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CEO compensation, customer satisfaction, and firm value

Suman Basuroy (Price College of Business, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA)
Kimberly C. Gleason (Finance, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)
Yezen H. Kannan (A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)

Review of Accounting and Finance

ISSN: 1475-7702

Article publication date: 4 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this article is to examine whether the design of chief executive officer (CEO) compensation generates incentives to engage in managerial behavior that enhances customer satisfaction and whether these incentives, in turn, lead to higher firm value.

Design/methodology/approach

A unique dataset combining customer satisfaction and executive compensation data was used, and the relationship between option sensitivity, customer satisfaction and performance was modeled using simultaneous equations modeling with industry and year fixed effects.

Findings

Findings suggest that CEO compensation plays an important role in explaining the variation in customer satisfaction and firm value. Specifically, CEO short-term compensation (salary or bonus) has no affect on customer satisfaction or firm value; the sensitivity of CEO wealth from long-term incentive compensation to stock price changes is positively related and also exhibits an inverted U-shaped relationship with customer satisfaction; the sensitivity of CEO wealth from long-term incentive compensation to stock price changes interacts negatively with CEO longevity and industry concentration but positively with advertising expenses in affecting customer satisfaction; the sensitivity of CEO wealth from long-term incentive compensation to both stock price changes and customer satisfaction positively affect firm value; and the sensitivity of CEO wealth from long-term incentive compensation to stock price changes interacts positively with customer satisfaction to affect firm value.

Research limitations/implications

This study suffers from several limitations. First, the sample is limited to firms with ACSI scores available. Second, this study is limited to only publicly traded firms, which limits our ability to generalize regarding customer satisfaction, option sensitivity and firm value.

Practical implications

This study has several important implications for researchers and managers. The first is that the corporate board appears to view investment in customer satisfaction as similar to an investment in other intangible assets or technology, in that they reward managers with a nonlinear payoff profile. To encourage managers to invest discretionary funds wisely, incentive compensation is important. Second, compensation committees of corporate boards should not allow the option sensitivity to reach extreme levels because, at some point, managers’ incentives appear to shift more toward short-term earnings objectives and away from investment in intangibles, which have a longer-term payoff. Third, if boards are concerned about customer satisfaction and market value, when designing compensation packages, they should shift their focus from the structure of pay to the sensitivity of pay to performance. The exception to this is that for CEOs with very long tenures (or for those close to retirement), high levels of option sensitivity may distort incentives away from a focus on customer satisfaction. Finally, our results indicate that strategies that enhance customer satisfaction provide an incremental benefit in terms of firm value, beyond incentive compensation strategies.

Social implications

The results indicate that a “stakeholder focus” which includes customers is value adding for shareholders as well. The results also imply that perhaps using a “balanced scorecard” approach to assessing performance in terms of customer satisfaction outcomes, or at least acknowledging the drives of customer satisfaction explicitly, could be an alternative to using highly sensitive incentive-based compensation when such compensation schemes are less desirable.

Originality/value

Prior research has found that the structure of fixed versus incentive-based compensation impacts customer satisfaction. However, this is one of the first papers to investigate the relationship between the sensitivity of CEO compensation and customer satisfaction. Findings have important implications for boards who seek to structure CEO pay so that CEOs have incentives to enact policies that benefit customers and, in turn, firm performance.

Keywords

Citation

Basuroy, S., C. Gleason, K. and H. Kannan, Y. (2014), "CEO compensation, customer satisfaction, and firm value", Review of Accounting and Finance, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 326-352. https://doi.org/10.1108/RAF-11-2012-0120

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited