Customer Satisfaction and Word of Mouth

Do consumers complain or praise more?

Telling other people about your experiences with a company of product is something many people do. This may be evangelizing their newly purchased laptop, or gripe about the slow service at a restaurant. Word of mouth is defined as informally communicating with a third party about goods and services, rather directly telling the company.

There are 3 theories about consumers engaging in word of mouth.

  1. Highly satisfied consumers engage in more word of mouth, because
    • they want to help others,
    • appear well informed or smart,
    • engage in ego defense,
    • reduce cognitive dissonance,
    • present themselves in a positive light;
    • they may have a general bias towards positive things,
    • or want to avoid saying negative things.
  2. Dissatisfied consumers engage in more word of mouth, because
    • they want to vent hostility,
    • reduce anxiety,
    • warn others,
    • or seek vengeance.
  3. Consumers engage in word of mouth more if they are extremely satisfied or dissatisfied, because
    • they will have a greater impact, hence more utility when they engage in word of mouth in a more extreme situation.

Word of mouth activity is also predicted to increase at a greater rate for dissatisfied consumers than satisfied consumers, since negative information about products is less common and has a greater effect.

A study indicates that theory 3 is more likely than the other two, since the resulting data is a U-shaped model, where highly satisfied and dissatisfied consumers engage in greater word of mouth. The hypothesis that negative word of mouth increases at a greater rate is also supported by the data.


The study replicated similar findings in both the United States and Sweden, indicating that word of mouth practices are likely universal.

Anderson, E. W. (1998). Customer Satisfaction and Word of Mouth. Journal of Service Research, 1(1), 5-17. [PDF]

November 20, 2006 at 3:58 pm 5 comments

The Creative Process

What are the underlying cognitive mechanisms for the creative process?

Gabora explains what happens to our minds when we’re doing creative work.

Stages of the Creative Process

Preparation: Becomes obsessed with the problem, collects relevant data and attempts traditional approaches.

Incubation: Does not actively attempt to solve the problem, but unconsciously continues to work on it.

Taking a shower is my most common incubation step. Programming bugs seem to reveal themselves when I’m lathering up in there.

Illumination: Possibilities surface to the consciousness in a vague and unpolished form.

Verification: The idea is worked into a form that can be proven and communicated to others.

Architecture of the Mind

Since the human mind can sense and store any of the combinations of sound, color, etc., the number of memory locations is much less than the number of possible experiences. The mind can therefore be represented as a sparse matrix.Mind Architecture

During the initial, intuitive phase, each thought activates, and potentially retrieves information from, a large region containing many memory locations. Because of the distributed, content-addressable structure of memory, the diverse contents of these many locations merge to generate the next thought. Novel associations often result. As one focuses on an idea, the region searched and retrieved from narrows, such that the next thought is the product of fewer memory locations. This enables a shift from association-based to causation-based thinking, which facilitates the fine-tuning and manifestation of the creative work.

This association-based seems to be the main reason why brainstorming works. Jotting down everything you can think of about a topic lets you visualize the associations between concepts.

Gabora, L. (2002). Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Creative Process. Proceedings from C&C ’02: Creativity and Cognition, 126-133. [HTML]

October 22, 2006 at 1:53 am 5 comments

Academic Prostitution: Publishing what the referees want

The system of journal editing existing in our field at the present time virtually forces academics to become prostitutes: they sell themselves for money (and a good living). Unlike prostitutes who sell their bodies for money (Edlund and Korn, 2002), academics sell their soul to conform to the will of others, the referees and editors, in order to gain one advantage, namely publication.

The process of going from lowly undergrad to omniscient professor goes something like this:

  1. Undergrad: Write a senior thesis (for good grad school recommendations)
  2. Grad student: Publish at least 1 paper each year in the top journals (conferences, if in engineering) in your field. Pass Quals
  3. Assistant Professor: Publish several papers (including those you “co-author” with your students); get grant money. Repeat for 6 years
  4. Tenured Professor: You win, game over. Credits roll…

Obviously, getting published is the most important factor of an academic’s career. However, to get into the top journals of your field, your work has to be approved by the editors and referees. If the editor accepts your paper in the first round, several anonymous referees review it and offer suggestions for improvements. They also hold veto power, and your paper can be rejected by any referee. Only once you have made all the “suggested” changes (and this may go for several revisions), will you have a chance of being accepted for publication.

