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Change the world

01/04/2022

Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus will make history during its Autumn Graduation Ceremony, when Cerneels Coetzee, 56, will receive the first doctorate in the Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences to be awarded at this campus.

Cerneels, a lecturer and consultant in business management, researched the customer relationship practices and online servicescape (interaction between customers and employees) for an unsought business, such as a funeral home. His promoter was Marketing Management’s Professor Madéle Tait. His research topic, including the construction of a functional online servicescape, is largely unresearched in academia, says Prof Tait.  
 
“No, I don’t work in the funeral industry – it was just the industry on which I based my study, he laughs. But I did learn a lot about the industry.” He was once asked for tips on how to market a funeral home, which sparked his interest.  
 
The topic of his study is really about online Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which he approached from the servicescape perspective – those first impressions that customers experience of a business. So, he took the servicescape model into the online environment. 
 
And this is where the funeral industry comes in. Funeral services, pest control and those type of services are classified as unsought services – a sector of services which is largely under researched worldwide.
 
As the funeral industry is firstly, an unsought service, and secondly, delivers its services during a time when the customer is under immense emotional stress, time is of the essence, and money is a concern. Therefore, a fully functional online servicescape, is so much more important, Cerneels says.  
 
His study findings confirmed that the website’s usability, interactivity and navigability and the presence of other contact details also have an impact on customers’ trust and beliefs in the business’s website and especially its services. 
 
The study would also be applicable to other industries in the unsought service environment. 
Cerneels decided at the age of 40 to pursue his doctorate and started the post-graduate process all over again. “It was a great "back-in" into the post-graduate study environment”, he says. He hopes to continue and that his PhD would open more doors into the academy. 
 
He holds a BTech: Public Relations Management and an MTech: Marketing from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). 
 
“I always envisioned my doctoral study to be the “crowning glory” of my career, it was a life goal but
 also related to career advancement in higher education. And it really lived up to the crowning glory aspect of it, he says. 
 
“I had so much fun working with Prof Tait (right) as my supervisor, and although it requires a lot of dedication to deliver a thesis, I never felt overwhelmed, or lost, as she created that “safety net” for me in which I could safely operate with an unorthodox topic like the one I selected. This was by far one of the greatest experiences of my life”, he says. 

Contact information
Professor Madele Tait
Professor in Marketing Management
Madele.Tait@mandela.ac.za