Decoding Customer-Firm Relationships: How Attachment Styles Help Explain Customers’ Preferences for Closeness, Repurchase Intentions, and Changes in Relationship Breadth

Martin Mende, University of Kentucky
Ruth N. Bolton, Marketing Science Institute
Mary Jo Bitner, Arizona State University

Many firms invest heavily in customer relationship management to create close customer bonds. However, not all consumers welcome close relationships. We develop a framework that predicts why consumers differentially prefer close relationships with a firm and how they respond to closeness-enhancing activities.

Our framework – tested with data from the insurance industry – links customers’ attachment styles with (a) customers’ desire for closeness and (b) loyalty.

Illustrative insights:

  • Customer attachment anxiety is positively linked and attachment avoidance is negatively linked with the preference for a close relationship.
  • Customers of low attachment anxiety and avoidance indicate the highest loyalty potential, whereas avoidant customers signal the lowest loyalty.
  • Managers can focus cross-selling efforts on customers of low attachment anxiety and avoidance to leverage repurchase likelihood.
  • An attachment-informed manager might use high levels of attachment avoidance as early indicators of loyalty-averse customers.

The results provide managers with novel customer segmentation criteria and actionable guidelines that can help the firm tailor relationship marketing activities.

 

This paper is published in Journal of Marketing Research, February 2013, pp. 125-142.