1 The unseen exchange: An investigation into the social ingredient of customer satisfaction Pabitra A.

Chatterjee Grenoble Ecole de Management Doctorate in Management Course – 28 February 2013

2 The unseen exchange: An investigation into the social ingredient of customer satisfaction Pabitra A. Chatterjee Grenoble Ecole de Management Doctorate in Management Course – 28 February 2013 Abstract Though much consumption is shared by groups, for example, family, colleagues, unexpectedly little is known about the effect of fellow consumers on customer satisfaction. This may be rectified by considering the consumer’s experience as a whole. Using episodic interviews and thematic coding, this research finds consumers exchange different types of social support during a typical consumption experience (restaurant meal with friends); and suggests the fulfillment of social and utilitarian needs have both complementary and moderating relations in determining overall gratification. Keywords: Social influence, connected customer, social influence on consumer behaviour, customer relationship Acknowledgment: The author thanks Dr Olivier Trendel. Contact: pabitra.chatterjee@grenoble-em.com

3 The unseen exchange: An investigation into the social ingredient of customer satisfaction Pabitra A. Chatterjee1 Introduction Imagine celebrating your birthday with your friends and family at a pizzeria. The fare is à la carte, but you are the center of attention. Next, picture yourself eating alone at the same restaurant. Intuition and experience suggest the unalike social settings just outlined should lead to considerably different consumption experiences for you, even if the food and service are essentially the same on both occasions. Conceivably, the levels of your customer satisfaction from your dining experiences will be different too. Even your ratings of the food and service may differ. For example, when alone you may notice shortcomings you would ignore had you had engaging company. Yet, if the pizzeria administered an after-meal satisfaction questionnaire, would they even ask you about your dining companions? They would not, if the 54 randomly selected academic studies on diners' customer satisfaction at eateries (list available on request) are an indication. The social context of consumption is barely mentioned and in none does it appear as a determinant, directly or indirectly (i.e., as a moderator or mediator), of customer satisfaction. Generally, there is little on the social context of consumer behavior (Buttle, 1998; O’Guinn & Muñiz, 2009; Kuppelwieser & Finsterwalder, 2011; Brocato, Voorhees, & Baker, 2012; Simpson, Griskevicius, & Rothman, 2012) and, specifically, customer satisfaction (Rogers, Peyton, & Berl, 1992; Martin, 1996; Fournier & Mick, 1999). In contrast, in real-life ‘routine, ordinary' consumption is also 'collective' (Warde, 2005; p 146). For example, restaurant patrons value company highly (Andersson & Mossberg, 2004; Scitovsky 1985, quoted in Andersson & Mossberg, 2004) and socializing is a ma1Pabitra A. Chatterjee is a doctoral student at the Grenoble Ecole de Management, and acknowledges assistance from Oliver Trendel in preparing this paper.

4 jor reason for eating out (MarketResearch.com, 2010; Liang & Zhang, 2012). This is but expected. “Eating is a profoundly social activity. Overwhelmingly, people prefer to eat with others; the opportunities that meals offer for sociability are recognized universally.” (Warde, 2011). Even the word ‘companion’ comes from, pan, Latin for bread, and literally means ‘someone to break bread with’ (Ferris & Stein, 2010). Research demonstrates the importance of social factors in consumption in other contexts too (e.g., Arnould & Price, 1993; Holt, 1995; Goodwin, 1996). In the end, what is a home but a house shared by a family (Belk, 2010)? Most probably, the deficit on the social side of customer satisfaction is inherent to the conventional conception of the topic. Customer satisfaction is defined as ‘the consumer’s fulfillment response. It is a judgment that a product or service feature, or the product or service itself, provided (or is providing) a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment, including levels of under- or over-fulfillment’ (Oliver, 1997). Typically, overall customer satisfaction is calculated as a weighed sum of consumers’ rating of service or product features. Thus, S = a + ΣbR (eqn. 1), where S is overall satisfaction, R is rating on a feature, and a and bs are coefficients (ibid.; emphasis mine). Thus, customer satisfaction is seen as an isolated, individualized (or solipsistic) state (Fournier & Mick, 1999). There is little room for interconsumer interactions or relations in this view. The present essay briefly reviews why existent falls short of accounting for the effects of possibly the most influential fellow consumers on a focal consumer’s customer satisfaction; puts forward social support as an comprehensive framework for understanding these effects, manifest in everyday consumption by ordinary groups like families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors; confirms the applicability of the framework in explaining the effects of groupmembers on each other's customer satisfaction from a common consumption experience, eat-

. Pieters. other consumers diminish customer satisfaction through disruptive behavior. 2003) or strangers with whom the focal consumer has a chance encounter (Nicholls. Raajpoot & Sharma. & Capella. 2006). brand communities. 1994. and concludes with suggestions for applying the framework further.. Beatty. and are counted as determinants of customer satisfaction with services (Oliver. The more the perceived compatibility. 2003. 2011). Existent research – focus on the peripheral or the exceptional It would be precipitant to conclude that social factors have never been considered in research on customer satisfaction. 1997. 1999a). 2010).. Conversely.' They are either part of the service-scape provided by the marketer (Tombs & McColl-Kennedy. in a service facility. & Zeelenberg. Brocato et al. 1997. First. Second. 2005. identifiable) fellow consumers (Martin & Pranter. Booms. 2008). consumers prefer to be surrounded by compatible (similar. and 'third places' (The third can be seen as a subset of the first). looking beyond product or service at- . 2010). and vice versa (Bougie.. Bitner. quoted in Zhang. the higher is customer satisfaction (Grove & Fisk. Pleasant interactions leads to good experiences (Moore. Other consumers in service settings: Those ‘in the service facility simultaneously with – and who are unacquainted with – a focal customer’ (Brocato et al. Typically. 2012. including quantitatively. Raajpoot & Sharma. & Mothersbaugh. While research on other consumers legitimizes including elements not provided by the marketer as determinants of customer satisfaction. and violation of informal norms (Grove & Fisk. p 2) are designated as 'other consumers. i. these factors are considered in three areas: service settings. & Mohr. 2012).e. inter-customer interactions greatly outnumber customer-employee interactions (Martin & Clark. in service settings.5 ing out with friends. incompatible needs. Zhang et al. Huang. Moore. 2006). 1996. 1989.

