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Conservative customers are more satisfied than liberal ones, according to new study

by Avery Ruxer Franklin

Across industries, conservatives are more satisfied than liberals with the products and services they consume, according to a study of more than 326,000 U.S. consumers by an international research team from Rice University, the Catholic University of Portugal, Boston College, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Korea University.

The researchers examined ratings from 326,532 customers in different industries --industrial goods, restaurants, educational videos and health insurance. “Consistently, results showed that conservatives are more satisfied than liberals with the products and services they purchased. This is profoundly important for companies and businesses whose goal is to provide customer value by satisfying their customers,” said study co-author Vikas Mittal, a professor of marketing at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business.

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Vikas Mittal
Vikas Mittal, J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Management – Marketing, Rice Business

Cultivating a base of satisfied customers is the holy grail for any successful business, the researchers said. A 2021 study by Mittal found that a 1-point increase on a 7-point scale measuring satisfaction resulted in 12% sales growth for firms. Satisfied customers help businesses grow sales through greater repeat purchases, increased positive word of mouth, more recommendations to friends and family and fewer complaints, Mittal said. When customers are more satisfied, they are also more likely to promote the company’s brand on social media, he said.

For every customer, the team measured political identity and customer satisfaction. They measured political identity in different ways: asking consumers to share the political party they supported, their past voting behavior, their self-ratings on the liberal-conservative spectrum and whether they watch CNN/MSNBC or Fox for news. Customers rated their satisfaction on a scale ranging from “completely dissatisfied” to “completely satisfied.” All studies showed that satisfaction ratings were higher among conservatives than liberals.

Why? “It is their higher belief in free will, or the extent to which they believe they have control of their actions,” Mittal said. “People with higher belief in free will see their life, destiny and outcomes as being under their own control rather than being predetermined. Due to higher free-will beliefs, conservatives are more trusting of their own purchase decisions and feel more satisfied with their purchases. Over time, customers feel good about themselves, thinking, ‘I chose a good product,’ and (feel) more satisfied with their choices.

“Some companies have embraced corporate political activism to satisfy their customers,” he said. “Such a strategy is almost sure to backfire because it forces companies to choose sides, whether liberal or conservative.

“Instead of choosing sides, companies should relentlessly focus on increasing customer satisfaction to drive sales,” Mittal said. “Doing so will be appreciated by their conservative customers more than their liberal customers, but both will be more loyal, engage in higher word of mouth and recommend the business more.”

The paper, “How Political Identity Shapes Customer Satisfaction,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, was co-authored by professors Daniel Fernandes of the Catholic University of Portugal, Nailya Ordabayeva of Boston College, Kyuhong Han of Korea University and Jihye Jung of UTSA. It can be downloaded at https://doi.org/10.1177/00222429211057508.

 

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