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Testing complexity theory in service research

Catherine Prentice (Department of Marketing, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 17 January 2020

Issue publication date: 15 April 2020




This study aims to draw on the complexity theory and uses a non-an asymmetrical method – fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) to test the core tenets of complexity theory, namely, asymmetry, equifinality and causal complexity and valence reversals or conjunction with a focus on testing the relationships between service quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty. Case outcome forecasting accuracy rather than relationships are tested in asymmetric testing.


Both symmetrical (structural equation modelling or SEM) and non-symmetrical (fsQCA) methods were used to test the proposed relationships (symmetrical testing) and case outcome forecasting accuracy (asymmetric testing). The former was used as a comparison. The study setting was in Australian airports. The data were collected from departure passengers.


The results from SEM and fsQCA differ substantially. The former provides very simplistic findings of variable directional relationships; whereas the latter presents asymmetrical, equifinal and conjunctional relationships regarding service quality, customer satisfaction and behavioural intentions. These findings support the core tenets of the complexity theory.

Research limitations/implications

The study findings conform to the complexity theory that indicates relationships between variables can be nonlinear and the same causes can produce different effects. The findings suggest the outcomes of interest often result from combined antecedent conditions rather than a single causal factor. The study confirms that asymmetrical thinking relies on Boolean algebra and set theory principles.


This study uses both symmetrical and asymmetrical methods to reveal the nuanced information about the relationship that has been tested primarily using symmetrical methods.



The author expresses sincere gratitude to Professor Arch Woodside for his guidance on using fsQCA. This paper excerpted some contents from an unpublished co-authored paper with Arch who has kindly agreed for them to be included in this paper.


Prentice, C. (2020), "Testing complexity theory in service research", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 149-162.



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