p. identification and participation appear to form a virtuous cycle. & Herrmann. 2002. in a virtual community. increases satisfaction (Drengner. it appears to include only the marginal. Langerak. 19932). then. Satisfaction results from community participation.g. p. There is a positive relationship between communion with others (communitas) and satisfaction (Arnould & Price. satisfaction with a brand leads ‘consumers to seek out and interact with like-minded consumers who share their enthusiasm’ (Algesheimer. Happily. organizer-to-member and organizer-to-community interactions (de Valck. Hartleb. influence satisfaction more than strangers and chance acquaintances. his family. emphasis mine). satisfaction and participation are positively related (Nambisan & Baron. colleagues or friends. 2012). Fournier & Lee. Relations between customer satisfaction and identification with and participation in brand communities are complex. For example. in a collective hedonistic service (music festival). 2009) but 2It should be noted that the communitas in this research was between consumers of a rafting adventure. a member’s satisfaction depends. Schmitt. 2012). 412. Lin. the research on brand communities involves somewhat stronger ties. Intuition suggests people the focal consumer usually consumes with (as a group). brand communities are ‘explicitly commercial’ (B. In short. e. 2007. on memberto-member. in part. quoted in Woisetschläger. . Cova & Cova. Dholakia. Verhoef & Verlegh.. not a brand. Consumers take on a range of roles in brand communities (Kozinets.. 2002.6 tributes. Conversely. Brand communities: A brand community is ‘a specialized. Jahn. & Blut. 2007. satisfaction. This research cannot possibly answer all questions about fellow consumers’ effect on satisfaction. e. Not many brands have identifiable brand communities. 2008). 2005. based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand’ (Muñiz & O’Guinn. For those that do.g. 2006). the sense of community developed during consumption leads to hedonistic value which. non-geographically bound community. Overall. & Gaus. 23). 2001.

to relations formed at the salon. Some consumers. Third places: These are ‘public places that host the regular. people who normally consume together. it is doubtful if brand communities have substantial impact on most of their members. Rosenbaum (2006) finds customer satisfaction and loyalty towards a third-place are positively related to frequency of social support from commercial friends. especially senior citizens who have suffered events weakening or destroying their relationships. The evidence on effects of such commercial friendships on customer satisfaction is mixed. what the stylist does. at a health club. quoted in Rosenbaum. that is. 2006). friendship or work ties. Hence.e. patronize third places for companionship and emotional support. though related to loyalty and wordof-mouth reference. Presumably satisfaction depends on outcomes. 2001) it is hard to believe that brands mean as much for consumers as their champions believe them to (Desmond. research on brand communities can be only a part of the research needed to understand inter-consumer influences on customer satisfaction. Huang.7 most roles are minor (O’Guinn & Muniz. More broadly. Above all. 2009). behavioral loyalty or intentional loyalty. This may be due to several reasons: Some relations existed before the persons in- . Guenzi and Pelloni (2004) find no relations between inter-consumer closeness and customer satisfaction. (2005) find inter-consumer interaction. Then. 2002). have practically identical consumer profiles (Ehrenberg. Finally. brand community research is not about consumers not bonded by brands but by family. and not on relations. is not related to satisfaction. across categories. Consequently.. Moore et al. However. whereas loyalty is. 2012). voluntary. i. at a salon. 1974. when comparably priced brands. informal. and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work’ (Oldenburg. & Chiu. Kennedy & Ehrenberg. 1999. there is almost no research on brand community outside the West (Tsai. forming 'commercial friendships' with personnel and other consumers. partly.

2009) Whenever a consumer consumes. if the club did not encourage relationships among consumers. 2010).' family and colleagues. and. 2010). friends. thereby reducing their dependence on the club as a meeting place. the latter did not count such relationships as part of their consumption experiences. the foci of existent research almost ignore that consumption of commonplace products and services is shared by ordinary groups like families. these experiences. that is. not special ones like brand communities or commercial friends. neighborhoods.” (Schmitt. and the rest. ask what consumers obtain from. To summarize. Research on third places concerns itself principally with how certain consumers ‘sustain socially supportive relationships with other customers and receive resources that most people receive from family. as provided by marketing efforts before and after purchase). and contribute to.8 volved became co-members of the club. A humbler view of consumption experiences – the key to the social side of consumption “Experiences are private events that occur in response to some stimulation (for example. Plainly. consumers interacted outside the club too. which focuses on consumers’ goal-directed search and processing of information and evaluation during con- . emphasis mine). shared between 'non-commercial friends. friends and colleagues. it leaves out consumption experiences in homes. it is necessary to reexamine the way consumer experiences are delineated. Unlike the cognitive or utilitarian view of consumption. workplaces. and co-workers’ (Rosenbaum & Massiah. To account for the ubiquitous but unnoticed shared character of consumption (Belk. therefore. it does not cover the overwhelming majority of shared consumption experiences. etc. he enjoys an experience (Chang & Horng. 2007. besides the product or service consumed. which factors determine consumers' customer satisfaction from these experiences.

In such consumption. adventure packages. marketers and consumers collaborate.9 sumption.. differentiates these from solitary consumption. Cova & Dalli. 2009. Obviously. and is appropriated (re-branded) by the consumers. with the former supplying the platform where-from the latter fashion their distinctive experiences. in which experiences are located using two dimensions: ordinary vs. cultural events (ibid.g.. is the core of consumption experiences in the middle of the market-society continuum. which need not be goal-directed (Holbrook & Hirschman. 1982). a value facilitated by the marketer but created by consumers. society. Not only that.). and represents the social factor of customer satis- . Happily. 'it is no longer the wine of brand X that we share during a specific evening. sports tourism. such an orientation is unsuitable for investigating everyday consumption in primary groups. On the market-end of the latter axis. memorable experiences (Raghunathan. and market vs. experiential interpretations focus on consumption’s non-utilitarian aspects. This collaboration bestows experiences with linking value.e. This essay suggests that its counterpart at the society-end of the continuum is a similar. but the wine of our group of persons ABCDE' (ibid. Thus then linking value. e..e. the consumed product is exonerated of its market attributes. the marketer almost single-highhandedly develops the experiences and consumers only immerse themselves into a ‘hyper-real’ context. e.. an inclusive framework has been suggested by Carù and Cova (2003). Typically. emotions and symbolism. e. consumption is for the sake of social interaction. perhaps broader concept. 2011).g. like context. value in ‘construction. the main role of the consumed product or service is to establish or reinforce ties between consumers. development or maintenance of interpersonal links – even ephemeral ones' (Cova & Dalli. i.. becomes an object in a relationship-building ritual. extraordinary. In the axis's middle. 2011). that adds value to everyday consumption in groups. experiences by sports and entertainment brands. i.).g. experiential marketing literature concerns itself with exceptional.

