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School of Business | Department of Marketing | Marketing | 2016
Thesis number: 14706
The role of digital channels in initiation of business relationships from the customer perspective
Author: Koval, Daria
Title: The role of digital channels in initiation of business relationships from the customer perspective
Year: 2016  Language: eng
Department: Department of Marketing
Academic subject: Marketing
Index terms: markkinointi; business-to-business; suhdemarkkinointi
Pages: 113
Key terms: digital channels, business relationships, relationship initiation, customer perspective, business-to-business
Lack of theoretical conceptualization of a customer perspective on business relationship initiation and a phenomenon of growing significance of digital channels in business-to-business context have contributed to establishing the research idea for this thesis. Relationship marketing is an underlying theory in this research. Various business relationship development models provide a basis for summarizing the existing theoretical perspectives on the relationship evolvement. Furthermore, digital channels, their use in business-to-business context and in the relationship initiation in particular are discussed. A proposed theoretical framework for researching the role of digital channels in business relationship initiation finalizes the literature review of this thesis.

The case company is a Finnish textile service provider, which is strongly oriented at offering customer-specific service solutions co-created together with the customers. The case company recognized the missing potential in the implementation of digital channels in initiating customer relationships in Russia. The empirical part focused on testing the proposed theoretical model and conceptualizing the customers' perspectives on the phases of relationship evolvement and the presence of digital channels in them. Ten semi-structured interviews with potential and existing customers of the case company in Russia were carried out during March-June 2016.

The key findings indicate that customers perceived the relationship to evolve through five phases: awareness, first contact, offer request or placement, final decision and co-operation. Awareness was mainly created by websites, social media, online reviews and newsletters; online service systems and mobile applications triggered attraction; websites also played a role in building trust towards the case company and suppliers in general. Overall, the digital channels were a significant part of both interaction and customer decision-making process. The digital channels influenced the relationship initiation by allowing access to open information sources, a high degree of interactivity in information presentation and time-saving advantages. These findings are further summarized into managerial implications for the case company, which provide guidelines for strategic implementation of the relevant digital channels.
Master's theses are stored at Learning Centre in Otaniemi.