Making the revisions forces you to publish something different from your original work under the demands of an anonymous person. It also costs precious time, and time is always ticking on your academic career.

This presents a dissonance in the system because referees have the power to dictate changes to a paper, but no property rights in the journals. They may appear to act in the journal’s interest, but there is no economic benefit to them for doing so.

To counter this, Frey proposes a modified publication system where journal editors make an accept/reject decision upon receiving the paper, and referees propose suggestions which are up to the author to implement or ignore. This system treats scholars like artists, reducing intellectual prostitution and bolstering creativity in published articles.

The academic publication process is unlikely to change anytime soon, but writing books or putting articles on the web in a working paper series (such as SSRN or arXiv are potential alternatives for some academics out there.

Frey, B. S. (2003). Publishing as prostitution? – Choosing between one’s own ideas and academic success. Public Choice, 116, 205-223.

October 15, 2006 at 5:23 pm 17 comments

The Effect of Brief Naps on Alertness and Cognitive Performance

If you don’t get enough sleep at night, a quick 10 minute nap may help improve your alertness and cognitive performance. However, shortening it to a 30 or 90 second nap won’t cut it.

Sleeping Girl

Psychology researchers performed a study with 16 subjects, each restricted to 5 hours of sleep at night. The subjects were split into 4 groups — no nap, 30-s nap, 90-s nap, and 10-min nap. Subjects that took naps for 90 seconds or less were not found to perform any better on alertness and cognitive tasks. However, subjects that took a 10 minute nap significantly improve performance in multiple post-nap tests. This seems to suggest that only stage 2 sleep helps you recuperate from lack of nocturnal sleep.

Tietzel, A. J. & Lack, L. C. (2002). The recuperative value of brief and ultra-brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance. Journal of Sleep Research, 11, 213-218. [PDF]

October 13, 2006 at 4:26 pm 16 comments

People Take on the Traits They Describe in Others

Spontaneous trait transference is a phenomenon where people are perceived as possessing a trait that they describe in others. Telling others that your math professor is lazy will cause them to infer that you are lazy. This works the other way too — describing positive attributes about your friend may ascribe you those attributes as well.

Several experiments showed that people will associate personality traits to communicators mindlessly without logical rational. They also have a poor recollection of whether the communicator was describing themselves or someone else in a conversation.

So be careful when gossiping about a co-worker, lest you be seen as what you describe. And if you want to appear more charming, perhaps you could add that word to your vocabulary when talking about others.

As the old saying goes, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

Skowronski, J. J., Carlston, D. E., Mae, L., & Crawford, M. T. (1998). Spontaneous Trait Transference: Communicators Take on the Qualities They Describe in Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4), 837-848. [PDF]

October 12, 2006 at 1:48 pm 27 comments

Pop vs Soda vs… Coke?

I moved around a lot, and have always used “pop” to refer to soft drinks. When you are a kid, you don’t really notice when someone uses a different term for the same thing, but growing older, you begin to notice these linguistical hiccups. Different regions of the english speaking world use different terms for the same thing — soft drinks.

The word soda comes from soda-water (sodium bicarbonate with acid to create fizz). Its original meaning was sodium carbonate, Na2CO3, but has evolved into one of the generic terms for a soft drink.

Pop was introduced later in 1812 by Robert Southey,

A new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn.

Trailing soda and pop in popularity is coke, which has influence in the south likely due to the location of the Coca-Cola plant in Georgia. “I’ll have a coke,” “What kind of coke?”, “Root beer please”.

