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The influence of service employees and other customers on customer unfriendliness: a social norms perspective

Abstract

This research investigates the influence that social sources in the service environment exert on customer unfriendliness. Drawing on social norms theory, the authors demonstrate that descriptive norms (i.e., what most people are perceived to be doing in a certain situation), in the form of unfriendliness by service employees and fellow customers, predicts customers’ unfriendliness toward employees. Injunctive norms (i.e., beliefs about which behaviors are approved by important others) and identification with fellow customers exert moderating effects. Specifically, strong injunctive norms can buffer the effect of descriptive norms. Furthermore, fellow customers influence a customer’s unfriendliness only if he or she identifies either very strongly or very weakly with them. By clarifying the role of norms in service encounters, this study provides insights on when unfriendly customer behavior is likely to occur. Managerial implications for companies who want to diminish customer unfriendliness are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In order to provide scales that can be used in research contexts where scale parsimony is desirable we re-ran all analyses with reduced scales for perceived employee unfriendliness, perceived normativity of employee unfriendliness, and perceived approval of unfriendliness. Psychometric properties of the shortened scales were good while the pilot study results with the shortened scales remained consistent with the full scale results. Items included in the short scales are marked with * in Appendix 2 Table 6.

  2. 2.

    To assess if descriptive norms (perceived employee and perceived other customer unfriendliness) can best be conceptualized as independent predictors or if they are better described in an interactive way, we estimated an alternative model that included the interaction between perceived employee unfriendliness and perceived other customer unfriendliness, as well as a three-way interaction among perceived employee unfriendliness, perceived other customer unfriendliness, and injunctive norms. Neither the two-way interaction (B = .08, SE = .10, t(205) = .88, p = .38) nor the three-way interaction (B = .06, SE = .17, t(204) = .36, p = .72) yielded significant results.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Kate Daunt and Thorsten Gruber for constructive comments on an earlier version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Gianfranco Walsh.

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Michael Brady served as Area Editor for this article

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Albrecht, A.K., Walsh, G., Brach, S. et al. The influence of service employees and other customers on customer unfriendliness: a social norms perspective. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 45, 827–847 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-016-0505-6

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Keywords

  • Customer to customer influence
  • Unfriendliness
  • Descriptive norm
  • Identification
  • Injunctive norm
  • Social influence