Continuuing on from the previous Article
How rewarding or punishing was the consumption experience?
Consumption experiences differ in terms of whether consumers find them to be rewarding or punishing. From this perspective, consumption experiences can be characterised by whether they provide positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement or punishment.
A consumption experience provides positive reinforcement when the consumer receives some positive outcome from product usage. For example, many of us love to visit amusement parks because of the thrills and exhilaration experienced while riding certain attractions.
Negative reinforcement occurs when consumption enables consumers to avoid some negative outcome. Sometimes both positive and negative reinforcement can happen during consumption. An air freshener can replace odours (negative reinforcement) with a refreshing smell (positive reinforcement).
Ideally, firms want their products to provide as much reinforcement as possible. Doing so means that customers are much more likely to become repeat buyers. Unfortunately, there are times when the consumption experience brings punishment.
Punishment occurs when consumption leads to negative outcomes. Cosmetic surgery that leaves the person in worse shape than before the surgery are punishing indeed. A punishing consumption experience is unlikely to be tried again, particularly if the negative outcomes experienced during consumption outweigh any reinforcement that may have also been received.
Consumers are less likely to enjoy buying and using negative reinforcement products than positive reinforcement products. Consequently, they will often spend less time and effort when buying these products. This, in turn, limits a product’s opportunity to break through the clutter of competitive brands to gain the consumer’s consideration.
Firms offering negative reinforcement products should recognise the existence of three distinct market segments for their products. Obviously, consumers currently experiencing the problem solved by the product are the primary target. Consumers who formerly suffered from the problem compose another market segment that may be receptive to appeals that encourage product use to ensure that the problem will not recur. Even consumers who have not faced the problem may be a viable segment. It may be possible to encourage product consumption as a means of reducing the odds that consumers would ever experience the problem.
Did it confirm or disconfirm expectations?
Another way to think about consumption experiences involves the degree to which the expectations carried by consumers into purchase and consumption are confirmed or disconfirmed.
The extent to which the consumption experience confirms or does not confirm expectations typically has a powerful influence on consumers’ evaluations after product consumption..
Consumption norms and rituals
Consumption norms represent informal rules that govern our consumption behaviour. A suit and tie is the expected garb for businessmen. Gifts representing expressions of love are exchanged on Valentine’s Day.
Many consumption activities are ritualised.
Consumption rituals are defined as ‘a type of expressive, symbolic activity constructed of multiple behaviours that occur in a fixed, episodic sequence, and that tend to be repeated over time. Ritual behaviour is dramatically scripted and acted out and is performed with formality, seriousness, and inner intensity.” For an example of consumption rituals,
Firms sometimes try to reinforce their products’ place in consumption rituals.
Rituals for religious occasions are but one of many different types of consumption rituals. Gift-giving behaviour can also be characterised as ritual.’
Consumption behaviour can take forms and directions that are decidedly counterproductive. The term compulsive consumption refers to those practices that, though undertaken to bolster self-esteem, are inappropriate, excessive and disruptive to the lives of those who are involved.’° Often, consumers experience a lack of control over their own actions. The gratification received usually is temporary and common outcomes include profound guilt and helplessness.
Evaluating alternatives is a fundamental part of the pre-purchase phase of the decision-making process. Evaluation of the chosen alternative is a fundamental part of the post-purchase stages of the decision-making process. During and after consumption, consumers form evaluations of the product and the consumption experience. These post-consumption evaluations may strongly resemble those evaluations held before purchase, particularly when the consumption experience is a satisfying one. At other times, however, they may have little resemblance to the evaluations held before consumption. A favourable pre-purchase evaluation may easily dissolve away with a disappointing or unsatisfactory consumption experience.
One indicator of the favourability of consumers’ post-consumption evaluations is measuring customer satisfaction.
The importance of customer satisfaction
It influences repeat buying
Probably the most obvious reason firms must pay attention to customer satisfaction is that it influences whether consumers will buy from the same firm again. Positive post-consumption evaluations are essential for retaining customers. Those holding negative evaluations of the product after consumption are unlikely to buy again. Typically, it is cheaper to retain an existing customer than to recruit a new one.” Firms have therefore become very focused on ensuring that their customers have satisfactory consumption experiences.
The relationship between customer satisfaction and customer retention is not perfect.”
According to one study, ‘In business after business, 60% to 80% of lost customers reported on a survey just prior to defecting that they were satisfied or very satisfied. Most automakers . . . still see 90% of their customers claiming to be satisfied and 40% coming back to buy again.”9 Yet it should not be too surprising that many of the customers satisfied today take their business elsewhere tomorrow After all, there are typically many competitors dangling attractive incentives as bait to lure away one’s customers.
Although a satisfactory consumption experience does not guarantee loyalty, the likelihood that customers will remain loyal depends on their level of satisfaction.
Businesses have begun to realise that simply satisfying customers may not be enough. Rather, they should strive for ‘customer delight’ that comes when customers are satisfied completely.
It shapes word-of-mouth communication
Beyond influencing consumers’ future purchase behaviour, post-consumption evaluations affect other behaviour as well. Discussing one’s consumption experiences with other people is a common activity. How many times have you heard people talking about their last holiday, seeing the latest movie, dining at some restaurant or getting ripped off by some unscrupulous firm? For many, conversations concerning consumption experiences are a daily occurrence.
Obviously, the favourability of such word-of-mouth communication directly depends on the favourability of the consumption experience. Negative consumption experiences not only reduce the odds of repeat buyers, they also lead consumers to say unflattering things when discussing their experiences with others. Dissatisfied consumers sometimes go to great lengths to share their negative opinions with others, even complete strangers.
Note, then, that a firm’s ability to deliver a satisfying consumption experience will affect its success in retaining current customers as well as recruiting new ones. Disappointed customers may not only take their business elsewhere but they may also spread the word to others, thereby undermining the firm’s customer recruitment efforts. Satisfied customers become repeat buyers and are valuable messengers for reaching new prospects.
Dissatisfaction leads to complaints
Beyond spreading negative word-of-mouth, dissatisfied customers may also file formal complaints and lawsuits against the firm. This, in turn, may generate negative publicity and absorb the time and resources required for defending the firm in the courtroom and in the press.
Although dissatisfaction is an essential prerequisite for complaint behaviour, not every dissatisfied customer will complain. Yet without knowing the customer’s reasons for being unhappy, the task of taking corrective actions in order to avoid or minimise future unhappiness becomes all the more challenging. In addition, dissatisfied customers who don’t voice their complaints are more likely to take their business elsewhere. For these reasons, firms should take steps that enable unhappy customers to easily voice their concerns. Firms such as Toyota send out customer satisfaction surveys after their cars have been purchased just to get feedback on the service the customer received and whether they are satisfied with the car’s performance.