While this paper does numerous small surveys on the ubiquity of soda/pop/coke, this newer map is a more comprehensive view of the linguistic divide of people in the United States (via,

(click to enlarge)

pop vs soda vs coke map

Soda is more popular in the southwest, northeast, and St. Louis area; pop is used more in the northwest and midwest; coke is used in the south.

Other terms for soft drinks from other counties (via wikipedia):

  • Canadians and the British say “pop”
  • Some Brits even say “fizzy drink”
  • In Western Scotland, they use “ginger”
  • Aussies and New Zealanders say “soft drink”
  • Some Australians call it “lolly water”

So where did the term soft drink come from? It was chosen because a hard was used to describe alcoholic beverages, hence the antonym soft was the obvious choice for non-alcoholic beverage. And beverage came from the Old French root word beivre (to drink) during their conquest of England in 1066.

 soft drinks terms

Von Schneidemesser, L. (1996). Soda or Pop? Journal of English Linguistics, 24(4), 270-287.

October 5, 2006 at 10:46 pm 171 comments

The Familiar Stranger: The Lady on the Subway

Urban living brings about an interesting phenomenon, one which Milgram calls the Familiar Stranger.

The Familiar Stranger is a person you see during your daily activities, but don’t interact with: the gentleman at the bus stop, the babysitter at the park, or the lady on the subway.

But consider for a moment you saw the lady on the subway while traveling to Paris. Can you imagine, it’s likely you would practically become best friends in a day!

To be a familiar stranger, a person has to be

  1. observed
  2. repeatedly for a certain time period
  3. without any interaction

Milgram notes,

But it’s a real relationship, in which both parties have agreed to mutually ignore each other, without any implication of hostility.

Students from a university in New York went to the commuter stations and interviewed commuters. They found that on average, commuters knew 4 familiar strangers but had only talked to 1.5 individuals.

Commuters said they have a fantasy relationship with familiar strangers, trying to figure out what kind of lives they lead, what their jobs are, etc.

This phenomenon is explained as a response to the overload of inputs from the environment — perceptual processing takes considerably less time than social processing.

However, I think when you see someone you barely recognize from school a few years later at a department store, it feels like you’re friends because you know each other relatively better than everyone else there.

Berkeley is doing a study called the Familiar Stranger Project, which is worth taking a look at.

Milgram, S. (1972). The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. Division 8 Newsletter.

October 2, 2006 at 1:15 pm 42 comments

Drinking patterns, social interaction, and barroom behavior

Two social scientists walk into a bar…

Typically, we read research papers for their educational value. However, I found this one to be more entertaining than educational.

Observations are done in two bars to explore victimization and guardian influence in bars. The two bars are referred to as “North Bar” and “South Bar”.

One bar which we have given the name, North Bar, attracted a more funky, laid-back weekend crowd that typically dressed in blue jeans, flannel shirts, sweatshirts, and sneakers.

The other bar which we have named, South Bar, attracted a larger and more diverse crowd reflecting a mixture of urban lifestyles, young professionals, college students, and more racial and ethnic minorities.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the paper:

Our observations of the interactions between female patrons and the bouncers revealed that the more flirtatious a female patron would be with the bouncers, the more likely she would be allowed entry into South Bar.

Bar patrons began streaming into the bars at approximately 10:00 p.m. On Tuesday nights the barroom capacity for South Bar was typically reached or exceeded by midnight, slowly continued to increase until approximately 1:30 a.m., and then gradually declined until approximately 2:30 a.m. After 3:00 a.m. only a small number of patrons, typically male heavy drinkers, remained in the bar.

Our observers overheard one exchange, short and to the point, “do you want some of this meat?” which was made while one of the men was rubbing his penis. In one instance a female patron left immediately with these men.

Two young men had begun the event during the late afternoon, were still drinking and were quite intoxicated when we arrived at 10:00 p.m. to begin our observations. They abandoned their efforts around midnight after consuming only about 30 of the required 40 glasses of beer.

