A Social Influence Theory of Consumer Cooperation

ABSTRACT - The need to gain cooperation of service consumers in order to improve service productivity has been recognized (Mills, 1983; Lovelock and Young, 1979; Bateson, 1985 a,b). This paper suggests a framework to treat consumer cooperation as a consumer behavior variable to be managed by marketers. Cooperative behaviors can be classified into compliant, identification, and internalized behaviors based on Kelman's (1958, 1961) theory of social influence. When Kelman's theory is explicated in terms of identity theory, testable hypotheses and managerial implications can be derived.


Cathy Goodwin (1987) ,"A Social Influence Theory of Consumer Cooperation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 378-381.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 378-381


Cathy Goodwin, California State University, Chico


The need to gain cooperation of service consumers in order to improve service productivity has been recognized (Mills, 1983; Lovelock and Young, 1979; Bateson, 1985 a,b). This paper suggests a framework to treat consumer cooperation as a consumer behavior variable to be managed by marketers. Cooperative behaviors can be classified into compliant, identification, and internalized behaviors based on Kelman's (1958, 1961) theory of social influence. When Kelman's theory is explicated in terms of identity theory, testable hypotheses and managerial implications can be derived.


This paper proposes that consumer cooperation be regarded as a consumer behavior variable, just as consumer choice, search and purchase are studied as consumer behavior variables. Toward this end, this paper will first define cooperative behavior as a general form of consumer behavior which can take on service-specific and situation-specific forms. Specifically, consumer cooperation may involve public conformity, as when consumers respond to instructions from police or emergency room personnel, or may require private acceptance, as when students must engage in the learning process or patients must change eating and drinking patterns Cooperation occurs after purchase and represents a part of the consumption experience.

It is suggested here that cooperative behaviors can be categorized by these influence processes, with implications for marketing managers and researchers. Moreover, the framework of identity theory provides additional support as well as a basis for generating testable hypotheses of Kelman's trichotomy. Marketing managers can utilize this framework to clarify the kind of cooperation desired from consumers, to design service encounters that facilitate cooperation, and to avoid presenting consumers with mixed messages by requesting cooperative behavior patterns which have their basis in conflicting motivations.


Cooperative behavior is defined as behavior which facilitates provision of service for the consumer or for other consumers present during the service encounter. Consumers using services, from parking lots to medical care, must interact with the service provider and often with other consumers who are using the service simultaneously. This interaction influences not only the quality of service they receive, but service received by fellow consumers as well. Noisy diners, parking lot customers who block other cars, consumers who slow town a line through ignorance of procedures, people who come unprepared to appointments, all jeopardize service quality and sometimes even the provision of the service. Moreover, to enhance productivity, firms often ask consumers to participate in the production of the service, or "servuction" process (Eiglier et al. 1981) by pumping their own gas, carrying their own bags, or clearing their own tables. Consumers are asked to participate in tasks otherwise performed by the provider, or, in effect, to help the provider.

Thus, cooperative behavior has links with helping behavior and altruism. However, helping behavior is usually operationalized in terms of the stronger, or more powerful, person helping the weaker. In contrast to these situations, consumers in service encounters often feel less powerful than the providers with whom they are cooperating, such as doctors, lawyers, or college professors. Even when consumers feel strong and powerful in relation to individual service providers, such as waiters and bank tellers, they may have trouble perceiving them as needy.

Additionally, norms for helping may be somewhat more ambiguous because consumers are paying for the service; there may be a sense of, I'm paying for this so why should I have to do the work? Another paradigm is needed to explain the motivation of consumers to cooperate with service providers.

