• Encouraging customer citizenship behaviours: The unexplored potential of employee gratitude

      Katsaridou, I.; Lemke, Fred (2020)
      Introduction to the research problem Customers may engage in citizenship behaviours (CCBs) with the aims of benefiting service employees (SEs) (c.f., Garma and Bove, 2011). Despite the veracity of this phenomenon and its positive impact on SE well-being, little is yet known on customer motivations for engaging in these supportive actions (Oyedele and Simpson, 2011). Furthermore, it is argued that gratitude expressions following CCBs towards SEs can serve as the basis of a relationship between the interacting parties. Yet, existing literature remains relatively silent on the role of SE gratitude in customer-SE dyads (Mangus et al., 2017). As such, the current study explores customer motivations and expectations for performing CCBs towards SEs. It also captures the effects of SE gratitude, or lack thereof, for the outcome of the service interaction. Literature review Existing research suggests that customers may voluntarily engage in citizenship behaviours (CCBs) that go above and beyond their normative role. Overall, even though CCBs have been found to be associated with favorable organizational outcomes in prior studies (e.g., Groth , 2005; Yi et al., 2011), limited attention has been paid to CCBs that are separated on the basis of specific beneficiaries, such as SEs. More so, although the outcomes of such customer discretionary behaviours have been previously associated with positive indicators of service employee wellbeing (e.g., Verleye et al., 2016; Zimmermann et al., 2011), it is still speculative why customers may be willing to engage in helpful actions that benefit SEs. In addition, it is argued that a lack of a reciprocal response from SEs runs the risk of being associated with customer perceptions of SE ingratitude, which can lead to customer dissatisfaction (Payne et al., 2002). Conversely, SE expressions of gratitude can lead to the development of a relationship between the interacting parties through its function as a moral motivator (e.g., Bock et al., 2016; Greenbaum et al., 2019; Mangus et al., 2017; Palmatier et al., 2009; Raggio et al., 2014). Through the theoretical angle of role theory, equity theory, and social exchange theory, this research aims at fulfilling the so far lacking investigation of customer discretionary behaviours towards SEs. Understanding this complexity is vital for shedding light onto the function of gratitude during the service encounter, as well as on the effects of SE gratitude/ingratitude on relational outcomes. Method/Approach A qualitative interview procedure is undertaken and face-to-face interviews are conducted with customers of full-service restaurants. Restaurants lay fertile ground for fairly routine encounters, as customers have extensive experience with this context. Thus, they are more inclined to have well-developed scripts that guide their behaviour rather automatically. As a result, customer deviations from the script are likely to be more consciously performed in this setting. The aim of this study is fourfold: 1) to detect customer perceptions of behaviours that are performed by them with the aim of benefiting employees while executing their role of delivering the service; 2) to capture customers’ motivations for engaging in such beneficial behaviours; 3) to determine the expected outcome of these behaviours in terms of the service employee’s response; and 4) to investigate customer perceptions and reactions following the actual outcome response received from SEs. Results/Findings The results of the study indicate that there are diverse motivations that underlie customers’ willingness to perform CCBs towards SEs, which are directly and distinctly linked to their expectations for SE responses. In this vein, the research illustrates how customer emotionally supportive behaviour is associated with different motivations and expectations compared to instrumentally supportive behaviour. Furthermore, the exploratory study suggests that SE responses to CCBs can determine whether a simple transaction has the potential to develop into a mutually beneficial exchange between the two parties or not. Moreover, the study findings offer deeper insights into the antecedents, the outcomes, and the contextual factors that frame the occurrence of each type of customer beneficial behaviour. Overall, the findings represent a comprehensive illustration of the CCB phenomenon, leading to robust advice for theory builders and practitioners, specialized in services marketing. Discussion and implications The lack of research examining the motivations and expectations of customers for engaging in supportive actions towards service personnel is surprising, given that a) helpful customers reflect a potential resource for service employees, and b) gratitude expressions constitute a critical component for the formation of relationships between the exchange parties. Therefore, gaining an understanding of how to identify, approach, and respond to helpful customers can equip service managers with the necessary knowledge to promote the occurrence of such behaviours through appropriate SE training and service design. More importantly, however, establishing and maintaining a relationship with these beneficial customers becomes a real opportunity for building customer loyalty in a co-creating fashion. Overall, this paper integrates insights from CCB and social exchange theory to explain customers’ decisions to perform helpful actions that are intended to benefit SEs (and service companies, by extension). Additionally, the study investigates customer perceptions and reactions in the scenario of grateful and ungrateful employee responses along with the associated outcomes for the service encounter. As such, this paper illustrates that the exchanges between service employees and customers are interdependent and draws caution to the fact that for a service encounter to be symmetrical, balanced and thus jointly rewarding, expressions of appreciation and gratitude from the service firm are warranted. Such an approach is conducive to avoiding the potentially irreversibly harmful effects of customer perceptions of ingratitude. When motivations and expectations of helpful customers are not fully understood, disloyalty is a typical consequence in the service environment.