Help seeking consumers : conceptual framework and empirical investigation
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The goal of this dissertation is to contribute to the field’s understanding of the factors that influence when and how consumers are likely to seek and avoid seeking help. Essay 1 provides the conceptual framework covering important factors that influence consumers’ motivation to solve a problem, the help-seeking process, and moderators of this process. Consumers often encounter a problem while striving to achieve a goal, and the problem-solving requires generation or consideration of potential means. These means may include strategies whereby consumers use their own effort and resources, but may also include soliciting effort and resources from others. The decision to ask for help involves costs and benefits related to personal and social domains. Importantly, such cost-benefit analysis can be moderated by factors related to perceptions of the social context, self, others, and the needed help (e.g. social norm, personal mastery goal, interpersonal judgment and fairness, and expedient need). Essay 2 focuses on a specific context to explore how contextual cues in the help seeking environment influence perceptions of norms for help-seeking. I demonstrate that the decision to post a question on an online product forum can be influenced by the perceived social norm established by preexisting questions that peer consumers have posted on the forum (studies 1 and 2). Consumers are often concerned with others’ perceptions when seeking help in public settings. To accurately identify the specific social judgment that hinders consumers’ help-seeking decisions, I examine several factors that could mitigate consumers’ reluctance: public self-assessment of one’s own question (studies 3, 4, and 8), public acknowledgment of one’s achievements in other domains (study 5), the communal norm of the forum (study 6), and the ability to reward the potential help-givers (study 7 and 8). This work has the potential to help marketers recognize and mitigate context-relevant social and emotional barriers to seeking help and facilitate consumer help-seeking decisions. With this knowledge, marketers may also enrich help-platforms in ways consumers will truly appreciate while also facilitating the development of consumers’ lasting relationships with each other and with the firm.