Ruth N. Bolton, Marketing Science Institute
Martin Mende, University of Kentucky
Relational orientations vary across customers, so that marketing activities and service programs should be customized to individual customers or market segments. However, little is known about the underlying processes that influence how customers bond with a service firm and its employees. This article explains customer-firm and customer-employee relationships based on attachment theory. It provides theoretical and empirical evidence that customers with either high attachment assurance, attachment promotion, or both perceive both service firm and service employee more positively – in terms of satisfaction, trust and affective commitment – than customers with lower levels on these dimensions. However, the service firm and service employees are separate attachment targets, so this study also tests whether customers have a similar propensity to bond with both. It finds that insecurely attached customers who find the interpersonal bond with an employee deficient, compensate for this deficiency by being more likely to bond with the service firm. Companies that measure customer attachment styles can better segment markets, manage customer relationships and allocate resources. For example, customers with high levels of attachment assurance and high levels of attachment promotion toward the firm should be receptive to relationship building and are candidates for social service programs, whereas customers with low levels of attachment promotion are likely to be more responsive to financial programs.