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Consumer behavior and reading social situations: Customer satisfaction in group consumption

Koji Matsushita
Professor, Chuo University Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Consumer Behavior and Marketing

For any business including shops and restaurants, it is very important whether their customer goes home thinking, “that (food or service) was fantastic”. This is because the customer’s feeling is expected to lead to desirable behavior for service providers, for example, “I want to come back to this restaurant again in the future” (willingness to reuse). This reaction is called “customer satisfaction”, which is the theme of my research group.

The state of reading situations and how to increase customer satisfaction

If high customer satisfaction is important for companies, searching for factors which contribute to higher customer satisfaction becomes an important research subject. Obviously, the key index factor would be the quality of service, such as food and working staff. This explains why a large number of past studies on customer satisfaction have mainly focused on the relationship between quality of service and customer satisfaction.

When a customer eats at a restaurant in a group setting, for example with family, friends, colleagues and bosses (a group consumption), not only the quality of food becomes the satisfaction factor. The customer is most likely happy if other members at the table are happy. This significant psychological process is similar to what we can call the ability to read situations, which is also embedded in the customer satisfaction model that our research group is developing.

Comparative study of Japanese and American minds

We believe that the level of the ability to read social situations depends on one’s cultural orientation. Briefly, Japanese people tend to have a higher ability of reading situations than most American people. In the context of service consumption, there are more Japanese who feel satisfied or dissatisfied in the same way their companions are satisfied or dissatisfied.

A theoretical base for this idea can be found in a new area of study called cultural psychology. This study shows that relations with others contribute more to shaping emotions of people in an East-Asian cultural sphere including Japanese than people in a western cultural sphere including Americans. We applied this perspective to customer satisfaction studies and built a hypothesis that “a companions’ perception of satisfaction contributes more to shaping customers’ satisfaction in an Asian cultural sphere than in a western cultural sphere.”

Japanese customers were really reading situations

In fact, we have tested the validity of the idea that “more Japanese people have more ability to read social situations compared to Americans” by comparative experiments and examinations, using Japanese and American customers, and the validity of the hypothesis was confirmed. The following are the findings from the experiments and examinations.

Firstly, companions’ satisfaction contributes more to the enhancement of satisfaction of people with an East-Asian cultural orientation than people without the orientation (Matsushita and Tsuchihashi 2013; Matsushita et al. 2015). This showed that our fundamental idea was supported. Although we shouldn’t apply this finding to all cases since we used a limited amount of data available in Japan for the experiments and examinations. However, according to our studies, we have found that customers with a cultural orientation of Japan or East-Asia read social situations more.

Secondly, more Japanese people read social situations compared to Americans when their companions receive bad service, including a waiters’ unfavorable attitude in restaurants. The data reveals that more Japanese customers restrict their own feelings as they read situations and notice when their companions’ satisfaction level is low (Matsushita et al. 2014). I can imagine how many Japanese people read their companions’ facial expressions and show empathy.

Our challenge to a new customer satisfaction model

This research challenges one of the hypotheses implied in conventional customer satisfaction models. We consider that these conventional models have a built-in hypothesis, that says: “customer satisfaction is shaped autonomously based on a customer’s personal perception and without referring to others’ feelings.” We call this model “an autonomous personal customer satisfaction model.” On the other hand, our study introduces “a model of shared customer satisfaction in groups,” which refers to a perspective when customers are from an Asian cultural sphere. Customer satisfaction is shaped in association with their companions’ mental reaction even though satisfaction is a personal mental reaction.

As these comparisons showed, the significance of our research is not only to reveal the tendencies of Asian customers characterized by Japanese customers. Instead, we consider that the dominant view in conventional studies can be seen as a special case in a narrow range. Thus, we aim to build a more general customer satisfaction theory.

Next steps

Our ultimate goal is to apply “a customer satisfaction model of reading social situations” to a more practical context of service that leads to suggestions for management. For example, how do customers react when there are more people in the group? In this case, a mental state of reading social situations might not be observed even when the customers are Japanese because one doesn’t need to pay close attention to each of them when there are many people.

On this research project, I have been working with Japanese and American researchers in a joint international research group. Since the group has membership diversity, I sometimes wonder what factors raise the degree of satisfaction for the group. Do we have influence over the satisfaction level of each other as the data revealed? One of the researchers in our group said, “The answer is simple. Cultural difference is not related to our satisfaction. Neither is others’ satisfaction. We will be satisfied when we complete our research paper.” I completely agree. We need be patient and continue to work on this topic a little more until we feel satisfied.

Bibliography
  • Koji Matsushita,Haruko Tsuchihashi,and Kaichi Saito (2015) “Customer Satisfaction Regulation in Group Service Consumption: Cross-Cultural Moderators.” Association for Consumer Research,Asia-Pacific Conference Program, June 2015, in Hong Kong,pp.45.
  • Koji Matsushita and Haruko Tsuchihashi (2015) “Effects of Perceived Other’s Satisfaction on Customer Satisfaction and Repeat Intention in Group Service Consumption: Moderating Role of the Interdependent Self.” “Keio Business Forum”, No.1, Vol.32, pp.149-160
  • Koji Matsushita, Akito Nakamura, Haruko Tsuchihashi, and Kaichi Saito (2013) “Effects of Perceived Other’s Satisfaction and the Role of the Interdependent Self in Group Service Consumption.” Association for Consumer Research,North American Conference Program, October 2013, in Chicago,pp.101.
Koji Matsushita
Professor, Chuo University Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Consumer Behavior and Marketing
Koji Matsushita was born in Tokyo in 1971. He completed a Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Business Administration at Keio University in 2003 and holds a Ph.D (Management). He worked at the Graduate School of Business Administration at Nanzan University as an associate professor. In 2012, he began to work at the Chuo University Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management) as a professor. His research areas are brand studies based on a perspective of consumer behavior theory and cultural comparative studies of service consumption. His publication includes “Consumer Behavior Theory: Application to Marketing and Brand Building” (Yuhikaku Publishing, 2012, Joint Authorship) and others.