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Imagine you are in a restaurant and your experience is either enhanced or diminished by the behavior of other customers within the same environment. To whom do you attribute your experience? When things go well the enjoyment of other customers creates or enhances a positive atmosphere within environment (Grayson and McNiell 2009; Yoshida and James 2010) and may increase the value a customer places on the service experience. The positive atmosphere and enhanced value the customer experiences is likely to be reflected in positive attitudes and feelings toward the firm and result in positive repurchase intentions (Tombs and McColl-Kennedy 2013) and positive word-of-mouth (Hooper et al. 2013). However, if other customers’ behavior is incompatible with the particular service or creates any sort of negative event, then the value the customer attaches to the service experience decreases (Tombs and McColl-Kennedy 2013) and often results in customers not wanting to go back to that establishment. Even worse than that they are likely to indulge in negative word-of-mouth (Huang et al. 2010) therefore dissuading others from going. These approach or avoidance behaviors are often the result of customers perceiving that the atmosphere of the service environment and subsequent enjoyable or dissatisfactory experiences are reflective of the overall service experience provided by the organization. This chapter examines the responses of customers when exposed the positive or negative behavior of other customers. Specifically it applies Attribution Theory (Weiner 1980, 1986) to explain how customers allocate blame for having their experience within a service environment disturbed (either positively or negatively) and what this blame does to service evaluations and repurchase intentions. We report on a qualitative study of regular restaurant patrons. The findings revealed that the attribution of blame for a disrupted service experience will vary, i.e., to the perpetrators (other customers), the organization and its staff, or even to the affected customer, depending on such factors as controllability, and perceived stability. These factors may be more stable and better predictors of customers’ reactions to disruption than the apparently shifting locus of causality. Conversely positive behavior of other customers appeared to be attributed not to the other customers but to the firm itself. This may be because when a customer is in a positive mood they perceive the elements of the servicescape are in harmony and as such look at the service environment more holistically. Whereas the disturbance caused by other customers may produce conflicting signals from the servicescape (positive things the firm does to attract the customer in the first place and the negative actions of others within that same environment) thus causing customers to be more analytical in an effort to resolve these apparent conflicts.References available upon request.
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- Customers’ Attribution of Blame When Other Customers Enhance or Destroy the Service Offering