Critical Business Episodes : The Criticality of Damage Adjustment Processes in Insurance Relationships
Abstract: Corporate insurance relationships involve a highly intangible professional service which provides the corporate customer with risk reduction. Insurance services are here defined as being composed of two elements: the delivery of a feeling of security, and, in the event of a loss, the damage adjustment and claim settlement. The damage adjustment process is defined as a critical episode in the insurance relationship.The purpose of the thesis is to investigate corporate insurance relationships with special attention to critical episodes, in order to analyse the criticality of the episodes with respect to the relationship. The thesis draws on research on business-to-business relationships, services marketing, relationship marketing, and insurance services in a service quality perspective. The critical episode is seen as a normal but unpredictable entity within the relationship, that may influence the overall relationship character in a significant way. The potential of the critical episode to affect the development of the business relationship is however not only determined by the episode itself, as its criticality is moderated by the character of the relationship and the relationship context.Qualitative case studies of four corporate insurance relationships were conducted, based on interviews with several informants in the customer companies. The informants' perceptions of the damage adjustment process were studied and analysed, as well as their perceptions of and intentions regarding the overall insurance relationship. The findings of the empirical study indicate that in these four cases, the damage adjustment process was indeed critical to the overall insurance relationship. Nevertheless, the influence of the character of the insurance relationship as it had evolved over time was at least equally important. Moreover, in one of the cases, factors in the relationship context not only moderated, but actually determined the future relationship development, thereby overruling the influence of the character of the relationship and the influence of the critical episode.The criticality of a critical business episode can only be assessed when analysing the whole entity of the episode in relation to the overall character and context of the relationship in which it occurs. The contributions of the thesis regard customer-perceived insurance relationships in a business-to-business setting as well as critical episodes in business relationships generally.
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