If high customer satisfaction is important for companies, searching for factors which contribute to higher customer satisfaction becomes an important research subject. Obviously, the key index factor would be the quality of service, such as food and working staff. This explains why a large number of past studies on customer satisfaction have mainly focused on the relationship between quality of service and customer satisfaction.
When a customer eats at a restaurant in a group setting, for example with family, friends, colleagues and bosses (a group consumption), not only the quality of food becomes the satisfaction factor. The customer is most likely happy if other members at the table are happy. This significant psychological process is similar to what we can call the ability to read situations, which is also embedded in the customer satisfaction model that our research group is developing.
We believe that the level of the ability to read social situations depends on one’s cultural orientation. Briefly, Japanese people tend to have a higher ability of reading situations than most American people. In the context of service consumption, there are more Japanese who feel satisfied or dissatisfied in the same way their companions are satisfied or dissatisfied.
A theoretical base for this idea can be found in a new area of study called cultural psychology. This study shows that relations with others contribute more to shaping emotions of people in an East-Asian cultural sphere including Japanese than people in a western cultural sphere including Americans. We applied this perspective to customer satisfaction studies and built a hypothesis that “a companions’ perception of satisfaction contributes more to shaping customers’ satisfaction in an Asian cultural sphere than in a western cultural sphere.”
In fact, we have tested the validity of the idea that “more Japanese people have more ability to read social situations compared to Americans” by comparative experiments and examinations, using Japanese and American customers, and the validity of the hypothesis was confirmed. The following are the findings from the experiments and examinations.
Firstly, companions’ satisfaction contributes more to the enhancement of satisfaction of people with an East-Asian cultural orientation than people without the orientation (Matsushita and Tsuchihashi 2013; Matsushita et al. 2015). This showed that our fundamental idea was supported. Although we shouldn’t apply this finding to all cases since we used a limited amount of data available in Japan for the experiments and examinations. However, according to our studies, we have found that customers with a cultural orientation of Japan or East-Asia read social situations more.
Secondly, more Japanese people read social situations compared to Americans when their companions receive bad service, including a waiters’ unfavorable attitude in restaurants. The data reveals that more Japanese customers restrict their own feelings as they read situations and notice when their companions’ satisfaction level is low (Matsushita et al. 2014). I can imagine how many Japanese people read their companions’ facial expressions and show empathy.
This research challenges one of the hypotheses implied in conventional customer satisfaction models. We consider that these conventional models have a built-in hypothesis, that says: “customer satisfaction is shaped autonomously based on a customer’s personal perception and without referring to others’ feelings.” We call this model “an autonomous personal customer satisfaction model.” On the other hand, our study introduces “a model of shared customer satisfaction in groups,” which refers to a perspective when customers are from an Asian cultural sphere. Customer satisfaction is shaped in association with their companions’ mental reaction even though satisfaction is a personal mental reaction.
As these comparisons showed, the significance of our research is not only to reveal the tendencies of Asian customers characterized by Japanese customers. Instead, we consider that the dominant view in conventional studies can be seen as a special case in a narrow range. Thus, we aim to build a more general customer satisfaction theory.
Our ultimate goal is to apply “a customer satisfaction model of reading social situations” to a more practical context of service that leads to suggestions for management. For example, how do customers react when there are more people in the group? In this case, a mental state of reading social situations might not be observed even when the customers are Japanese because one doesn’t need to pay close attention to each of them when there are many people.
On this research project, I have been working with Japanese and American researchers in a joint international research group. Since the group has membership diversity, I sometimes wonder what factors raise the degree of satisfaction for the group. Do we have influence over the satisfaction level of each other as the data revealed? One of the researchers in our group said, “The answer is simple. Cultural difference is not related to our satisfaction. Neither is others’ satisfaction. We will be satisfied when we complete our research paper.” I completely agree. We need be patient and continue to work on this topic a little more until we feel satisfied.