Similarly. Hence. It was introduced into consumer behavior by Adelman. This is the concept of social support. 2011). & Lin. First. then again. for a variety of reasons the focal consumer may use his fellow consumers' customer satisfaction as inputs for deciding how satisfied he is. There is considerable overlap between their taxonomy and others’ (see Appendix I).in a word: help. the taxonomies are not coincident. 1984. Ahuvia. Uncertainty reduction • Communication: This is ‘communication that reduces uncertainty… and functions to enhance a perception of personal control’ (Adelman et al. (1994). the modified taxonomy has the same three components as the original: 1. The original constituent of self acceptance. (2006) and placed under self acceptance. 'social comparison of opinions' has been included. and social identity both help an individual understand who he is. Their taxonomy is presented below. The framework of social support Social support is ‘aid – the supply of tangible or intangible resources – individuals gain from their network members’ (Berkman.. though in very different ways. 'construction and maintenance of social identity' has been borrowed from Johnson et al.' As argued below.10 faction from such experiences. Though this can be slotted under informational support. it perhaps has a different sense than what Adelman and his colleagues intended informational support to mean. quoted in Song. Thus. social comparison of achievement and ability. certain extensions are suggested for Adelman et al. . House. 1981. and Goodwin (1994). it is treated separately. 1994) . Joonmo. Hence. under 'uncertainty reduction. Therefore. the value exchanged through links or ties. both have been included under self acceptance but kept apart thereafter.

Crusius. Self-acceptance • Social comparison of achievement and ability: This constitutes of ‘opportunities for feedback about themselves and for validations of their expectations about others’ (Caplan. & Mussweiler. This is social comparison (Festinger. 1954). Therefore. 1997).. When it comes to customer satisfaction. • Construction and maintenance of social identity: A person identifies with people of a desired type. Comparisons. Comparison with others provides justification (Suls. comparisons are more efficient than absolute modes of information processing (Mussweiler & Epstude. This is both constructive. Secondly. i. Thirdly. 1976. quoted in Corcoran.. the evaluator seeks accord with consumers similar to himself (Suls et al. 2. . a certain lifestyle (Cova. and safe. & Wheeler. affective responses involve little conscious processing. decrease the amount of information processed to evaluate or judge a given object (Corcoran et al..e. because it brings in perspectives from outside one’s close circle (Granovatter. particularly social comparisons. 2011). 2011).. 1988). e. 2009. people validate their interpretation of social reality by comparing it to others’ interpretations. 1973). • Social comparison of opinions: Ambiguous or confusing situations are unsettling.g. 2000). Martin. avoids threats to selfevaluation (Tesser. because it avoids destructive competition between close friends and colleagues. Shared consumption with friends. leaving the individual puzzled about his own preferences.11 Consumers share informational and instrumental support that may or may not be about the immediate consumption. 1994). quoted in Adelman et al.. acquaintances and colleagues allows a consumer to compare himself with persons outside his intimate circle. 2000).

excessive help. consuming with friends can help an addict procure drugs (uncertainty reduction). Schetter & Brooks. 1994). An example is the universal welcome to new neighbors: “Why don’t you come over for tea sometime?” Three points should be clarified here. Social integration: This constitutes of ‘information leading the subject to believe that he is cared for and loved… esteemed and valued… that he belongs to a network of communication and mutual obligation’ (Cobb. it is how satisfied he is. 2006). not all social relations are beneficial. or over-involved.12 3.. it is about the effects of social support on customer satisfaction. Bedell. people who can help being irritating. Detrimental results of support include ineffective help. 2006. unwanted or unpleasant interactions. Social support and consumption experiences: Adelman et al..g. e. Their effects should be the opposite of helping or affectionate relations: This is indeed the case in Baldwin.. help with ‘strings attached. Rosenbaum & Massiah. and Johnson (1997). & Ostrom. 2007) employ it to explain patronage of third .’ (Kang & Ridgway. Rosenbaum. supportive relations have costs and risks.g. and negative regulations. Walker. broken promises. Also. First. (1994) presents social support principally as something consumers obtained from personnel in service settings. The question is not how those drugs harm him. And of course adversarial relations do harm rather than give social support (Labianca & Brass. 1979. 1996. Oliver (1999b) uses social support from consumption communities to explain the social aspect of brand loyalty. exchanging thoughtfully selected gifts contributes to both uncertainty reduction and social integration (Adelman et al. 2007. and Rosenberg and colleagues (Rosenbaum. quoted in Adelman et al. Ward. the concern here is not whether outcomes of social support are good or bad. Second. To take an extreme case. 2009).. e. the three forms of social support overlap. annoying. 1994). Third. rather. rather.

It was expected to suffice because it structures social support in general and is not confined to consumption contexts. 2009. much consumption is shared in groups. it is a vital need. McTavish. is to substantially extend the scope of social support in consumer behavior. Method Why research an experience qualitatively: Adelman et al. 2006). One way to test it would have been to use a quantitative survey of the sort typically used in customer satisfaction research (Oliver. Landis. (1994) use their framework primarily to explain interactions between consumers and staff. this needed confirmation. Possibly not coincidentally. The moot question then is that. lack of existing research on the subject precluded this as a first step. but it can be made to do more. A person’s main sources of social support are the groups he belongs to (Johnson et al. & Umberson. Thus. 1988)and well-being (Schetter & Brooks. and suggested qualitative research instead. It has well-established benefits for health (House. how is exchanging social support related to consuming? And how does it influence customer satisfaction? To answer these questions. However. 2006.. The suggestion. exchanges of social support should coincide with most instances of shared consumption. However.13 places (outlined above). Similar to need-to-belong (see Baumeister. the question was whether the same framework can adequately analyze inter-consumer social support. 2011). Operationally. we examine a shared consumption experience using the framework for social support just described. though inter-consumer interactions are mentioned. . given that much consumption is shared by groups. 1 above). to consider it an constituent of all or most group consumption experiences and a determinant of customer satisfaction from such experiences. therefore. eqn. 2012).

