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Understanding Customer Delight and Outrage

Evidence indicates that satisfied customers defect at a high rate in many industries. Because satisfaction alone does not translate linearly into outcomes such as loyalty in terms of purchases, businesses must strive for 100 percent, or total, customer satisfaction and even delight to achieve the kind of loyalty they desire.

Current studies attribute a higher degree of emotionality to the dissatisfaction end of the satisfaction continuum than in the past. For example, customers who have experienced service failures feel annoyed or victimized. Although victimization is felt at a deeper emotional level than irritation, both can result in outrage. By focusing on more intense customer emotions, such as outrage and delight, the authors explore the dynamics of customer emotions and their effect on customer behavior and loyalty.

Schneider and Bowen base their conceptualization on people's needs rather than the more conventional model that focuses on customer expectations about their interactions with a firm. The authors propose a complementary needs-based model for service businesses that assumes customer delight and outrage originate with the handling of three basic human needs -- security, justice, and self-esteem. By recasting a situation as one that has violated any of a customer's fundamental needs, the deeper emotional outcome (e.g., outrage) does not seem incongruous. The authors describe each need and offer specific managerial tactics for avoiding outrage and creating delight.

Recent emphasis on relationship marketing -- that is, attracting, developing, and retaining customers -- is pertinent because building relationships requires that companies view customers as people first and consumers second. Service is an exchange relationship in which customers swap their money and loyalty for what Schneider and Bowen argue is need gratification -- a psychological contract with service firms to have their needs gratified. The authors discuss strategies that help firms gratify and, in some cases, delight customers, while avoiding the perception that they do not respect customer needs.

Companies must manage how they show concern for customer needs in all actions, including the activities of the back office (e.g., billing, shipping), not just front-office personnel who directly contact the customer.

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