At the Heart of the Matter: A Life-Saving Technology Grapples with Dignity and Brand Advocacy

At the Heart of the Matter: A Life-Saving Technology Grapples with Dignity and Brand Advocacy

We believe that respect for dignity is inherently good, but we also believe that it can help companies better understand and serve their customers.

When companies serve their customers well, the returns go beyond sales: happy customers can advocate, recommend, and even, in cases of extreme enthusiasm, act as brand evangelists.

But what do patients care about? And what determines whether a person recommends a product to others?

In a recent survey conducted in partnership with one of the world’s leading medical equipment companies, we learned that understanding the importance of respect can not only help us understand major customer segments better, it can play an important role in predicting peoples’ desire to advocate for a product.

As part of a larger survey, people told us how important it was to feel respected by their healthcare providers. Not surprisingly, this was a high score.  On a 5-point scale, the importance of being treated with respect rated a 4.78; not a single person scored the importance of respect below a 3.

If we look more closely at this data, though, we see gaps emerge. Whereas about 74% of men rated respect as a 5 out of 5, over 90% of women did. And interestingly, being treated with dignity was more important for younger patients than older patients (in this sample, the youngest patient was in their mid-60’s.) For women, being treated with dignity by their doctor (which got an average rating of 4.9/5), was more important than being told the value of the product (4.65) or being given data about the product (4.66).

In another part of the survey, we asked how likely people would be to recommend the product – an implant that reduced their risk of fatal medical events – to other people. Overall, users felt this product was a great fit for them. And that should have meant that positive word of mouth would be easy to observe.

Women seemed to follow this pattern, with over 90% of female users saying they were likely to discuss the product with others in the next six months. But for men, the results were at surprising. Only 50% of men, despite being extremely satisfied with the product, said they’d talk about it with others in the same timeframe.

What separated the men who would advocate for the product from those who wouldn’t? The extent to which they feared that using the product would humiliate them. As shown in the below graph, men who weren’t concerned about this were huge advocates – with the least dignity-concerned men outpacing women in their willingness to spread positive word-of-mouth.

But men who worried about a loss of dignity wouldn’t say a peep. They weren’t going to risk losing their dignity by discussing it with others. That might mean that people who could experience real benefit from this best-in-class treatment would lack the information, or the social proof, to see if it might work for them.

This difference in the responses of men as opposed to women is striking for a number of reasons. First, we hadn’t anticipated the difference between the genders that emerged. But it may make sense: given prevailing Western norms of masculinity, perhaps relying on a device is seen as weak – and this stifles product evangelism for men more than it does for women. Can we reframe the product in such a way that it’s seen, in itself, as a way to affirm dignity – placing the person in control of their own well-being in a way that enhances agency?

Second, though researchers have long recognized the role of social norms in predicting behavioral intentions, we hadn’t before seen the way that feared loss of respect can squash the effects of product satisfaction in predicting word-of-mouth plans. For companies, this may mean that investments in customer satisfaction simply do less than they could: private satisfaction – and the better life that their technology offers – may remain a well-kept secret if the patient fears that talking about it with others will undermine their dignity. In this data, that was a problem particularly among men. And that deserves real attention.

We’re starting a program of research to learn about the role that dignity plays in spreading positive word-of-mouth, to see if similar effects emerge across genders, cultures, and product categories. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us. And if you want to join the companies that beginning to explore the importance and impact of respect, let us know that too. We’d love to work together to help your customers, patients, employees and leaders better understand the role that dignity plays in understanding your consumers and their well-being.

By Professor Cait Lamberton.