the satisfaction/dissatisfaction. emphasis mine) find that ‘meanings and emotions that particularised consumers’ usage experiences’ affects customer satisfaction more than whether perceived product performance meets (consumers’) comparison standards. diverse benefits are inherent to the experience. Why choose ‘eating out’: A restaurant provides both products (food and drink) and services (waiting. organization. 2002. midway between the ordinary and the extraordinary. at the same time. At the same time. music). quoted in Carù & Cova. It may be seen as evenly poised on the experiential framework proposed by Carù and Cova (2003). Market | Eating out | Ordinary - - Extraordinary . colleagues or business acquaintances is to talk with them informally. where goods and services are purchased. The framework. that is. p 15. the irritation/flow. and society. sometimes. 2003). the logical point of departure on a search for the effects of social support on customer satisfaction was the core consumption experience.14 In qualitative research. the principle motivation for eating out with friends. quoted in Carù & Cova. which embraces ‘its sensation. as a tool for detecting and understanding inter-consumer social support. was put to test by investigating a typical collective consumption experience – eating out with friends. Eating out was also selected because of its routineness. with whom goods and services are typically consumed. It is not one of the extraordinary experiences that researchers typically study but which rarely occur to most consumers (Schmitt 1999. community. the transformation’ (Arnold et al. Thus. family. the satiety. and midway between the market. 2003). Fournier and Mick (1999. studying consumer satisfaction with hi-tech products. Therefore. it is not so common as to be unnoticeable.

86 58% Chronically ill 41% Retirees and empty-nesters 30% No-event members 25% .00 4. Some of their findings. based on Carù & Cova (2003) More importantly.36 8. and Ostrom (2007) Bereaved and divorced Fraction of supportive relationships in the diner Number of diner relationships Companionship Emotional support Instrumental support 57% 42% 39% 47% 15% 21% 33% 9. and how that affected their satisfaction with the dining experience.15 Society Figure 1: Eating out as a consumption experience.00% 10. Ward. Then. and Ostrom (2007) use the stress-buffering role of social support to argue that destructive events. can lead consumers to seek emotional support. Warde and Martens (2000. from a diner. The present research asks why they liked company so much. from Rosenbaum.00% 9% 25% 10% 10. death.71 3. companionship and instrumental support (see comparison of taxonomies of social support in Appendix B) in ‘third places’. divorce. Rosenbaum. are summarised as follows: Table A: Comparison of event and no-event patrons at a diner. Walker. Walker. retirement. for example. illness. p 173) find most people like their company while eating: 89% of those who ate their last meal at a commercial establishment and 92% of those who ate it a home say they had liked the company ‘a lot’. Ward.

people rather than its stress-buffering role (As the table shows. 2005) around the two .74. on a scale of one to 10) than non-commercial ones (M = 8. Since the aim was to draw out consumers’ reality. (b) the day-to-day role of social support for ordinary. Episodic interviews produce data that can be compared to yield generalizable concepts.). the episodic interview. M = 4. which makes ‘the process of constructing reality more readily accessible than approaches which aim to abstract concepts and answers in a strict sense’ (Flick 2009) was apt. Research design Semi-structured episodic interviews were used to explore consumers’ experiences. Using semi-structured interviews enhanced reliability because all respondents were asked the same questions.16 They also find that commercial friendships at the third place are weaker (average strength of tie. in both absolute and relative terms. The present research differs substantially from theirs in that it focuses on (a) social ties between people who happen to be consuming together rather than people related by typically weak space-specific ties (commercial friendships) that result from consuming together. and not to construct a new theoretical concept to explain their choices. than those who have suffered destructive events. while bias due to the researcher was reduced by standardisation of questions (O’Leary & Dowds. no-event. they show consumers who receive companionship and emotional support from fellow patrons of a place form an attachment to the place.07). and (c) the experience of consumption rather than its venue. Follow-up questions were split in the tree-and-branch fashion (Rubin & Rubin. that is. 2003. ordinary people do depend less on space-specific ties for support. The questions are given in Appendix C). yet has the specificity required for in-depth understanding (ibid). Using structural equation modeling.

p 146). 11 persons were interviewed. except two that were conducted via a VoIP service (Skype). 2004) and similar across taxonomies (Appendix B). Though all interviewees were my previous or present classmates. It was improbable that new categories of social support would emerge during the analysis. and not an outing of their own choice. an anniversary. interviewees were asked to describe their last outing. age.) entertainment. nationality) and psychographic (for example. thematic coding. culture) terms. None asked . transcribed. none did. Therefore. and not just objective. 2005. that is. In accordance with Arksey and Knight (1999). In the event. the first three interviews were used as a pilot run to hone the questions. the data came from a reasonably heterogeneous sample. Of these. using subjective. They recommend such consumption be studied in terms of consumers’ overall experience. (1994). for example. that is. ordinary.17 parts of the experience: what the restaurateur provided towards the evening’s (All interviews were about dinners. introspective reports. another was unemployed. and the rest were researchers. interviewees were asked to describe meals with friends. and what was collaboratively created by the consumers themselves. The focus being on the ‘routine. four women and seven men. the conversation. conventional nature of much consumption’ (Warde. only two can be described as friends. collective. Hence. read six times and thematically coded using the framework based on Adelman et al. that is. The transcripts were emailed to all interviewees. Doing the latter could have prompted them to recall a special occasion. The interviews were conducted face-to-face. In all. that is. Use of existing categories for coding. p 135) classify eating as ‘relatively pleasure-oriented consumption’. was justified because the categories of social support are well-established (Schwarzer & Buchwald. food. service and atmosphere. one was an operations engineer. The matter was recorded. behavioral data. Three interviews discussed the same meal. They were diverse in demographic (for example. Holbrook and Hirschman (1982. a birthday.

