Effects of Personal Resources on Relationship QualityArticle

Prior, Daniel D. “The impact of service worker personal resources on relationship quality in business solutions.” Industrial Marketing Management 53 (2016): 216-225.


Dr. Michael Gunderson, Director and Professor


A worker’s flexibility, reputation, and empathy all positively affect the quality of a relationship. It is notable, however, that all three have an impact only for the customer management team members. For customer delivery team members, the only personal resource that has influence is empathy.
The authors investigate and discuss the impact of a service worker’s so-called “personal resources” on the quality of relationship with the customer firm. These personal resources are simply the service worker’s flexibility, reputation, and empathy. The authors also consider the role of the service workers when interacting with the customer firm. The service worker can either be part of the customer delivery team or the customer management team. The authors collected responses from 220 professionals in customer firms. The professionals assessed the relationship they have with a particular service worker. The professionals answered a series of questions related to relationship quality, the service worker’s flexibility, reputation and empathy.

What this means for agribusinesses

In my last Quarterly Review article, I indicated that building brand equity is every employee’s job, particularly as it relates to service offerings. The quality of individual relationships with customers collectively become the brand equity in a service-oriented firm. The article in this review makes it additionally clear the way that individuals in different service roles are likely to positively influence brand equity. In your agribusiness, you might have two broad types of employees responsible for interactions with the farmer customer. Some employees are focused on the delivery of service (chemical applicators in crops and feed delivery people in livestock), while others are focused on the management of the relationship (crop consultants and nutritional consultants).

In the article, Prior notes that flexibility, reputation, and empathy all influenced the quality of the relationship with members of the customer management team. Product-service hybrids in business relationships typically result in greater customer satisfaction and profitability. Members of the customer management team now are responsible for helping communicate how several parts of a complex system complement each other. Many agricultural retailers train representatives to provide agronomic advice about nutrients, crop protection, and seed genetics and traits. It might be the case that the representative takes an entire crop plan or “solution” to the farmer.

If a business solution is what the representative is offering, the rep must have the flexibility, reputation, and empathy to be successful. Empathy, because the rep must put aside his or her own biases on how to best grow a crop, and instead focus on understanding the goals of the farmer customer. This will require flexibility because every farmer customer is going to be different. A single solution will not work on all farms. Instead, the rep will have to adapt the solution to each customer. Finally, it is unlikely for a farmer to trust a new rep who has not established a reputation of competently understanding the farm business and the ability to offer relevant solutions.

For the customer delivery team, empathy was the only personal resource that mattered. It is nice to have additional evidence to support what seems intuitive. When service delivery occurs, the farmer and supplier have already agreed upon a solution. The reputation and flexibility needs have preceded the customer delivery team. Empathy remains important because during delivery the interaction might occur between two task-focused employees. Thus, understanding how getting the task done correctly affects the employees of the client firm is critical in determining relationship quality.

A shift in the way the business of production agriculture occurs has heightened the importance of a strong “emotional intelligence quotient” among employees of agribusinesses supplying inputs to producers. Traditionally, sales interactions in production agriculture focused keenly on a single input at a specific purchase time. As farms have grown in size and number of employees, the number of interactions a salesperson has with a single farm have grown. At the same time, the complexity of the interactions have grown. Now producers want to understand the relationship among several inputs used in production.

Arming a member of the customer management team with only technical information is likely to be shortsighted and ineffective. Sophisticated customers will demand interactions with individuals that have demonstrated an ability to understand their concerns and tailor solutions to them. Members of the customer management team would likely benefit from additional insights on building a reputation for delivering relevant and effective product-service offerings.