Contagious effects of customer misbehavior in access-based services

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This research project focused on access-based services, defined as transactions in which multiple consumers successively gained temporal, short-term access to a good, while legal ownership remained with the service provider, for example car sharing and fashion rentals. Due to the nature of these services, they are especially prone to indirect customer misbehaviour, which is directed at the accessed product and occurs in the absence of others.

Customer misbehaviour in service settings is problematic for two reasons:

  1. Because of the direct damage it causes
  2. Because of the additional negative effects that arise from the contagion of such misbehaviour.

We extended the existing theory of customer misbehaviour by studying its contagious effect.

Project outputs

Two online experiments provided the first empirical evidence for a contagiousness of misbehaviour and revealed that this effect is driven by customers’ perceptions of the social norms among the customer group. Moreover, they indicated that greater strength of the accessed product’s brand as well as the lower anonymity of the accessed product’s owner attenuated contagion.

A field experiment showed that an increase in the communal identification among access-based service customers reversed the contagious effect, with customers more likely to remove signs of previous users’ misbehaviour. The results suggested that access-based service providers should address customer misbehaviour by:

  • Investing in the products they offer access to
  • Establishing more personal relationships with customers
  • Increasing communal identification among customers.