we want to order hamburger. interviewees’ experiences involved more than one form of social support. They said. On previous occasions. she also mentioned how her dining companions withheld discouraging information.” (and gave) no further details. they held their silence and let her order it. We tried the steak before and we did not like it. Taking informational assistance first. So. some of her party had eaten the dish she was keen on and had been disappointed. Possibly they reasoned that tastes being idiosyncratic. More interestingly. Let us consider illustrative examples. discussing a deal over a meal).” And we had the conversation before. you see that’s why we didn’t order the steak – because we didn’t like it.18 for revisions. Uncertainty reduction and control: This consisted of consumers exchanging informational and instrumental assistance. Also.” They didn’t want to be so frank in the beginning because they saw that I was so excited . yet. “We have to confess something. “So. either one in the dining party or one not present. after which she would draw her own conclusions. about the thing being consumed (for example. recommending a condiment during a meal) or otherwise (for example. an interviewee recalled she and her dining companions debated their order for half an hour. when I ordered the steak and I did not like it so much they said. Social support during collective consumption All three types of social support were in evidence. Then. that you guys came here to eat steak and not hamburger and (I asked) why are you ordering hamburgers and they said. “No. several interviewees mentioned the restaurant they dined in was recommended by a friend. that is. they helped each other select. she was entitled to an experience unbiased and undamped by their assessments. no. That’s why we ordered hamburger.

The arrangements were particularly demanding because certain guests were .d. Thus.. evaluations. An instance of similar aid occurred at a dinner between an interviewee and a young couple. In the original framework by (Adelman et al. one of the purposes of social comparison. that is. collective action. During dinner. Most probably they shared food in spite of such issues so that everyone could sample a variety of dishes and indulge in a little gastronomic adventure without having to spend extra. for understanding mainly social support from service providers to consumers. one does not expect instrumental assistance (for example. This is considered taboo in certain cultures (Fox. the couple discussed stressful arrangements for their upcoming wedding with the interviewee. Note: They did do it again.) Let us now consider support not linked to the consumption. they helped each other assess the experience. that is. 1994). partaking each other’s food to bond. I think they (friends) were very satisfied because they were very happy. (Y) At the end of the evening everybody was happy with what happened. There may have been ritualistic signaling too. (L) Offhand. My close friends said that it was nice to meet new people. The three interviewees who went to the same outing remembered diners shared food off each other’s plates there. not everyone was comfortable with it. for example. as well. Interviewees discussed food with fellow guests. a bartender patiently listening to a stressed patron’s worries (Adelman et al.. was served. help with cutlery) at adults’ meals. as one interviewee noted. 1994). soon after the interview. yet there were instances of it too. and noticed whether their overall satisfaction matched their companions’ mood.) and. There was social comparison of opinions. They said it was nice. that is. Thus. n.19 about the steak. (B. at each other’s expense. My colleagues said that they would like to do it again. this constitutes of personnel offering counsel and sympathy to consumers.

(The same interviewee feared he committed a faux pas by talking about politics. Verily. as a group. appreciate and indulge in the good things of life. the interviewee was a dispassionate. how people try to fit in with society’s rules and some people don’t. and identity creation and maintenance. social comparison of ability and achievement. Here is how an interviewee compared her career choices: I was sitting with A. Eating out allowed diners to compare their abilities and achievements to acquaintances’. (C) Self-acceptance: This took two forms. (R) . And I have a few diplomas of my own and so we were talking about how weird (it was) for people. We were (saying) how we don’t really fit into the social role and so we started talking about what the society expects from people. some diners may have come together to see themselves as bon vivants. social norms are complicated. neutral facilitator in the deliberation. and they are sort of pointed at and others perceive them as weird people.) Dinner-table discussions could be about long-term issues too. for example. about children and life changes: I am godfather to one of his daughters and she passed Baccalaureate and she is also trying to enter some arts school and we were also discussing where she is and her chances. Ostensibly. those who. who is a former DBA student in this school.20 on bad terms and had to be kept apart. that is. (B) As far as identity goes. I think it (the thing that is common to the group) is similar attitudes or life styles or you can say similar consumption styles. a subject on which his leaning differed from his dining companions’. I think he is more than forty and all his life he just studied and he has lots of diplomas and we were talking about choices in life.

if the expertise is real. Deceiving outsiders will be little compensation for such risks. real consumers enjoying real consumption experiences may not be as interested in constructing social identities though their choices (Warde. The absence of deliberate identity making and maintenance is expected if one assumes that most consumption occasions are shared with people who know the consumer well. and enjoyment of haute cuisine is both hedonic and cultural. serving and eating elaborate meals. experimental evidence indicates social support for identity may be less significant than for other forms of support (that is. Oppositely. Thus. respondents were willing to compromise on . the diner’s own group. Thus. See Appendix I for parallels between taxonomies by Johnson and colleagues and Adelman and colleagues). 2000). 1994). It may also be a motivation behind certain definitive societal and familial traditions involving consumption. which give him no hedonic pleasure. 2006. If truth be told. Nonetheless. all seemed more or less equally good at remembering what they had communicated with their dining companions. for example. I could find no indication that they used their restaurant trips with friends to create and communicate particular identities to others.. Social integration: That eating out is as much for social bonding as it is epicurean enjoyment was evident in all interviews. none of the interviewees stressed a distinguishing trait associated with eating out (though one did seem proud of his wife’s ability to remember menus and decipher and recreate recipes). little will be gained by drawing attention to one’s choices. Actually. solely to flaunt a non-existent expertise. that is. for connectedness and achievement – Johnson et al. 2005). The people most likely to notice. with ‘signature’ recipes. those outside their groups.21 Perhaps this feeling. Indeed. already know her to be a genuine gourmet. amplified. In other words. during festivals (Arnould & Price. a person with epicurean pretensions will expose himself to ridicule from members of his group if he chooses haute cuisine dishes. leads to brand communities. even intimately (Warde. cooking.

