MIT Sloan Management Review Article on Avoiding the Pitfalls of Customer Participation

  • 6m
  • Andreas B. Eisingerich, Hae-Kyung Shin, Omar Merlo, Robert A. Britton
  • MIT Sloan Management Review
  • 2019

When front-line employees feel torn between representing the customer and what they believe is reasonable, they need to know the company has their back.

Companies pay a lot of attention to customer participation — getting customers to play an ongoing role in the business by providing suggestions and ideas on its products and services. Whether this feedback takes place through surveys, comment cards, online forms, or other means, studies have pointed to the advantages of encouraging such dialogue. It can create a bond that enhances customer loyalty and even a willingness to pay higher prices.

However, it also has downsides that many senior executives are not aware of. Indeed, our research, which included interviews and roundtable discussions with 87 executives and 276 employees in a range of service industries, found that enthusiasm for customer participation wanes the closer one gets to the company’s front lines. When customers are encouraged to speak up, front-line employees can feel threatened. Even though they are committed to advancing the objectives of the business, front-line employees sometimes see themselves as caught in the middle, torn between representing the views of customers, regardless of how reasonable those views may be, and what they think is reasonable.

About the Author

Omar Merlo is an assistant professor of marketing, Andreas B. Eisingerich a professor of marketing, and Hae-Kyung Shin a research associate at Imperial College Business School in London. Robert A. Britton is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

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  • MIT Sloan Management Review Article on Avoiding the Pitfalls of Customer Participation