Why Attachment Security Matters

Martin Mende, University of Kentucky, and Ruth N. Bolton, Marketing Science Institute, Cambridge, collaborated on “Why Attachment Security Matters: How Customers’ Attachment Styles Influence Their Relationships With Service Firms and Service Employees” for the June 2011 issue of Journal of Service Research. Professor Mende Kindly provided the following responses to the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

We think that our paper is relevant for service managers across industries and service researchers across disciplines who are interested in why and how consumers distinctly bond with service firms and their employees.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

We observed that service firms often invest in building uniform relationships with their customers without considering that consumers may have different relational preferences. For example, we (presumably) have all been approached by firms asking us to join their loyalty programs or befriend them on Facebook.

There is little research that would help firms better understand customers’ relational preferences. Thus, we devised a theoretical framework of “customer attachment styles” to better explain how customers distinctly form and perceive relationships with service firms and their employees.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Although prior work in psychology had revealed important effects of attachment styles in romantic relationships, we were — to a certain extent — surprised by how comprehensive the effects of customer attachment styles are in commercial relationships (e.g., across dependent variables including satisfaction, trust, and affective commitment) and that they equally influence customer-employee relationships (i.e., interpersonal) bonds and customer-firm relationships.

We think it is noteworthy that some customers — who find interpersonal bonds with employees deficient — compensate for this deficiency by being more likely to bond with their service provider. Our research helps predict which customers are more or less likely to show such a “compensation mechanism”.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

We believe that service and customer relationship researchers should go beyond established marketing constructs to consider the mechanisms driving customers’ relational orientations. Our research introduces customer attachment styles and shows that attachment styles are associated with distinct levels of customer satisfaction, trust, and affective commitment. However, our work is only a first step toward incorporating the concept of customer attachment styles into Customer Relationship Management and we believe that it illustrates how attachment theory provides service researchers with many avenues for theoretical exploration. (For example, how do customer attachment styles influence customer reactions to service failures and complaining behaviors?)

Managers may find that our work offers several practical suggestions. For instance, firms can incorporate our self-report customer attachment scale into their existing market research activities to better understand their customers. We intentionally made our customer attachment scale brief and easy for customers to understand, so that companies could easily incorporate the scale into their marketing research programs. They could include customer attachment measures with other market segmentation variables and use them to enrich existing customer segmentation approaches, better allocate resources, and tailor marketing activities.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

Both authors are interested in service marketing and customer relationship management. As service scholars, we want to know how firms can build and maintain long-term relationships with customers in ways that are mutually beneficial. We want to discover new ways that help firms understand their customers’ profiles when it comes to building relationships.

How did your paper change during the review process?

The editor and three reviewers provided extremely helpful and productive feedback that helped us communicate our major logic and findings more clearly and succinctly and to address theoretical and managerial implications of customer attachment styles for service scholars and managers. We hope the readers will enjoy the article.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

We are happy with this study, but we have thought of an important next step. Our research uses cross-sectional survey data. It would be interesting to try a longitudinal research design in which we would follow customers over time in a service relationship or, if possible, across multiple service relationships. Such a design would allow us to make cross-company and cross-industry comparisons and offer insights into how customer attachment styles might vary between service settings or over time, and why.

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