Parenthetically.22 the latter if the former need was fulfilled. Then the food becomes a priority as you are already friends and you call them out to adventure with. restaurants are succeeding. If it is a new group where I need to fit. There was cross-table talking and it was very good. Given the multi-dimensional nature of social support and willingness to substitute gastronomic enjoyment with good company. …the food was very good – traditional French food – and I think everyone was very full we spent like three hours. They had good food and not very cheap as we expected as students. one may expect consumers to unhesitatingly link the social side of their consumption experiences to customer satisfaction. it was accompanied by a description of the restaurant as being decorated ‘as if it is in countryside’ (Y). I try to eat whatever with them. But in the end. well. (BM) This conforms to similar instances in Warde and Martens (2000). what I always say is that it is important who you . were female.. perhaps one of pastoral communal bliss. Shared consumption and customer satisfaction Actually. This hope is belied. Then we become friends and it is more relaxed. Both. where diners refrain from complaining about bad food or service so as to not upset their companions. In one instance. (Y.. If décor is designed to help families or groups of friends escape into an exceptionally pleasant place. as predicted in Warde and Martens (2000). the word ‘cozy’ came up eight times in 11 interviews. No pressure. try new food. emphasis mine) It is a small restaurant that somebody said was very good and not very expensive and so we decided to pick this one. only two interviewees unambiguously acknowledged socialization in their overall evaluation.

How long do I have to be in the restaurant. But obviously to me it was an ordi- . You could have gone to the McDonald’s and have as much fun. one respondent insisted he must have quick service if he did not have company. nice French restaurant and it was cozy. specifically.. J. Expectedly. by contrasting expectations from eating out with friends with those from eating alone (that is. good food – but one of the key selection criteria – I would say satisfaction criteria – would be the time. We just need food to fill our belly and that’s it. (C) He also said he would prefer an eatery where the other diners were unaccompanied. (B) Thus...23 are with and the environment.. unimportant if she had company.. removing the key factor)... Another declared that the quality of food. (you) tend to go to a place where there are people who are eating alone. the significance of socialization to customer satisfaction became clearer when interviewees were asked about eating alone. (C). would become decisive if she was alone. (you) want to escape completely. If I have to go alone then I would say it is a completely different experience. since customer satisfaction is ‘fulfillment response’ (Oliver. they did not always link it to the experiences’ evaluations. I want to get out quickly. For instance. But it was fun.. It means I want to have food only – if possible. it was justifiable to look for evidence in the needs consumers aimed to fulfill by eating out. you will look like a stupid idiot. 2006). However. So if you are alone you. though interviewees recalled a social side of their experiences. about eating with company: It (a noodle dish) did not live up to my expectation because I thought it should be even more striking. I would feel uncomfortable being alone in this place (a tapas restaurant) because this is more a place where people often party and if you are there alone with your newspaper or with your smart phone. if you are alone. The criteria for selection changed.

Maybe the food provokes some feelings in me and that kind of feelings can only happen when I am in solitude and so the food matters and nothing else. So the food has to be really special for me and really good. J. But I think that the purpose to meet was (that) we wanted to taste the noodle but it was not the point…beyond that we wanted to get a chance to gather together and talk (about) something interesting… I would say (it was) not about only a meal to taste something new but more about keeping our ties. the ‘regular joint’ would satisfy the need for safety (no unpleasant surprises) and personal acknowledgment (knowing the staff) besides the need for food. I know the menu well. about eating alone: If I can decide to go alone that means there is nothing else but the food and which is really attractive to me. Yet another interviewee said she would prefer the familiar and humdrum if she had to dine by herself: If I eat alone I go to places where I feel at home or where I am a regular customer or where I have been with some other girls from the school. It means I want to have the food and I don’t mind going alone. increased im- . So that’s what feeling like home is to me. I know the people. I know the place well. The consumer would use ‘place-as-home’ to assuage loneliness (Rosenbaum. I feel comfortable. I know the food is good and I don’t feel bad eating alone. And maybe I can enjoy eating alone. I feel comfortable and (have) visited that place many times… I already know the waitresses and waiters. 2006) and social support would come from the service provider’s staff instead of the diner’s companions. explicit mention of socializing as a determinant of satisfaction. Taken together. So I know the staff and it is very nicely organized and I don’t feel (I am) at the centre of the attention if I eat alone. (B) Thus.24 nary meal.

In one. food quality. This is suggested by two incidents. but really that is not their responsibil- . there may be a moderating relation between social support and quality of products and services. J was so angry when her dinner was interrupted by a beggar that she concluded the restaurateur did not care about the guests: I would say the service is fine but I would really say that there was a disturbance there. Additionally. And maybe they just wanted to help the beggar. I don’t mind giving money but this kind of thing really disturbs your mood and your enjoyment of having food with your friends and this restaurant should have a certain standard of service and they really need to intervene in this kind of abrupt appearance and this may have a negative impression of the entire restaurant and they just don’t care about their customers’ feelings during the dinner. in the other incident. Maybe they never thought about it. because when we had dinner together someone just came to us abruptly and I was a little bit surprised about that. empathy). And obviously he was a beggar and wanted money and I was a little bit shocked because he was standing there for two full minutes and no one at the restaurant came to stop him. dissatisfaction reached disgust because the staff failed to ensure uninterrupted socialization. when the diner is alone. satisfaction rose to appreciation when the staff enabled socialization. and willingness to compromise on hedonism for the sake of good company (mentioned earlier) point to a complementary relation between social support (provided by one’s group of co-consumers) and inputs from the service provider (including social support from the service provider) in creating the consumer experience and determining customer satisfaction thereof. Contrariwise.25 portance of what the service provider delivers (for example. prompt service.