At least two authors have directly addressed the issue of consumer cooperation. Mills (1983) identifies two categories of cooperative behavior, based on whether the client smooths service delivery (e.g., by arriving on time) or facilitates the service interaction itself (e.g., by preparing in advance for a meeting with a tax preparer) Bateson (1985 a, b) has directed research attention to one aspect of cooperative behavior, self-service. This research needs to be extended to take account of psycho-social factors which affect the consumer's willingness to enact cooperative behaviors, and to explicate the wide variety of cooperative behaviors which can be and are actually required of consumers. Police officers, doctors and professors want consumers to follow their instructions, but not necessarily in the same way. Many firms want customers to utilize self-service equipment, such as pumping their own gas or using an automated teller, or simply carry out tasks otherwise performed by employees, such as clearing one's own table. Some firms would like customers to take responsibility for their own and even other customers' service experience; for example, hospitals and psychotherapeutic services may expect patients to help each other; a theater expects people to be attentive and not disturb others; universities expect students to take responsibility for academic achievement. Some services call for a variety of cooperative behaviors: an airline might request that passengers read the seat cart instructions about safety and familiarize themselves with connection requirements; remain seated while the plane is taxiing to the gate; fasten seat belts at certain times and remain out of the aisles during meal service; provide their own reading material and entertain themselves as well as their fellow passengers; and use whatever self-service baggage and ticket facilities are provided. On the other hand, gas stations may be concerned with only self-service aspects of cooperative behavior, while police and emergency room services will be concerned with short-term following of instructions.

Because these cooperative behaviors are enacted in the setting of the service encounter, they are influenced by the role relationship between the service provider and the customer, the service consumer (Solomon et al. 1985). Consumers who engage in frequently-repeated service interactions may include forms of cooperative behavior in their scripts of the service encounter, while those encountering new services may need to incorporate cooperative behavior in their scripts (Smith and Houston 1983; Schank and Abelson 1977). Furthermore, the degree to which consumers feel in control of the service encounter (Bateson 1985 a and 1985 b) may affect their willingness to enact cooperative behavior.

It is suggested here that incorporating Kelman's (1958) theory of social influence process into these perspectives will provide unique insights into consumer cooperation. In particular, Kelman's three influence processes can be explicated in terms of social identity theory (Stryker and Serpe 1982). Identity theory focuses on the relationship between the individual self, roles and social behavior. In particular, identity theory studies concepts of commitment to roles and salience of social identities and uses these concepts to explain social behavior. Most important, many role-theoretic constructs applied to service encounters derive from the symbolic interaction framework which does not translate well into testable hypotheses of empirical issues; identity theorists attempt to derive testable hypotheses and develop measurement tools for relevant constructs, such as identities derived from roles Therefore, since identity theory offers a potential direction for researchers of service encounters, it will be useful as a perspective on social influence processes.


Both attitudes and actions of service consumers can be influenced by social processes arising out of the service encounter. Individuals can experience three levels of change or adaptation in response to three types of social influence processes.

Compliance occurs when a consumer accepts influence from the provider or other consumers because she/he wants to obtain a reward or avoid punishment. The induced behavior is adopted not because the consumer believes it is inherently beneficial, but because it produces a desirable consequence: What the individual learns, essentially, is to say or do the expected thing in special situations, regardless of what his private beliefs may be (Kelman 1961). Strong examples include police and other emergency services, which require consumers to simply enact certain behaviors in the short term in order for the service to be provided, and which provide strong punishments for uncooperative, non-compliant consumers. However, threats of unpleasant confrontations with fellow consumers can also result in compliant behaviors: fellow passengers may induce individuals to wait quietly in line or refrain from smoking. even in non-designated areas.

Compliance may not always be the appropriate response to be induced by service marketers. Individuals will not carry out the induced behaviors unless they are under the provider's surveillance (Kelman 1958), and it is necessary to limit the consumer's choices and perceived reward structure in order to gain compliant cooperation. In other words, compliance encourages the consumer to create a short-term favorable impression on the provider and others, and cooperation based on compliance may assume the consumer's dependence on the service firm (Jones 1965).

Therefore, when consumers must perform the behaviors out of sight of the provider, or when the consumer can seek alternate providers in a competitive industry, the marketer may want to generate other influence processes. For example, medical consumers may promise to follow instructions to avoid the penalty of disapproval from medical personnel, but disregard the advice once they get home; and if a bank penalizes consumers for using human tellers instead of ATMS, the consumer may simply change banks instead of cooperating.

Thus, the marketer may encourage consumers to cooperate through the process of identification: a consumer cooperates because he believes his behavior is relevant to and required by a reciprocal-role relationship in which he is a participant (Kelman 1961). Like compliance, identification toes not depend on the consumer's adopting a behavior because she/he believes it is intrinsically satisfying (Kelman 1961). However, attitudes and behavior adopted through the identification process will be expressed only when the role relationship and the expectations of alter (McCall and Simmons 1978) become salient and attractive. Thus, students study and patients follow instructions because the roles associated with such behaviors are both attractive and salient; however, some people refuse to use automated tellers or clear their own tables because consumers have little wish to identify with the roles associated with such behaviors, or with the expectations of service providers acting as -alters in those encounters.

