Consumer Misbehaviour and Marketing Activities

  • Post last modified:16 August 2023
  • Reading time:25 mins read
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Consumer Misbehaviour and Marketing Activities

Consumer misbehaviour is defined as the behaviour of consumers that deviates from the generally accepted codes of conduct, and damages or disrupts the business of an organisation in some way. The most widespread acts of misbehaviour by any consumer include physical or verbal abuse, creating a loss, trashing, theft as well as vandalism.

Some common terms and definitions related to consumer misbehaviour during professional service encounters are given in Table:

Deviant customer behaviourUndesirable, unacceptable, or dysfunctional behaviour that differs from some norm or standardMoschis & Cox, 1989
Aberrant customer behaviourBehaviour in exchange settings that violates the generally accepted norms of conductFullerton &Punj, 1993
Jay customerConsumers who act in a thoughtless or abusive way, causing problems for the firm, its employees, and other customer.Lovelock, 2001
Customer rageA form of anger comprised of a spectrum of negative emotions including ferocity, fury, wrath, disgust, contempt, scorn, and resentmentMcColl-Kennedy, Patterson, Smith & Brady, 2009
Opportunistic behaviorDeceit oriented violation of implicit or explicit promises of one’s appropriate or required role behaviourJohn, 1984
Dysfunctional customer behaviourActions by customers who intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or covertly, act in a manner that in some way, disrupts otherwise functional service encountersHarris & Reynolds, 2003
ProblemcustomersCustomers who are basically uncooperative, i.e., unwilling to cooperate with the service provider, other customers, industry regulations, and/or laws.Bitner, Booms
& Mohr, 1994
Common Terms and Definitions Related to Consumer Misbehaviour During Professional Service Encounters

In the words of Fullerton & Punj, consumer misbehaviour as the actions and attitudes displayed by consumers that goes against the generally applicable or acceptable codes of conduct in varied situations of consumption.

According to Solomon, Surprenant, Czepiel, & Gutman, market research shows that the consumers behave in a compliant as well as rational manner most of the times, while they are purchasing, using, or disposing of the products or services.

Consumer misbehaviour causes significant damage to the experience of all consumers, even those not misbehaving themselves. It causes financial loss and/or psychological damage to institutions, their employees, and other consumers.

The motivations for misbehaviour can be different and some common ones, as described by Fullerton and Punj are listed as follows:

  • Sometimes, consumers cannot satisfy their consumption goals via legitimate means and resort to unlawful behaviour.

  • Younger people, especially adolescents, might misconstrue misbehaving as a thrilling experience.

  • A lack of moral controls can cause some consumers to engage in misbehaviour.

  • Misbehaviour might be understood to be a means of promoting a group’s identity.

  • At times, situational factors such as crowding, too much heat and noise, etc., can upset consumers and make them misbehave.

  • Some consumers may weigh the risks and rewards associated with misbehaviour and misbehave if the risks are low as compared to rewards.

A few real-life examples of consumer misbehaviour are as follows:

  • In 2008, a Walmart worker was killed when out-of-control shoppers rushed to enter the Long Island, New York Store on Black Friday sale day.

  • In March 2021, the US’s Federal Aviation Administration extended its enforcement against unruly passengers as they were disobeying the masking policies. About 500 reports of misbehaving passengers were received by the Aviation Administration. In June, the American Airlines temporarily suspended a passenger as he refused to wear a mask.

  • Delta Airlines also banned 460 anti-masks

  • Recently, a customer named Hitesha Chandranee alleged that she was assaulted physically by a Zomato delivery boy. It is believed that she did so for free food to which the delivery executive, Kamraj objected.

There are various types of misbehaviours shown by consumers and we will discuss some of these in the upcoming sections.