The similar effect of the quality of product. Yet. is well known. (BM) The importance of service and product in facilitating socialization also provides additional evidence of the importance of the latter in consumption. Yeah. And no one was there and no one cared and for me that was a shock. the quality of service can facilitate or hinder social support. That’s the beginning. I think eating out together is a good way to make friends.. that is. had it not arranged for that chair.. But there was no one there when the beggar was there and when he even aggressively asked for money. So. I think we reserved for 13 (and) we had 12 chairs. the business of his entire group too. Thus. So. The place was quite packed and it is not easy to move something. R was appreciative for being given a chair: I remember that we had difficulty because we didn’t have enough chairs. Finally. when you eat you talk about the food. They helped us (in) moving a lot of chairs and tables to get us an extra chair. (R) Conceivably. (J. the fact that most interviewees failed to spontaneously acknowledge socializa- . Also people drink. emphasis mine) Oppositely.26 ity and their major responsibility is to ensure their food and their service and offer the best atmosphere there. I mean it created a foundation for people to be sincere and make friends. the restaurant would have obviously lost R’s business and. food and drink. you interact with the people. pointing to a moderating relation. the supply of the 13th chair was remembered because it was essential for creating the appropriate setting for the group to come together. most probably. Then. they tend to be more relaxed and when people open their hearts it is easier to talk and show their real faces. you get to know them.

quoted in Oliver. consumers may take it for granted that certain social needs will be fulfilled during consumption experiences or rituals (e. its effects on customer satisfaction may not be linear (as it is for the Rs in eqn. When thinking in terms of products and services. fulfillment of such needs is 'taken for granted' and not explicitly demanded. silence at the family meal) can be deeply discontenting. When these needs are fulfilled. First. interviewees did change their desiderata from eating out considerably when asked to imagine being alone. Second. dissatisfaction is so high that a deficient product or service brand is not even considered (Matzler. Bailom.g. the analysis finds links between motivation to consume (socializing). social support and consequent evaluation. However. that is. Two points are of note.. the question of rejecting any brand did not arise. Such aspects of consumption experiences may not be detectable in straightforward inventories of experience attributes but come to light only when consumers are asked to imagine their absence. 1996). Instead. non-fulfillment can lead to such overall satisfaction deteriorating drastically while fulfillment or over-fulfillment (if there is such a state in social support) may not increase customer satisfaction. While their non-fulfillment (e. 1).. but when these needs are not fulfilled. the family will plan while consuming breakfast and take stock at dinner). if social support constitutes a basic or 'must be' need from (certain) consumption experiences. Patently. It appeared as if they wanted a quite different experience.g.27 tion as a determinant of customer satisfaction but could respond when asked to imagine its absence (eating alone) indicates socialization may be a 'must-be' or basic need. 2009). (Kano model. Hence. their fulfillment can go unnoticed. Hinterhuber. In summary. There is evidence pointing to a moderating relation between the quality of services and products and effective ex- . the consumer is 'not dissatisfied'. customer satisfaction. fulfilling a need like social interaction is not the task of any marketer but of the consumers themselves. & Sauerwein.

28 change of social support. the last constituent. ATTRIBUTES CONSTITUEN TS OVERALL InstrumenUncertainty reduction Self-acceptance Social integratal Hedonic Social Contem- Customer satisfaction tion plative Figure 2: Additive model of customer satisfaction. Had the experiences involved exotic menus. & Hoppe. may have made its appearance as well.. fulfilment of the need for contemplation. that is. Multiple benefits. Implications This research. in turn. 2000 The first three constituents of the model. the complementary roles of social support and offerings from the marketer (that is. and conforms to the additive model of customer enjoyment or gratification put forward in (Song et al. based on Warde & Whoever. 2008) along with the social network perspective (Song et al.. Further. fine-dining restaurants or award-winning chefs. into sharing of support. that is. 2011). fulfilment of instrumental. and similar ones. finds that the social aspect of consumption goes beyond reaffirmation of community. They may be quantifiable too. possibly by applying taxonomies like that of (Füller. it is multi-dimensional. were evident in the data. hedonic and social needs. can explain why consumers are often content with products . products and service) in fulfilling consumers’ needs indicates that customer satisfaction is multidimensional too. Matzler. The social benefits are classifiable. 2011).

it may emerge that substantive factors determining consumers’ experiences. 1997) instead of only products or services consumed. If consumers see themselves as the main determinants of their gratification. it is possible to explain otherwise inexplicable situations where consumers have high satisfaction or rate of repurchase but seems indifferent to product or service attributes. 2003) or needs fulfilled (Oliver.29 and services which do not add to status. 2002). just as a U-shaped setting in a classroom is more conducive to inter-student interaction (Womack & Jones. the influence of co-consumers can be a nontrivial addition. p 343). Operationally. The former accounts for determinants of service quality like promptness and accuracy: Social support can prove to be a useful addition to these. . the complementary relationship between socialization and service quality can bode ill for marketers. The knowledge of limits is itself useful. with such a model. 2005). they must reshape their offerings: It is possible to radically redesign even ordinary products (Norman. 2002) and processes (Norman. eating in a casual eatery with friends (Warde. For example. 1988). 1988) and the Universal Product or Service Consumption Satisfaction Scale (Parasuraman. Can restaurateurs have an optimal number of such tables? Eventually. As a final point. marketers may have to review how well they are helping consumers fulfill their actual needs and expectations. Zeithaml. The latter enables a many-sided analysis of satisfaction: Again. If they are falling short. if the aspects and effects of social support are quantifiable. & Desmet. & Berry. Further. evaluations and behavior are beyond managers’ influence. they can deem . they may be incorporated into existing tools like SERVQUAL (Parasuraman. especially in a large dining party. for example. and that a comprehensive understanding of customer satisfaction requires thinking in terms of what is enjoyed (Dierdonck. 2005) a round table may be more conducive of chatting over food. & Berry. Zeithaml. Managerially. Gemmel.

if this line of research is to become managerially relevant. one experience . The feeling worsened when the interviewee went out of his or her way to help. like a visit to a mall. we must study how the social environment can be designed and managed and create metrics for its effect (Verhoef et al. have to be studied (Oliver. A start may be made by simply including two questions in customer satisfaction questionnaires: Who did you share this product (or service) with? To what extent did the consumed product or service fulfill its purpose? (For example. Conclusion: Two exchanges. or a (B2B) service call. it may not a critical flaw. To close. it is of prime importance that the exercise be repeated for other services. perhaps by process-mapping as well as interviewing. some bad. a cruise. must be investigated. social support under other conditions should be classifiable under the framework used. For further generalization. how many leads do you credit to it?) Eventually. However. 2009). Also. Convenience sampling is a drawback. the result of a series of individual events. the cumulative experience.. if you organised a seminar primarily to generate sales leads. for example. some good. Limitation and suggestions The principle limitation of this research is the personality of the researcher. that is. products and samples. that is. given the inclusiveness of the framework. when an interviewee voluntarily drew out the floor plan and seating arrangement of a restaurant he had gone to more than a month before the interview. Nonetheless. 1997). other experiences.30 marketers as substitutable. it will have to be quantitative. I was extremely uncomfortable while asking interviewees about their experiences: I felt I was intruding into their and their friends’ privacy.

