Sample theoretical framework of a dissertation
The theoretical framework defines the key concepts in your research, proposes relations between them, and discusses relevant theories based on a literature review.
A strong theoretical framework gives your research direction, allowing you to convincingly interpret, explain and generalize from your findings.
Sample problem statement and research questions
Company X is struggling with the problem that many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases. Management wants to increase customer loyalty and believes that improved customer satisfaction will play a major role in achieving this goal.
To investigate this problem, you have identified the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:
Problem: Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.
Objective: To increase customer loyalty and thereby generate more revenue.
Research question: ‘How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order to increase customer loyalty?’
- ‘What is the relationship between customer loyalty and customer satisfaction?’
- ‘How satisfied and loyal are company X’s online customers currently?’
- ‘What factors affect the satisfaction and loyalty of company X’s online customers?’
As the concepts of “loyalty” and “customer satisfaction” play a major role in the investigation and will later be measured, they are essential concepts to define within the theoretical framework.
Sample theoretical framework
Below is a (simplified) example of how you can describe and compare definitions and theories. In this example, we focus on the concept of ‘customer satisfaction.’
2.1 Customer satisfaction
Thomassen (2003, p. 69) defines customer satisfaction as “the perception of the customer as a result of consciously or unconsciously comparing their experiences with their expectations.” Kotler & Keller (2008, p. 80) build on this definition, stating that customer satisfaction is determined by “the degree to which someone is happy or disappointed with the observed performance of a product in relation to his or her expectations.” Performance that is below expectations leads to a dissatisfied customer, while performance that satisfies expectations produces satisfied customers. Expectations being exceeded leads to a “very satisfied or even pleasantly surprised customer” (Kotler & Keller, 2003, p. 80).
The definition of Zeithaml and Bitner (2003, p. 86) is slightly different from that of Thomassen: “Satisfaction is the consumer fulfillment response. It is a judgement that a product or service feature, or the product of service itself, provides a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment.” Zeithaml and Bitner’s emphasis is thus on obtaining a certain satisfaction in relation to purchasing.
Thomassen’s definition is the most relevant to the aims of this study, given the emphasis it places on unconscious perception. Although Zeithaml and Bitner, like Thomassen, say that customer satisfaction is a reaction to the experience gained, there is no distinction between conscious and unconscious comparisons in their definition. Company X claims in its mission statement that it wants to sell not only a product, but also a feeling; as a result, unconscious comparison will play an important role in the satisfaction of its customers. Thomassen’s definition is therefore more relevant to the current study.
Thomassen’s Customer Satisfaction Model
According to Thomassen, both the so-called value proposition and other influences have an impact on final customer satisfaction. In his satisfaction model (Fig. 1), Thomassen shows that word-of-mouth, personal needs, past experiences, and marketing and public relations determine customers’ needs and expectations. These factors are compared to their experiences, and this comparison between expectations and experiences determines a customer’s satisfaction level. Thomassen’s model is important for this study: it allows us to determine both the extent to which company X’s customers are satisfied and where improvements can be made.
Fig. 1: Customer satisfaction creation (Thomassen, 2007, p.30).
Of course, you could analyze the concepts more thoroughly and compare additional definitions to each other. You could also discuss the theories and ideas of key authors in greater detail and provide several models to illustrate different concepts.