain a degree to grow professionally, with 11.89%. Most of the respondents who chose the variable “Other” specified that their time is limited because they have to take care of their family.
The following figures present the results of the 3 dimensions addressed in the survey:
Figure 5: Satisfaction rate of distance students of the Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL)
This survey question evaluated the level of satisfaction of students in five aspects, in a 1-5 scale, obtaining an average of 3.28/5. In conclusion, the satisfaction level is over 50% but this does not mean that the evaluation of these aspects should not be improved.
Figure 6: Identification of communication channels for effective procedures
University support centres, with 43.31%, are the main channels used by students to carry out their academic procedures. Likewise, call centres and student services office, with 25.06% and 21.51%, respectively, the next most used channels among students. Email and social networks are the least used channels for administrative services, with 4.81% and 1.01%, respectively. With regards to the “other” channels, they were not specified by respondents.
Figure 7: Identification of informative channels
61.51% of the student population obtains university-related news from the institutional website, which receives high acceptance. This communication channel is followed by social networks with 25.31 of acceptance. There is a low percentage of students who use the mobile app and the internal newsletters for information, with a rate of 4.75 and 3.79%, respectively, which indicates that these channels are not fulfilling the role for which they were created.
Figure 8: Weighting of attributes (constellation of attributes)
In order to establish the criteria of student dropout and the importance of communication in the loyalty of university audiences, in-depth interviews were conducted with three University directors. These interviews produced information from which we draw the following conclusions:
Agüero, L. & Callado, J. (2014): Estrategia de fidelización de clientes. Tesis de grado. Cantabria, España: Universidad de Cantabria. Retrieved from:
Álvarez, A. (2011). Medición y Evaluación en Comunicación. España: Instituto de Investigación en Relaciones Públicas (IIRP).
Buele, M., Ramón, L. & Sánchez, C. (2013): Estudio de índice y causas de abandono temprano de los estudios universitarios de modalidad en distancia. Boletín REDIPE. Revista de la Red Ibeoamericana de Pedagogía. Retrieved from: https://issuu.com/redipe/docs/boletin_830/38
Capriotti, P. (1992). La Imagen de Empresa. Estrategia para una comunicación integrada. Barcelona, España: El Ateneo.
Capriotti, P. (2013). Planificación estratégica de la imagen corporativa. (4° ed.). Málaga, España: Instituto de Investigación en Relaciones Públicas.
Costa, J. (2005). Master DirCom: Los profesores tienen la palabra. La Paz – Bolivia: Joan Costa y Grupo Editorial Design.
Costa, J. (2012): El DirCom de hoy: Dirección y Gestión de la Comunicación en la nueva economía. Barcelona: CPC Editor.
Costa. J. (2015): El paradigma DirCom: El nuevo Mapa del Mundo de la Comunicación y el management estratégico global. Barcelona: Costa Punto Com Editor.
Fernández, X & Silva, E. (2014): Cuadernos de contrato social por la educación: Deserción estudiantil universitaria en el primer semestre. El caso de una institución de educación superior. Contrato Social por la Educación: Ecuador. Retrieved from: http://uide.edu.ec/media/1365/10.pdf
Fuente, S. (2015): Módulo Comunicación de Marketing. Quito, Ecuador: Universidad de las Américas: Master DirCom.
García, J. (2009). Comunicación & Marketing. España: LabCom Books. Retrieved from: http://www.livroslabcom.ubi.pt/pdfs/20110817-sixto_garcia_marketing_2010.pdf
Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Universidad Virtual. (2011): MK152-CRM (Customer Relationship Management) como estrategia de mercadotecnia. Diplomado en Mercadotecnia. México.
Ménsen, V. (2011): Fidelización de clientes: concepto y perspectiva contable. Artículo, Costa Rica: Revista digital de la Escuela de Administración de Empresas del Tecnológico de Costa Rica. Retrieved from: http://revistas.tec.ac.cr/index.php/tec_empresarial/article/view/586
Ménsen, V. (2011). Fidelización de clientes: concepto y perspectiva contable. Artículo, Costa Rica: Revista digital de la Escuela de Administración de Empresas del Tecnológico de Costa Rica.
Moreno, C. & Cerro, S. (2009). Valores empresariales: de la teoría a la práctica. Cataluña: España: Generalidad de Cataluña Departamento de Economía y Finanzas. Retrieved from: http://www.url.edu/ethos/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/VALORES-EMPRESARIALES.pdf
Muriel, M. & Rota. G. (1980). Comunicación Institucional: Enfoque Social de las Relaciones Públicas. Quito: Editora Andina.
Ocampo, M. (2011). Comunicación Empresarial. Plan estratégico como herramienta gerencial y nuevos retos del comunicador en las organizaciones. Bogotá ECOE Ediciones.
Reinares, P. & Ponzoa, J. (2004): Marketing Relacional: un nuevo enfoque para la seducción y fidelización del cliente. (2°. ed.). Madrid, España: Prentice Hall Financial Times.
Ritter, M. (2012). Cultura Organizacional. Buenos Aires: La Crujía Ediciones.
Ritter, M. (2013). El Valor del Capital Reputacional: por qué la opinión que el público tiene de su empresa es un activo estratégico. España: Ritter and Partners Comunicación Estratégica.
Romero, G. (2014): Plan de marketing relacional para fidelizar a los clientes de la Escuela Rusa de Ballet en el cantón
Samborondón. Tesis de grado. Guayaquil, Ecuador: Universidad Católica de Santiago de Guayaquil. Retrieved from:
Schnarch, A. (2011): Marketing de fidelización: Cómo obtener clientes satisfechos y leales, bajo una perspectiva latinoamericana. Bogotá: ECOE ediciones.
Vahos, J. (2014). Imagen Corporativa: modelos de gestión. Antioquía: Editorial Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.
Vieites, R. (2012): Atraer y fidelizar clientes. Santiago de Compostela, España: C.E.E.I Galicia, S.A. Retrieved from http://datos.portaldelcomerciante.com/MiAfic/userfiles/167/Biblioteca/3dad1d4ec4fee5f7c719Guia-para-atraer-Fidelizar-Clientes_cas.pdf
Varela, R. (2008). Innovación empresarial: arte y ciencia en la creación de empresas. Bogotá, Colombia: Pearson Educación de Colombia Cia. Ltda.
How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
VK Duque Rengel, ME Abendaño Ramírez, AV Velásquez Benavides (2017): “Analysis of communication factors influencing customer loyalty among university students”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 72, pp. 751 to 764.
Article received on 18 December 2016. Accepted on 25 June.