What is ‘Reliability’?
When asking customers the factors which are important in making purchase decisions; ‘reliability’ will feature somewhere in the discussion, depending on the product and the customer’s own preferences. A young person considering purchasing a vehicle may consider ‘aesthetics’ or ‘performance’ over ‘reliability’, where the opposite may be true for a middle-aged RNLI volunteer. Of course such stereotypes are based upon pre-conceived ideas: which applies to the concept of ‘reliability’.
Is a product perceived pre-purchase to be ‘reliable’ due to marketing and reputation, or post-purchase, where the product has performed to the customer’s expectation, and can be ‘relied’ upon to serve its purpose? Out of all the dimensions of product quality, ‘reliability’ is possibly the most abstract. The degree to which a product is reliable is related to ‘trust’, something that is difficult to measure on an individual basis. Such ‘trust’ in marketing terms must be formed pre-purchase in the opinion of the customer, in order for the post-purchase realisation of ‘reliability’ to be perceived.
‘The success of a new product depends on both engineering decisions (product reliability) and marketing decisions (price, warranty). A higher reliability results in a higher manufacturing cost and higher sale price. Consumers are willing to pay a higher price only if they can be assured about product reliability.’ (Huang 2007)
Consumers choose goods and services based on the assumption that they will be rewarded with value and satisfaction. ‘Reliability’ is a major factor within value perception, with the perception of reliability being quantified somewhat within Customer Satisfaction Surveys.
Word-of-mouth and personal recommendation
The concept of ‘reliability’ is difficult to market and advertise directly to potential customers. A product can be viewed instantly pre-purchase to see if it matches customer expectations in terms of function and style, but since a products ‘reliability’ is viewed over time and conditions, the difficulties of expressing this, in say a sixty second commercial, are significant.
Perhaps one of the most credible methods of marketing ‘reliability’ as a product feature comes best through recommendation and word-of-mouth. Consumers tend to trust word-of-mouth communication with a reference group more than they do commercial information resources in estimation of brand alternatives, frequently respecting word-of-mouth as a means to reduce risk in making purchase decisions. ‘Word-of-mouth has a more important effect than other information resources on perceptions with respect to food and household appliance purchases. When consumer perceptions of quality and reputation are high, ‘consumers are willing to recommend the company to others. Consumers are generally influenced by other people’s opinions when in a purchase state of high involvement.’ (Ha 2008)
The internet is now the most common way for customers to recommend products to other consumers (amongst non-acquaintances), and it is here in customer reviews and customer satisfaction surveys on reliability that potential customers are conducting pre-purchase research. ‘In spite of complaints about information overload, the primary reason people go online is to find information, because the Internet has become popular as a resource for gathering information about risk reductions and purchases.’ (Ha 2008)