Misbehaviour in Acquiring Products

Some examples of consumer misbehaviour in acquiring products include:

  • Shoplifting: Shoplifting is the act of stealing goods from a retail store by hiding them on one’s person, in pockets, underneath clothes, or in a bag, and leaving the store without paying. Apart from individual shoplifters, there is also seen to be a rapid rise in organised retail crime groups who pay individuals to shoplift goods from retail stores and further sell these on the black market.
    • Deploy right type of security tools

    • Educate the staff on how they can identify potential shoplifters

    • Confront the shoplifters legally

    • Install security mirrors

    • Use RFID tags

  • Credit card fraud: Credit card fraud includes theft and fraud committed using a fraudulent source of funds during a transaction. Organisations and customers can avoid and control credit card fraud by taking the following steps:
    • Credit card statements, expired and canceled credit cards must be put in shredding machine

    • Never sign on blank credit card receipts

    • Never share credit card information with any unknown and untrustworthy people

    • Report immediately to the credit card company and police in case of loss or theft of a credit card

    • Always check for credit card skimming machines

    • Check for differences in billing address and shipping address

    • Keep check on suspicious email ids

    • Maintain a log of credit card numbers

    • Use any fraud profiling service

    • Restrict the number of unsuccessful attempts to use credit card

  • Queue jumping: Queue jumping is the act of pushing into a queue to be served or dealt with before other people who have been waiting longer. As consumers, we all hate standing in queues. In case queues, the following customer behaviours are quite visible:
    • Balking: When a customer decides not to enter the queue as it is too long

    • Jockeying: When there are two or more queues for customer service and the customer moves from one queue to another

    • Reneging: When a customer enters a queue but quits the queue after losing patience
  • Price-tag switching: Price-tag switching is the act of tampering with the price tags by destroying, removing, or concealing price tags. Some mischievous consumers try to acquire goods at a discounted price, or return goods for more money than they are worth by price-tag switching.

  • Excessive Buying: Some consumers buy excessively to compensate for psychological problems, even when they might not afford to. At times, consumers hoard items when they think a shortage may come up in future.

  • Piracy: Piracy is a common form of consumer misbehaviour where consumers share or copy movies, video games, music, computer software, etc., without payment to the creator. In order to stop/prevent piracy and promote ethical purchase of online content, the organisations can take the following steps:
    • Copyrighting and patenting

    • Using end-user agreements

    • Using software product keys

    • Offering products and associated user experience at a fair price.

    • Educating the customer that piracy is illegal and a crime

    • Enforcing access and use control
  • Fare evasion: A consumer may avoid paying the price of a good or service. For example, they may drive away from a petrol station without paying, eat at a restaurant but leave without paying

  • Failing to inform of a mistake in their favour: Consumers may dupe the business by not admitting to being undercharged or being given back extra change.

Misbehaviour With Respect to Marketing Activities

There are several ways consumers can misbehave with respect to marketing activities. These are discussed as follows:

  • Misbehaviour with respect to promotional activities: Consumers can misbehave in the following ways:
    • By adding graffiti to posters

    • By distorting advertising messages via word of mouth or online communities to hurt the brand’s image. For example, nowadays, consumers use social media to affect a brand’s image. For instance, in June 2020, the Instagram movement #PullUpOrShutUp was launched and it was able to convince more than 200 companies, including Estée Lauder and Levis to release data on how many Black employees they had and ensure improvement.

    • By damaging the reputation of those brands that the consumer believes are politically or socially irresponsible. For example, in 2018, Uber faced severe damage to its reputation due to claims of sexual harassment from a female engineer followed by into 56 other claims of sexual harassment which cost Uber $1.9 million in settlement.

    • By claiming they have coupons for various promotions or discounts but they forgot them at someplace else
  • Misbehaviour with respect to relationship marketing: Consumers can misbehave by:
    • Misrepresenting purchase details in loyalty and marketing database schemes knowingly

    • Stealing the identity or misusing personal information and credit card details of other consumers

  • Misbehaviour with respect to market research: Consumers can misbehave by:
    • Manipulating polls and surveys

    • Providing false responses intentionally

      Marketers can identify and eliminate response bias from their surveys by taking the following steps:

    • Develop non-biased survey questions

    • Always provide an option like NA/Don’t Know/Can’t Say

    • Hide the purpose of survey from respondents

    • Avoid including any leading questions

    • Use simple and understandable language

    • Develop questionnaires after considering the social and education level of respondents
  • Misbehaviour with respect to the business’s employees and other consumers: Consumers can misbehave by:
    • Physically or verbally abusing or being non-cooperative towards front-line marketing staff such as store managers, cashiers, service staff, and call centre operatives

    • Physically or verbally abusing other consumers

    • Threatening the business’ employees or other consumers

    • Deliberate breaking of the business’s code of conduct

      For every business, it is essential to deal with customers and resolve their complaints and issues. however, there are instances when customers start misbehaving with customer representatives or other employees of the company either physically or verbally. The companies can deal with the problem of physical and/or verbal abuse by customers by taking the following steps:

    • Advise the staff to first warn abusive customers they will hang up on the phone if they don’t mend their behaviour

    • Advise the staff to first warn abusive customers they will hang up on the phone if they don’t mend their behaviour

    • Walk out of the conversation and come in when the customer has cooled down a little

    • Show the door to extremely abusive customers

    • As the first step, be empathetic and show that you genuinely care and listen

    • End the call and ask the customers to call back again only when they can talk respectfully

    • Do not answer back in same abusive manner and always remain calm and respectful

    • Always refer to policies and procedures

    • Learn to differentiate between angry customers and abusive customers

    • Use the three strike rule (warn twice in case of abusive behaviour and terminate the call or discussion at the third instance)

    • Escalate the call to manager or a specialist

    • Request the customer to communicate through e-mail only

    • Blacklist the customer

Consumer Misbehaviour With Respect to Available Products in the Market

At times, customers shopping with the pre-intention to buy a specific product of a specific brand. Such buyers are less sensitive to advertised promotions and discounts but may misbehave if they are unable to obtain their desired products. Difficulty in buying a product due to stock-outs or long queues may also trigger consumer misbehaviour.

These consumers may become verbally or physically aggressive towards store employees and other consumers in such a situation. To lower the aggression by such consumers, businesses can work towards ensuring that consumers get a feeling of goal fulfilment. For example, in case desired products are not available, stores can offer a similar item with some small promotional free gift to soothe the consumer.

Consumer Misbehaviour With Respect to Price Prevailing in the Competitive Market

The world comprises of multiple markets which are exposed to extreme level of competition. in all such markets, it is the duty of the marketer to ensure fairness and transparency in the price of the product. If any product is priced at premium over and above the price of competing products, the marketers must be able to justify and provide a valid reason for premium costing.

Customers can feel cheated and may misbehave if they are overcharged for the some product or services with no additional value. So, it is the duty of the marketer to charge fair and reasonable prices. At times, consumers may intend to shop specifically for price specials or discounted prices available in the competitive market. Studies have shown that discounts have unconscious psychological effects on consumers.

When consumers perceive that they paid a reasonable price for a product, they are more likely to feel goal fulfilment and purchase satisfaction. But in case they feel they have paid an unreasonable amount or another consumer got a better deal, then they may feel dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction after a cost/benefit evaluation may lead a consumer to misbehave by physically or verbally abusing, or being non-cooperative towards staff or threatening them.

Consumer Misbehaviour With Respect to Distribution of Goods

Consumers may misbehave with respect to the distribution of goods in the following ways:

  • Illegal or unethical distribution: Offenders may distribute stolen or counterfeit goods. For instance, there are various sellers in the market who sell first copies of popular high-end products such as Aplle Iphones, Apple Earbuds and Xiomi fitness bands.

  • Bootlegging: Offenders may bootleg via illegal manufacture, distribution, or sale of products that are usually prohibited.

  • Return fraud: Return fraud happens when a consumer cheats a retail store via the return process. Return fraud can be committed in different ways:
    • The offender may return merchandise that they shoplifted earlier for a refund.

    • They may steal receipts or use counterfeit receipts to fabricate a return

    • The consumer may return used merchandise

    • The offender may return merchandise purchased via fraudulent means.

