In the working paper ‘Determinants of customer satisfaction with socially responsible investments: Do ethical and environmental factors impact customer satisfaction with SRI profiled mutual funds?’, authors Jonas Nilsson, Johan Jansson, Sofia Isberg and Anna-Carin Nordvall present findings derived from a survey of around 400 private investors of a major EU mutual fund provider. While return on investment is still the most important aspect of SRI, they find there is still a ‘statistically significant link between evaluation of SEE quality and overall satisfaction with the SRI profiled mutual fund.’ This result has significance beyond the scope of such marketing-driven concerns as customer retention: it also impacts society at large. ‘If customers would choose the pro-social option on a consistent basis and become loyal customers, environmental and social benefits are likely to follow,’ say the authors.
The research, conducted with financial support from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) through the Sustainable Investment Research Platform (SIRP), was focused on filling a specific information gap: while there is a lot of existing research on consumer attitudes and behaviour leading up to the purchase of green/ethical/ ‘good’ products, the understanding of how consumers actually evaluate their satisfaction in the post-purchase stage has been almost nil. ‘This is troubling…[because] for marketing managers the most important reason to understand consumer evaluations in the post-purchase stage is its importance for consumer satisfaction…[which is] closely connected to loyalty and future purchasing behaviour,’ they say.
To collect the necessary information on customer satisfaction with SRI mutual funds from private investors, the research team worked with a major European mutual fund provider. They created a survey in which they asked questions related to perceived technical and functional quality of the SRI funds. ‘Technical quality attributes’ included the perceived financial and SEE qualities of the SRI, while ‘functional quality attributes’ examined certain service-oriented aspects of the provider (such as opening hours, convenience, communication and expertise). Of 2000 questionnaires sent via mail to customers with at least one socially responsible investment in their portfolio, 369 were filled out, returned and analysed by the researchers.
The results indicate that SEE quality is unlikely to generate customer satisfaction by itself. Instead it seems to be the combination of the quality of core conventional attributes and SEE attributes that generates satisfaction for customers of pro-socially positioned products and services. ‘Customers of pro-social products and services are likely more satisfied if they realise that their investment in the SRI fund is making a difference in terms of social, ethical, and environmental aspects,’ they say. This understanding highlights the need for SRI practitioners and companies to (1) focus on delivering a better financial return than competitors, and (2) to communicate this in an effective manner to SR investors.
‘The results of this study highlight the importance for firms to deliver SEE quality to customers if they are to keep purchasing the pro-socially positioned goods,’ a purchasing behaviour that can have long-term positive impacts on society and the environment, say the researchers.