In an attempt to predict which roles will become salient and influence behavior, Stryker (1968) suggests that various role identities which comprise the self, such as parent, political party member, business executive, charity volunteer, and friend, may exist in a hierarchy of salience: other things being equal, some roles are more likely to rise to consciousness and influence behavior in a variety of situations while other roles may be invoked (to use Stryker's term) only in specific service settings.

For example, the role of successful business executive may be so salient to an individual that she/he invokes this identity when faced with an extended wait in a medical office or restaurant, while few people invoke the role-identity of airline passenger or tourist outside the relevant situations. Thus, the business executive who is more concerned with meeting role expectations of his/her business than those of the service provider or fellow consumers may refuse to wait quietly for service, while the airline passenger or tourist may have difficulty invoking role identities far enough in advance of a trip to make detailed preparations. Similarly, to use Mills's (1984) dichotomy, discussed above, task coordination behaviors require consumers to invoke role identities, while system maintenance behaviors may occur out of compliance.

Additionally, consumers are more likely to enact cooperative behavior induced by identification if they find the role relationship attractive. In other words, if there is a satisfying relationship with the individuals linked by the role relationship (Kelman 1961) which may also be characterized as commitment (Stryker 1968 and Heiss 1981) an individual will adopt and continue to carry out behavior in order to maintain the relationship For example, cooperative behavior may be induced by identification at a health club or university class where consumers maintain a rewarding, role-based relationship with other members, but this process will not induce cooperative behavior in an outpatient or airport waiting area where people may prefer not to develop role-based relationships with others. Commitment and salience are interrelated: commitment may help make the role relationship more salient (Stryker 1980) .

A final type of influence process, internalization, occurs when the consumer agrees to cooperate with the provider because this behavior fits in with an existing value system or is intrinsically satisfying (Kelman 1958) When a behavior or attitude is internalized, the consumer will enact or express it outside the context of the service relationship: the medical consumer will embark on a fitness program; the auto repair customer will read the owner's manual and follow the maintenance recommendations; the airline passenger will bring material to entertain him/herself on the flight. In these examples provider and consumer share norms surrounding role behaviors of medical, auto repair, and airline consumers.

Additionally, different consumers will attach separate meanings to the same roles; Burke and Reitzes (1981) fount that college students attached various identities to the student role: as expected, students who associated the college student role with sociability meanings exhibited different behaviors than those who associated the same role with academic responsibility meanings. Service providers might expect that consumers will be more likely to internalize cooperative behaviors that are congruent with their idealized view of the role (McCall and Simmons 1978) as well as the meanings the consumer attaches to the role.

The framework can be used to generate propositions from Kelman's classification of influence processes. Cooperative behavior is defined here as behavior the firm would like consumers to perform during the service encounter.


Ia. The lower the control experienced by consumers in the service encounter, the more they will be motivated to cooperate to gain rewards and avoid negative consequences.

Ib. The more a cooperative behavior is motivated by short-term consequences, the lower the likelihood that consumers will enact the behavior when the provider and/or other consumers are absent.

This type of cooperative behavior corresponds to what Kelman calls compliance. Consumers will follow directives of service providers ( Please fasten your seat belt ) and coercive pressures of other consumers ( Hey, shut up over there!") to gain immediate rewards or, more often, avoid negative consequences, such as unpleasant confrontations or refusal of further service. This approach is appropriate in situations when an immediate response is required ant/or the relationship is not expected to continue, so that developing other mechanisms to facilitate cooperation will not be cost-effective.

IIa. The more the consumer perceives the role relationship as attractive and salient in his/her hierarchy of identities, (a) the greater the likelihood that the behavior will be enacted in the absence of the provider as well as the absence of short-term rewards or punishments; and (b) the more likely the consumer will be to engage in cooperative behaviors which represent preparation for the interaction.

IIb. The more control experienced by a consumer in a service role relationship, the more likely the consumer is to accept the role identity and to find tho role attractive.