This is in sharp contrast to experts’ advice on paying attention to the social aspects of consumption. the product/service is not the consumable. The second exchange is among consumers. This is the exchange typically analyzed. the consumer becomes a (willing) participant because of the attention provided by its members. In this situation. Customer satisfaction research. the other two forms. is easy to discern. largely ignores the second exchange. The former give money and receive a variety products and services. on inter-consumer social support. tolerance. the actual consumption experience.. In the limiting case. Consequently. With some analysis. Oliver (1999) says: In its pure form. that is. 2009). Of these. social integration. Instead. at present. For instance. a tendency to view consumption as instrumental to other social ends rather than having intrinsic social value. Rather. self-acceptance and uncertainty removal. This exchange makes demands on consumers’ time. The first is between consumers and marketers. and advices marketers to follow the golden rule: . and a tendency to refuse to accept that people are the best judges of the meaning and value of their feelings of satisfaction’ (Verhoef et al. resources that are often in short supply. and its social value to the consumer cannot be fully understood. there is ‘a tendency to operate with utilitarian assumption. it is the camaraderie provided by the social organization. become apparent too. the village is a social alliance in which the primary motivation to become loyal on the part of each consumer is to be one with the group. giving each other company. Rieicheld (2006) posits that the best predictor of future profits is customers’ propensity to recommend a firm to their best friends.31 There are two simultaneous exchanges during consumption experiences. and involves different forms of social support. care and the like. and the primary motivation of the group overseers is to please their constituency.

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Personal feedback concerning personal attitudes and behaviour Self-accepport Table 4: From Johnson et al.Social integration Uncertainty reduction Tangible elements such as housing. humor. provision of duction (and somaterial aid/services Companionship and intimate Shared leisure/recreation.Uncertainty retance (?) tence. and money support ple in a network of mutual obligation Informational Guidance with problem solving and advice support Instrumental support Appraisal sup. and compe. advice. discussion of cominteraction Regulation mon interests. (2006). reassurance of worth..36 Benefits from bonds Help exchanges Examples Emphatic listening. disclosure of hopes. based on Mackie & Smith (1998) Motivation to belong to a group Connectedness. fantasies. or a feeling of belonging with others Striving for mastery and reality testing Description Parallel Affiliation-related needs.Social integrational attachment and support. success. beliefs Feedback about inappropriate behavior cial integration) Social integration Self-acceptance (?) Table 3: From Schwarzer & Buchwald (2004) Type of support Emotional Constituents Parallel Being loved. i. cared for. including emo.Derives from a relation between positive tity and self-esteem group identity and self-esteem . affection. and connected to other peo. esteemed. achieve goals duction Maintenance and enhancement of self-iden. tion To secure rewards. expression of caring/conParallel Uncertainty re- cern. transportation.e.

and gelizing Justi. Walker. product failure. intimate attachments tional loneliness) Companionship (Its lack causes social loneliness) Instrumental support Friendships Help with mundane activities. Lending emotional and/or physical support to other members. such Uncertainty reas transportation or cleaning Table 6: From Schau. death.Deploying rationales generally for devoting time and effort to fying the brand and collectively to outsiders and marginal members preaching from the mountain top..g. & Arnould (2009) Social networking Wel. illUncertainty reduction Parallel Social integration duction Parallel Social integration ness.Greeting new members.Close. Muñiz.37 Table 5: From Rosenbaum. Impression management Evan Sharing the brand “good news. Ward. job). and ascoming Governing Empathi zing sisting in their brand learning and community socialization. Articulating the behavioral expectations within the brand community.. customizing) and/or for nonbrand-related life issues (e.g. & Ostrom (2007) Type of support Source Emotional support (Its lack causes emo. including support for brand-related trials (e. Self acceptance (of the ‘preacher’) through social integration of the devotees .” inspiring others to use. beckoning them into the fold.

Distancing/approaching the marketplace in positive or negative ways. Table 7: From Schetter & Brooks (2009) Type Emotional support Examples. often anchored by and peppered with milestones. Noting seminal events in brand ownership and consumption.. May be directed at other members (e.Recognizing variance within the brand community membering Mile stoning Badg ing Document ing Brand use Groo Cleaning.38 in the boundary. caring for. you should sell/should not sell that) or may be directed at the firm through explicit link or through presumed monitoring of the site (e. providing empathy and understanding. ship and marking intragroup distinction and similarity. meaning ParalTranslating milestones into symbols and artifacts. Detailing the brand relationship journey in a narrative way. show. you should fix this/do this/change this). Community engagement Stak.g. Social integration Uncertainty reduction lel Listening.g. and maintaining the brand or systematizming Customi zing Com modi tizing ing optimal use patterns Modifying the brand to suit group-level or individual needs. This includes all efforts to change the factory specs of the product to enhance performance.Social ing affection integra- ..

transportation. encouraging identification.Social firming membership. duties. giving directions. lisand concern for tening. advice. assisting tion mental resources with work. nodding) Informa. providing a place to support stay Spiritual Addressing issues Explaining challenging events. lending money or possessions. group integration tion Social integration Uncertainty activities Expressing caring Expressing respect and approval. reaf. Uncertional and guidance suggestions. responding non-verbally in support one another positive ways (e. demonstrating a way to perform a task. sharing feelings.Providing tangible Doing favors.Providing advice Sharing helpful information. such as seeing a movie when someone needs reBelonging laxation or distraction from a problem Support experienced when someone is a member of a group that provides an identity and perhaps other resources Table 8: From Forsyth (2010) Type Definition Belong. tainty support problem solving reducInstru. guidance.Inclusion in a ing Emotional group Examples Parallel Expressing acceptance.. encouragement. reassurance of belonging. allaying existential anx- . hugging. or advice as a form of support in reducproblem solving Appraisal support or esteem support Companionship Provision of information that one is worthy and valued Mere presence of others and engaging in activities with tion others.g.39 Instrumental support or tangible support Informational support Provision of material resources or task assistance Information.

sharing faith.40 support of meaning and purpose iety. fear of death. reconfirming one’s world view .

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