The ServiceLine with J. N. Halm… Citizens, Not Just Customers: Reviewing the beneficial behaviours of customers

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HALM
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

Time really flies. It seems like just a few months ago that we heard our then newly-elected president give his maiden speech as President of the Republic. It is surprising that that event is a couple of months shy of four years. On that day, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo made a number of statements but I believe, one of the strongest points he made was for Ghanaians to strive to be citizens and not spectators.

That statement caused no small stir in the country, especially on social media. For admirers, it was the right call at the right time by the right man. It was a call to every citizen of this beloved country to arise and be counted. For opposers, it was mere rhetoric from someone playing to the gallery. Then the accusations of plagiarism came to fore. This ruckus, unfortunately, got all the way to the international press.

Eventually, as with many things here in Ghana, the brouhaha died away and, pretty soon, we were back to our normal lives. However, the call for citizenship behaviour cannot be so easily forgotten. Wherever one stands or whichever political persuasion one subscribes to, it is important that at every point in time, one thinks of not only oneself but the country as well. It is only when we become citizens and not spectators that the developmental aspirations of the country can be met, and met on time.

Interestingly, citizenship behaviour is not only a reserve of citizens and residents of a particular country. Citizenship behaviour is also related to customers. Customer citizenship behaviour (CCB) has been defined as those positive, voluntary, helpful, and constructive customer behaviours that are beneficial for an organization. They are those good things that customers go out of their way to do just to help a company. When customers are citizens and not mere customers, they do their fair bit for the organisation in question.

There are several other names given to customer citizenship behaviours. These include customer organizational citizenship behaviours, customer extra-role behaviours, customer discretionary behaviours, customer helping behaviours, and customer voluntary performance. No matter what one calls these behaviour patterns, customer citizenship behaviours are normally not expected of customers. They are behaviours that are above and beyond the expectations of what customers are required to do before, during, and after the acquisition of a product or service.

Literature commonly cites three groups of customer citizenship behaviour. The first is that of customers going out of their way to recommend a particular product or service to others. When customers are happy about an experience, they would not mind using their own resources to tell others about it. They will not mind using their own money to recharge their phone’s credit just to call others and tell them about that particular experience.

These customers would even do follow up with their colleagues to whom they have recommended a particular product or service just to find out if those colleagues have gone for that product or service. There are customers who would not even mind using their own money to sponsor others to go through the same experience.

The second exhibition of citizenship behaviour is customers helping others. Citizenship is what occurs when customers voluntarily assist other customers with problems or when customers go out of their way to prevent problems from occurring. For instance, a new customer might be in need of help filing a form or following a particular process. A good customer citizen will go out of his or her way to help the new customer out.

One of the common examples of citizenship helping behaviour is when a customer teaches a new customer how to use the product. There is a certain elation you see in the current customer in doing so. It is more like a welcoming ceremony of a sort or initiation into a special group. Citizenship behaviour is exhibited when customers go out of their way to take help other customers make better product or service choices. Sometimes, an uninitiated customer would be making an enquiry at the front desk and a current customer would go out of her way to provide a response to the enquiry, even without being asked to do so.

The third type of citizenship behaviour is when customers go out of their way to provide feedback to the company. A common Akan proverb goes thus: “The one charting the path does not know that the path is crooked.” Another proverb that would aptly fit in with this proverb is this: “It is only a good friend that will tell you that the path you are charting is crooked.

Feedback is of great importance in any venture—and good customer citizens give good feedback. They are the customers that will fill any customer feedback form, undertake any survey and ensure that their views are heard. Those are the customers that ensure that they always to get to speak to someone in the company when things are not going well. Other customers will simply walk away and would not bother coming back.

There are other ways by which customers exhibit citizenship behaviours that might not fall under these three broad categories. For instance, self-service is another clear example of citizenship behaviour. When customers do the work that is to be done by an employee, that customer is being a good citizen. When a customer uses his or her own resources to go to the business, rather than let the business come to him or her, that is citizenship behaviour.

One of the key drivers of customer citizenship behaviour is what is referred to as Brand Community Identification (BCI). This is the situation where customers feel a certain affinity to particular brand and see themselves as belonging to that particular social grouping. A typical example are iPhone users. Another group is the Harley Owners Group made of individuals who own Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Individuals belonging to brand communities such as these are more likely to exhibit citizenship behaviours when dealing with these companies. This is not too different from what supporters of sports teams feel for their clubs. People will easily put their necks on the line for brands that have their love and support. Customers do not stake their lives on weak brands.

One way in which BCI and CCB converge is with customers who go out of their way to self-display or advertise a particular brand. It is not uncommon to see young men and women parade the streets adorn in the replica jerseys of their favourite football teams. One can be rest assured that these individuals did not buy these jerseys on impulse just because those replica shirts were cheap. On the contrary, original replica jerseys are not cheap but people go out of their way to buy and advertise them. Customer citizens are those that are ready to do anything on their own to ensure that their favourite brand always comes up tops.

There is a study published in the February 2020 edition of the Journal of Business Research that indicate that BCI mitigated the negative effects of service failures on customer repurchase intentions. In other words, even when the product or service in question underperforms, a customer that identifies with its brand will not turn his or her back on that brand.

Tolerance is therefore another of the traits of citizenship behaviour. A good customer citizen will even try and help the organisation find a solution to that problem. The takeaway from this discussion is that organisations should build strong brands that customer would be drawn to. The benefits, as can be seen, are substantial.

Closely related to the idea of a strong brand is a great performance. When customers constantly leave the experience completely satisfied, their love for the brand grows and this eventually leads to the display of citizenship behaviour. Performance is at the base of brand creation. No matter how well branded an organisation; no matter how visible or easily recognisable the brand is; no matter how beautiful its corporate colours are or how stylish the logo is, if the product or service does not do what is expected of it—and do it well, its customers would struggle to be good citizens. The key point from this thought is that organisations must ensure that they get the basics right. When the fundamentals are weak, the daily grind will expose the organisation.

Another factor that has been seen to play a role in the development of customer citizenship behaviour is the personality of the customer. A study published in the October 2015 edition of the journal Psychology & Marketing showed that customers who were naturally empathetic tend to be more satisfied with a service provider and were more prone to display citizenship behaviours such as helping other customers. In my years of experience at the frontline I can confidently aver that there are people who are just nice. Plain and simple. Nice people tend to become nice customers and nice customers make great citizens.

When one puts all of the beneficial effects of CCB together, it is not very difficult to see how this ends up affecting the organisation’s bottom-line. Citizenship behaviour positively affects profitability and thus is something businesses must take a serious look at.

In the next few months, Ghanaians will be going back to the polls to decide who governs this country for another four years. Whoever gets elected will have to give a speech at his (or her) swearing-in ceremony. It is almost impossible to guess whether that President on that day will also urge all Ghanaians to be citizens, not spectators—since the line has already been used. For the business owner, this should not matter because whatever be the case, a great organization must do everything to develop citizens and not just mere customers.

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