    • The offender may return exchanged merchandise, i.e., purchase a working item, exchange it with a broken version they own and then return the broken item.
  • Copyright infringement: Offenders illegally reproduce and share copyrighted material, such as computer programs, movies, books, music, etc. For example, recently, during the lockdown, the physical disribution of newspaper had become difficult due to which most newspapers started offering e-newspapers. However, dissemination of e-newspapers on Telegram and other social media raised a copyright debate. Most e-newspapers were offering free download of the day’s paper. As a result, there was an increase in the dissemination of e-papers via Web-based social media rather than by social-media page of the actual newspaper.

  • Grey markets: A grey marketer generally buys goods when and where they are available cheaply. They then trade these via distribution channels outside those authorised by the original producer or trademark proprietor. This type of misbehaviour is very common with electronic goods such as cameras, laptops, phones, etc.

  • Vandalism: Misbehaving consumers may vandalise retail stores and in-store displays as an act of retaliation against the firm for some damage they feel they have incurred or sometimes plainly for the sake of the thrill.

Consumer Expectation and Behaviour Balance

Customer satisfaction may be defined as the measure of a product’s performance and/or the value of marketing offers meeting the buyer’s expectations. Consumers form expectations about a product and the value of marketing offers and make buying decisions based on these expectations. Consumer behaviour is often a manifestation of their expectations about getting satisfaction from a product and/or the whole buying experience.

Apart from the expectations regarding the purchase and purchasing experience, consumers also form expectations about their own behaviour during the purchase plus the behaviour of the business and other consumers. Socialisation allows consumers to form an understanding of acceptable norms of their own behaviour, and expectations regarding the business’s conduct and other consumers’ conduct towards the consumer. Likewise, the business also develops an understanding of norms of appropriate consumer conduct.

In an ideal purchase scenario, there will be reciprocity between the expectations and behaviour of the consumer and the business. What this means is that all participants will abide by the rules of exchange which will lead to the development of feelings of trust, commitment, and appreciation. Service-related exchange, like any other social exchange, requires interpersonal interactions that are governed by normative or standard expectations of reciprocity.

But because most businesses go by the adage that the customer is always right, this reciprocity is not completely based on fair behaviour on part of the consumer and encourages stabilising behaviour on part of the business even when conflict arises due to consumer misbehaviour.

Therefore, while in theory, these expectations are supposed to be symmetrical, in practical scenarios, they are not and heavily favour the consumer. This asymmetry places consumers in a position where they can abuse their privilege and behave inappropriately. When consumers visit retail stores intending to purchase a product, they typically come in with high expectations because they are paying for a product in an exchange that they believe is fair.

They believe that as paying customers, they are entitled to great customer service. When these expectations of finding the right product at the right price along with great customer service are not met, they can turn aggressive.

Balance is an essential component in every sphere of life, including business. Unless companies learn to balance customer expectations and behaviour, they might end up with higher instances of consumer misbehaviour. So, how do businesses balance consumer expectations and behaviour?

The first step towards this is becoming aware of the factors that influence consumers to behave either negatively or positively. This information can be used by businesses to create environments that discourage misbehaviour.

One way to keep consumer experiences satisfactory and encourage them to behave positively, without recruiting more staff, is to segment customers and service levels. This means that by increasing staff during peak work hours and call times, companies can take a step towards handling consumer expectations better and reduce misbehaviour.

When they are not busy, staff may be presented with opportunities for training and development for improving their efficiency and productivity. This would enable businesses to meet consumer expectations better and lower the chances of misbehaviour. Businesses should also avoid over-promising and strive to provide consistent quality and service.

Businesses also need to be mindful that a consumer may have been experiencing an issue long before they may bring it up to the notice of support staff. They must, therefore, be more attentive when a consumer brings up issues.

The personnel should try to identify potential problems and try to provide solutions beforehand. They also need to watch out and be prepared for customers who may be potentially difficult or are repeat offenders. This also helps to avoid exposing the other consumers to acts of misbehaviour.

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