Congratulations to Dr Cerneels Coetzee, who graduated at the George Graduation ceremony on 7 April 2022 with his PhD in Business Management.


Having studied a BTech in Public Relations Management followed by an MTech in Marketing, a PhD in Business Management was the next logical step and always on the cards for Dr Coetzee. Not only was this decision motivated by his intrinsic life goal of reaching the pinnacle of academic achievement, but also extrinsically to advance his career in the academic realm.


Dr Coetzee is a full-time lecturer and academic, so it was challenging at times for him to switch from work mode to study mode, especially when the fatigue set in at the end of the day. However, formulating and sticking to a work/study schedule was the key to making this challenge more manageable. When asked about any other challenges, Dr Coetzee expressed how he had not found the process overly difficult, but rather one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. “Embedded within the process was the growth factor – growing as a researcher and subsequently delivering a well-rounded product,” he said. He subsequently found that the biggest challenge when attempting to undertake a PhD study is to remain dedicated, but if you “keep your eye on the prize”, dedication comes naturally. Remaining dedicated and working systematically through the process allowed him to complete the study in the minimum time required to deliver a PhD thesis (3 years).


Dr Coetzee’s supervisor, Prof Madéle Tait, played a huge role in his success and helped him complete his PhD in excellent time. “I could not ask for a better supervisor and promotor than Prof Madéle Tait! Her experience shone through in the way she guided me. She has the innate ability to point to specific issues without much ado in her feedback, which led to me improving my delivery consistently throughout the process. I never felt overwhelmed or lost during the process, as she created that ‘safety net’ for me, in which I could safely operate with an unorthodox topic like the one I selected.”


Dr Coetzee’s thesis is titled: “Constructing an online servicescape for the funeral industry”. In the study, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was approached from an online servicescape perspective, which involves investigating the first impressions that customers get of a business when they land on a website. In terms of the study’s target industry, funeral services are classified as “unsought-after services”, which are services that people will only search for when they are required and are not a part of their usual consumption patterns. These types of services are generally under-researched, and in fact, it was determined that this study was a world first in its approach of online servicescapes. The study focussed on the key functional factors of an online servicescape that will influence a customer’s decision making when they are experiencing an unreceptive buying situation.


The key findings of Dr Coetzee’s study revealed that when creating a website for a funeral home, the usability of the website, the option to contact the funeral home beyond the website, and the effortless interactivity and navigability of a website should be prioritised, as it will significantly impact users’ trust and beliefs in a funeral home website. The respondents indicated that they would trust the services of a funeral home if the servicescape is fully functional but would be distrustful if there are any dysfunctional components. It is therefore imperative for a funeral home to ensure that the online servicescape is fully functional to ensure trust and purchase intention, as the online environment is more often than not the first time that a customer who searches for information about a funeral home, will engage the funeral home’s offerings.


Given the specific context of his research, Dr Coetzee joked that people always assume that he works in or is directly associated with the funeral industry. “I used to, and still do, get these puzzled looks from people when I explain my study.” In reality, however, the funeral industry was just the selected industry on which he based his study. “My study was not about death care or grief counselling – it was about a specific business component and how it reflects in the online environment – but people automatically assume that it is about death care.” The idea of analysing the funeral industry actually came to Dr Coetzee one day when an independent funeral home director in Pretoria asked him (at a non-funeral related social function) for tips on how to market her funeral home. However, he does admit that he did in fact learn a lot about the industry in the process!


To conclude, Dr Coetzee shared some advice for any current or aspiring PhD researchers – “Stay committed and dedicated to the process. The reward is worth it!”



Contact information
Professor Madele Tait
Professor in Marketing Management