Customer Experience

How Other Customers Affect the Customer Experience

April 07, 2016

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One scenario: A woman at a ski resort is upset about the long line to get on the gondola lift. The male guest behind her is wrestling with his kids, who keep knocking into her. The man does not apologize or try to stop his kids. The woman is not happy. And in that moment, she feels angry, which negatively affects her overall experience at the resort.

Alternative scenario: A woman at a ski resort is upset about the long line to get on the gondola. The guest behind her is wrestling with his kids who keep knocking into her. The man apologizes for his kids’ behavior, and the man and woman start an engaging conversation, which lasts for the duration of the wait to get on the gondola. The two guests even exchange phone numbers and agree to ski together the next day.

The man and woman are now lifelong friends.

How Other Customers Impact the Customer Experience

Managing customer experiences is a key component to the success of hospitality businesses. But how exactly is the guest experience impacted by other customers? A more insightful awareness surrounding this can be vital to understanding a guest’s full experience, according to a study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Research.

“The findings from this research suggest that managerial approach to CEM (customer experience management) requires a strategic shift from staging experiences for customers to engaging customers in the consumption process,” wrote researchers Li Miao and Anna Mattila. “Traditionally, hospitality firms have focused on elements under direct managerial control such as service interface and customer-provider interactions.”

The researchers argue that, in certain situations, customer-to-customer forces have more of an effect on customer experiences than provider-to-customer dynamics. Multiple pathways leading up towards the definitive customer experience might be affected by other customers.

Miao and Mattila’s study is only some of the latest research on the ways other customers affect the customer experience.

Another study published in the Journal of Retailing formed the scale of Other Customer Perception (OCP) with three dimensions to understand the impact further.

The study also suggested that other consumers have an impact on the customer experience, and that the customer experience extends beyond relationships between the employee and customer.

The three-dimensions of the OCP are:

  • Similarity: This dimension is based on the social identity theory, which is the theory that “individuals derive the social part of their identity from membership in a social group.” Did the customer feel he or she could relate to other customers?
  • Physical Appearance: The physical characteristics of other customers.
  • Suitable Behavior: From the customer’s perspective, do the other customers behave correctly?

Positive and Negative Experiences Caused by Others

According to another study published in 1997, both positive and negative incidents can be caused by other customers. Researchers Grove and Fisk examined the possibility of other customers affecting the customer’s service experience. “Few human problems are more significant than the problem of ‘getting along’ with other people,” the authors write.

“Obviously, the interests of the individual, the social unit, and/or society are at stake when people fail to get along, and few social situations are free from that risk,” the authors write.

Here are other findings from Grove and Fisks’ research:

  • When it is necessary for a customer to share space and time with other customers, the customer’s experience is affected on the basis of how other customers follow rules.
  • The presence of other customers in a social setting either helped or hurt a customer’s experience.
  • Customer experience is influenced by other people who are waiting in line.

As your organization looks to analyze customer feedback and extract insights needed to improve performance, it’s critical that you broaden your understanding of the guest experience to include how it’s affected by customer-to-customer dynamics. That way, you can really get to know your customers and deliver strong, positive experiences that will extend their lifetime value.

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