Determinants of customer partnering behavior in logistics outsourcing relationships: a relationship marketing perspective

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Developing close relationships with third-party logistics providers (3PLs) has been acknowledged in the literature as a beneficial strategy for 3PLs and customer firms. It has been shown that customers embedded in close relationships with 3PLs achieve higher levels of operational and financial performance. 3PLs also benefit from engaging in these relationships by generating higher levels of customer satisfaction, customer retention, and referrals to new customers. In order to complement these findings, this study integrates theories and empirical evidence drawn primarily from relationship marketing to develop a model of the antecedents of customer partnering behavior in logistics outsourcing relationships.

It is proposed that a combination of key interorganizational conditions and customer characteristics directly impacts a customer's partnering behavior with a 3PL. More specifically, a customer embedded in a relationship with a 3PL in which there are high levels of dependence, trust, and satisfaction, is more likely to exhibit higher levels of partnering behavior with a 3PL. In addition, a customer's prior experiences with partnering, and policy of engaging in interactive relationships with customers, will also positively impact its partnering behavior with a 3PL. Antecedents of dependence and trust are also identified in the model.

Data are collected through a web-based survey with customers of a large Brazilian 3PL and the model tested using structural equation modeling. The results support several of the hypotheses proposed in the model. In particular, evidence is found that customer-specific characteristics, such as a customer relationship marketing orientation and prior experience with 3PL partnering, have a positive effect on a customer partnering behavior with a 3PL, above and beyond the effect of interorganizational conditions, as advocated in traditional behavioral models.

Contributions of this research include the depiction of the interplay between environmental forces, interorganizational conditions, and firm-specific factors that are hypothesized to impact a customer's partnering behavior with its 3PL. With an understanding of the mechanisms on which a customer's partnering behavior is built, 3PLs can take effective action in the pursuit of the development of closer relationships with their customers, contributing to the maintenance and expansion of their customer base.