Customer identity and dysfunctional behaviors: The case of impoliteness
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A common intuition in marketing is that businesses should ‘treat customers as kings or queens.’ However, customers do not always reciprocate in kind. In this research, I explore how merely identifying as a customer facilitates dysfunctional behaviors such as impoliteness in service interactions. Across five studies, I demonstrate that making the customer identity salient increases dysfunctional behaviors. In particular, customer identity (1) increases the likelihood of impoliteness via an enhanced sense of entitlement, (2) leads to objectification of employees, (3) reduces other-focus orientation, (4) eliminates the positive effect of subjective social status on forgiveness, and (5) decreases politeness in written language. To our knowledge, this research is the first that attempts to explore the relationship between customer identity and customer impoliteness. This contributes to existing marketing theory by demonstrating that customer identity can induce impoliteness beyond contextual factors and personal characteristics. For managers, this research suggests that businesses should refrain from making customer identification salient and rather promote alternative identities (i.e., guest, partner, student). Finally, the current research encourages future studies to extend our current understanding of the relationship between customer identity and customer dysfunctional behaviors.