Return on Behavior Magazine
Home for marketing and customer service professionals

Customer Experience

September 26th, 2009

Turning Customers Into Good Corporate Citizens


For many businesses, customers are only useful because they buy. You can’t knock that, but there is so much more that customers could do.

I like to call these other things “customer citizenship behaviors”.

Customers become solid citizens when they act in your interests for little or no material reward. You can pay customers to work on your behalf but wouldn’t it be great if they did so out of love. Emotional commitment, or what some are now calling customer engagement,comes about when customers develop affective bonds with your brand, your people or your organization.

Engaged customers have a number attributes in common. They are highly satisfied customers, they believe that your brand, offer, people or company is superior to others in the same space, and they have a powerful intention to continue buying that overrides the promotional appeals of competitors.

Customer commitment can be earned but it does mean going beyond simply satisfying customers by delivering products and services that meet their consumption needs. You have to give them something to become attached to, something that evokes a strong emotional response. Customers can become particularly attached to an organization’s people or its values. You’ll sometimes hear people talking about ‘my coffee shop’ or ‘my auto-mechanic’. Usually this means the person’s formed an emotional bond that goes far deeper than the provider’s ability to make a good cup of coffee or change their oil.

Similarly some customers become attached to firms because their personal values and those of the business are in alignment. The Body Shop, for example, adheres to 5 published values with which many customers associate. One of the consequences of emotional attachments of this kind is that committed customers will engage in citizenship behaviors. Some examples:

  • Participate willingly in market research or new product tests.
  • Be more forgiving of service failures.
  • Give positive word-of-mouth.
  • Rebut any negative word-of-mouth they might hear.
  • Volunteer feedback on their customer experiences with competitors.
  • Take an active role in online communities, like CustomerThink.
  • Join user groups.

Down at my local supermarket, corporate citizens are working for the store. They aren’t on the payroll, but they ensure that the produce is on the right racks, they advise customer service when there has been a spillage, they tidy up displays, the pick up packages from the floor, they return shopping trolleys to the trolley-park, they ensure merchandise that is past its use-by date is removed, they use multi-trip shopping bags rather than single-trip plastic or paper, they take part in new product taste-tests, they donate their change to charities supported by the store, and through their patience they help trainees learn their new check-out skills. It takes more than satisfaction with the store’s product assortment and prices to provoke these types of behaviors. Emotional commitment is key.

“Written by Dr. Francis Buttle, Managing Director of Francis Buttle & Associates and republished with permission from ( Copyright CustomerThink Corp.”

About the Author

Francis Buttle

Dr. Francis Buttle is Managing Director of Francis Buttle & Associates, Research Director at Listening Post and Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Customer Relationship Management at Macquarie Graduate School of Management, all of which are based in Sydney, Australia. He was also the world’s first Professor of CRM, at Manchester Business School in the UK.  He has degrees in management science, marketing, and communication. His PhD is from the University of Massachusetts.

Francis has consulted for several private sector and public sector organizations recently, on projects ranging from customer profitability analysis to the development of service level guarantees, and the design and roll-out of a world’s best practice complaints-handling system.

Francis has written 5 books, the latest of which is ‘Customer Relationship Management: Concepts and Tools’. In addition he has authored about 300 papers in practitioner and academic journals. Much of his more recent research has focused on important customer-related matters such as word-of-mouth and complaints management.

As an academic, Francis taught MBA-level courses on CRM, services marketing and marketing management, and ran many customized and off-the-shelf executive-level short courses on CRM and marketing. Francis still works with a number of doctoral students on the research topics of CRM effectiveness, word-of-mouth customer referrals and business-to-business relationship dynamics. He is an elected Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in recognition of his service to the field.


Dr. Francis Buttle
Managing Director, Francis Buttle & Associates P/L
Post: PO Box 325, St Ives, NSW 2075, Australia
Street: 23 Mungarra Ave., St Ives, NSW 2075, Australia




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