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Should Brands Alter Customer Satisfaction Strategies Based on Political Identity?

Should Brands Alter Customer Satisfaction Strategies Based on Political Identity?

Daniel Fernandes, Nailya Ordabayeva, Kyuhong Han, Jihye Jung and Vikas Mittal

Customer satisfaction is of utmost importance to firms. It drives customer word-of-mouth, loyalty, and sales, which is why many firms spend millions or even billions of dollars innovating the customer experience. Now, new Journal of Marketing research identifies customers’ political ideology as an important driver of their satisfaction. Specifically, we find that conservatives are more satisfied with their purchases than liberals. 
 
We document this phenomenon in multiple studies conducted in the lab and in the field with U.S. and European participants. In some studies, we analyzed consumers’ satisfaction with their actual past purchases and measured their political identity on a nine-point scale (1 = “extremely liberal” to 9 = “extremely conservative” in the U.S. and 1 = “extremely left-wing” to 9 = “extremely right-wing” in Europe). We found that a one-point increase in consumers’ political conservatism was associated with a 5% average increase in their satisfaction with actual purchases. In other studies, we created an identical product experience that conservatives and liberals consumed during the study. Specifically, conservatives and liberals consumed the same online instructional videos about how to complete various tasks at home (e.g., exercise from home). Such videos skyrocketed in popularity during the COVID-19 stay-at-home period when we conducted the study. We found that conservatives were more satisfied with this consumption experience than liberals.

In another set of studies, we analyzed actual customer satisfaction data obtained in the field, such as online reviews and firms’ customer satisfaction surveys, spanning various product and service categories including restaurants, airport travel, health insurance, and B2B services. Regardless of the context or category, we found that conservatives are consistently more satisfied than liberals. Importantly, higher levels of customer satisfaction drive conservatives’ higher likelihood to re-purchase the products and services they consume and to recommend these products and services to others. This ultimately translates to higher firm sales. 
 
We find that conservatives are consistently more satisfied than liberals because conservatives believe more strongly in free-will and their personal responsibility for their actions and outcomes. This leads conservatives to trust their purchase decisions more and to ultimately feel more satisfied with the products they choose to buy and consume than liberals do. In other studies, we found that restricting conservatives’ choice freedom lowers their satisfaction levels. However, strategies that boost liberals’ confidence in their purchase decisions boosts their satisfaction levels. 
 
These results have important implications for firms. First, by understanding the political identity of their customer base, companies can improve and better manage the satisfaction of their clients. For instance, because conservatives believe in free will and individual responsibility, providing them with abundant choices further boosts their level of satisfaction. Indeed, in one study we found that conservatives’ (vs. liberals’) online restaurant reviews were even higher when there were abundant restaurant options nearby. In contrast, liberals’ satisfaction can be increased through tactics that boost their confidence in their consumption choices. For example, increasing perceptions of the positivity of the consumption experience, or category expertise, raises liberals’ customer satisfaction. This also means that companies should pay close attention to service and product failures that create negative experiences for liberal clients because liberals’ dissatisfaction in these cases may be particularly pronounced. 
 
More broadly, accounting for customers’ political identity in analyses and interpretations of customer satisfaction data such as online reviews can benefit firms because customers’ political identity could bias customer analytics. Indeed, accounting for the role of political identity in satisfaction data can help companies better understand the extent to which their satisfaction data reflect actual product performance and customer service rather than their customers’ inherent tendency to feel content. This can ultimately help companies craft more effective strategies to improve their products and services. 

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From: Daniel Fernandes, Nailya Ordabayeva, Kyuhong Han, Jihye Jung, and Vikas Mittal, “How Political Identity Shapes Customer Satisfaction,” Journal of Marketing.

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Daniel Fernandes is Associate Professor of Marketing, Catholic University of Portugal, Portugal.

Nailya Ordabayeva is Associate Professor of Marketing, Boston College, USA.  

Kyuhong Han is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Korea University, Korea.  

Jihye Jung is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA.  

Vikas Mittal is J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing, Rice University, USA.