Once a small group of males had initiated the formation of a gauntlet, others would join in until up to 20 to 30 men were in control of each side of the pathway for a considerable distance. When young women, typically those who were exceptionally attractive, would attempt to pass through this pathway, the males would first initiate a restriction of the pathway then freely grope, grab, or fondle selected females—typically on the buttocks or breasts.

Males seeking an “easy lay” frequently approached female patrons. On several occasions we observed female targets being quickly drawn into a conversation by a male patron, maneuvered into a seat at the bar, and presented with drinks. Within a short period of time the male would then begin moving his hand up the skirt of the target to her crotch area.

We observed that a higher percentage of female patrons during ladies’ night at South Bar were under the age of 21 years than those at North Bar. One of the South Bar observers was a police officer with substantial experience in estimating age. He agreed with the estimates provided by other observers that approximately 25–30 percent of all women in South Bar at peak drinking hours were under 21 years of age.

Small groups of male patrons would frequently attempt to attract the attention of females outside the bars by shouting across the street, and occasionally entering the street in traffic to get closer to those from whom they sought greater attention.

Males typically outnumbered females on Tuesday nights at North Bar by approximately 4 to 1, and approximately 3 to 1 at South Bar.

Fox, J. G. & Sobol, J. J. (2000). Drinking patterns, social interaction, and barroom behavior: a routine activities approach. Deviant Behavior, 21(5), 429-450.

October 1, 2006 at 1:13 am 4 comments

When do you like someone like yourself? An analysis of online dating

Online dating is gaining momentum and is an easy, socially acceptable way to find partners for dates or relationships. To a social scientist, the wealth of data stored on online dating services has enormous potential in the study of interpersonal relationships. Instead of having to take surveys and interview people, scientists can now discover findings by looking at the statistics of what actually happened. Actions speak louder than words. Never before has something so human and primitive been reducible to such quantitative discrete values.

Do opposites attract? Apparently not. This study of an online dating service measures the importance of a matching characteristic when choosing a partner. The data is extracted from the contacts initiated by the users.

Characteristic Increased Contact
Marital status 1.64x
Wants children 1.54x
Number of children 1.39x
Physical build 1.28x
Smoking 1.25x
Physical appearance 1.23x
Educational level 1.19x
Religion 1.17x
Race 1.14x
Drinking habits 1.12x
Pet preferences 1.11x
Pets owned 1.08x


Demographic findings in this study:

  • 62.8% of members were male and 37.2% were female, but 55% of active members were female
  • The median age for men was 36 and women was 33
  • 78.2% of messages were never responded to
  • Members sent an average of 1.5 messages
  • Men initiated 73.3% of messages, but their initiations were 17.9% less likely to be reciprocated

A more detailed analysis of online dating is given in the author’s thesis.

I found this paper by browsing the list of Judith Donath’s students, who was also one of my professor’s advisor. Fiore’s Masters Thesis was about online dating — I bet that made for interesting party conversation.

Fiore, A. T. & Donath, J. S. (2005). Homophily in Online Dating: When Do You Like Someone Like Yourself?. Proceedings from CHI ’05: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1371-1374. [PDF]

September 27, 2006 at 8:47 pm 52 comments

“Just Kidding” Falls on Deaf Ears

Teasing taken literally is negative; teasers point out flaws, habits, questionable attire, or other traits of the target. But there are a variety of intentions for teasing. Positive intentions include to socialize, flirt, play, entertain, teach, or show affection. However, teasing can also be used for negative intentions: to humiliate, harass, or hurt the target.

Previous studies have shown that targets of the teasing often have a more negative impression of the tease than the teaser. (tongue twister alert)

To mitigate the negative intentions of the tease, people generally use gestures, facial expressions, or tone of voice to say “aha, just kidding”. However, this fails because the targets still evaluate the intentions of the teaser more negatively.

Kruger, J., Gordon, C. L., & Kuban, J. (2006). Intentions in Teasing: When “Just Kidding” Just Isn’t Good Enough. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(3), 412-425.

September 25, 2006 at 3:56 pm 8 comments

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