This type of cooperative behavior corresponds to what Kelman calls identification. Consumers want to follow role expectations of others in order to remain in a role relationship they find rewarding. They want to be seen as a good customer or a nice fellow member by providers and consumers in the service relationship. Moreover, consumers will identify with roles in which they experience control and will find those roles attractive. They will be less likely to accept an identity based on actions which they undertake from the motive of compliance; in fact, they may attempt to distance themselves from identities forced on them (Sykes and Brent, 1983).

Managers seeking to gain consumer cooperation by the identification process should emphasize consumer control of the service interaction to the greatest extent possible, so that consumers will perceive the relationship as attractive. Additionally, managers can increase salience of the relationship by generating reminder systems; as organizations, from dentists to auto repair shops, send out carts and newsletters between customer visits, they are increasing salience of the service and hopefully encouraging the consumer to engage in advance preparation for the visit.

III. The more a specific behavior is congruent with the meaning a consumer attaches to the role, the more likely the consumer will enact the behavior outside the context of the role relationship.

This form of cooperative behavior is, of course, associated with internalization of the behaviors desired by the service marketer. Consumers will carry out the desired behavior because it is congruent with their own values, not because it is requested by the provider or other consumers. They are following not the script designed by the service provider, but an archetypal script. Therefore, they will enact the behavior regardless of the current state of the service relationship.

To encourage this form of cooperative behavior, the marketer may need to emphasize the admissions director role (Lovelock, 1981) so that only clients who appear to have values congruent with the behaviors desired by the organization will be admitted . Many firms which require this form of cooperation lend themselves to this client screening process, including educational and medical firms. Additionally, whenever possible, firms can identify from a range of desirable behaviors those most congruent with client values; for some firms, the congruence can be established on an individual basis.


Both marketing managers and researchers have expressed concerns with productivity enhancement of services. One way to enhance service productivity involves enlisting the consumer as a participant in the servuction process However, consumers can participate through a variety of behaviors, from clearing tables to pumping gas to developing a healthier lifestyle. What is needed is a theoretical framework to allow research into the determinants of cooperative behavior and to suggest guidelines to marketing managers as they interact with consumers.

The characterization of service encounters as hierarchical role relationships with a script available to the actors has been acknowledged in the literature. Moreover, consumers experience varying degrees of attractiveness and salience for each service relationship. These aspects of service role relationships will affect the potential of success for the three social influence processes of compliance, identification and internalization.

Service providers can utilize this framework to enhance consumer cooperation in at least three ways. First, providers need to become aware of the degree to which consumers perceive they have control in the service relationship. As consumers have less control, they will be more likely to comply, but less likely to internalize behaviors. Therefore, providers may want to attempt to increase the consumer's perceptions of control in order to get the consumer to take responsibility for certain aspects of the service. Medical providers may want to develop a sense of increased control to encourage patients to take responsibility for their own diet and exercise programs; banks may want to emphasize control rather than cost-avoidance as a reason for using automated tellers. Additionally, firms such as airlines must create low-control relationships which depend on compliance to induce such behaviors as seat belt fastening and clearing of aisles; however, those airlines may also want to create high-control perceptions in consumers to encourage them to take responsibility for their own amusement during a flight. The contradictions in such demands may result in uncooperative passengers.

Second, consumers who cooperate to benefit from role relationships will do so when the relationship is salient and attractive. Therefore, providers can emphasize the referent power of the role relationship and attempt to increase salience of the relationship by maintaining contact in between service intervals. Conversely, service marketers cannot rely on the identification process to gain cooperation if the role relationship is neither salient nor attractive

Third, consumers who are influenced to cooperate through compliance will enact cooperative behavior only as long as sanctions exist and as long as others are present. Therefore, providers may want to utilize compliance tactics to gain short-term cooperation when appearance is critical; however, threats of negative sanctions will not be effective in developing long-term, unobservable cooperation.

Finally, the theoretical framework presented here offers a contribution to researchers. Influence processes offer a typology which can be utilized to develop hypotheses for empirical research. This approach allows comparisons across industries as well as between categories of service behavior desired by an individual firm. By treating cooperative behavior as a situationally-determined consumer behavior variable, researchers can investigate conditions under which such behavior is likely to occur. At the same time, such research will have managerial relevance, because managers can modify the marketing mix and, in some cases, the service encounter, in order to increase the likelihood of obtaining the desired cooperative behavior.


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Cathy Goodwin, California State University, Chico


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14 | 1987

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