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One-on-one conversations a powerful marketing tool, ASU researcher finds

Word-of-mouth reviews can have powerful effect, ASU marketing study finds.
October 9, 2018

Good word-of-mouth can offset bad experiences, according to new paper

Some days it feels like everything happens in the world of social media, but an Arizona State University professor has new research on how face-to-face conversations affect our opinions about products and services. It turns out that many consumers are pretty positive.

“If we share opinions on a product or a service, it probably won’t shape our overall opinion after we have a conversation. But if we have conflicting opinions, we were curious about what happens. How do you weigh that?” said Adriana Samper, an associate professor of marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business, who worked on the project with Daniel Brannon. Brannon received his MBA and PhD at ASU and is now an assistant professor of marketing at Northern Colorado University.

So they tested their theory across four studies measuring people’s views of a product or restaurant visit when they encounter the same or a differing opinion.

“The main finding was that you have this funny positivity effect,” Samper said.

“If I have a good experience and you have a bad experience, I don’t factor your opinion into my likelihood of being satisfied or visiting the restaurant again.

“But if I have a bad experience, and you’re like, 'Oh, I had a great experience,’ then I’m more likely to say, 'Oh, maybe mine was just a bad day.’ We adjust our opinions upward.”

The study, titled “Maybe I Just Got (Un)lucky: One-on-One Conversations and the Malleability of Negative and Positive Consumer Judgments in the Face of a Contrasting Experience,” is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The first study, done in the W. P. Carey Behavioral Research Lab, was complex.

“The study design had to make the interaction seem like a natural conversation between two acquaintances, but we still had to have everything controlled in the lab,” Samper said.

It worked this way: Study participants filled out a personal information sheet with a pen. Half of the pens were damaged, so they didn’t work.  

Adriana Samper

After completing several studies in the lab, the participants were asked to give feedback on the lab equipment, including workstations, study materials and the pen.

Then, the participants thought they were proceeding to a new study about conversation styles. They interacted with a “confederate,” an actor posing as another participant.

“The premise was that they discussed being business majors, with the hope that they would develop a rapport,” Samper said.

As they were leaving, the confederate casually asked, “Did you have to rate the pen?” And then they discuss whether the pen worked. There were four conditions: Both had pens that worked, both had pens that didn’t work, the participant’s pen worked and the confederate’s pen didn’t and vice versa.

“What we found was that if they got the bad pen and the confederate said, ‘Mine worked fine,’ they would adjust their perceptions upward and be more likely to be satisfied with it and use the product again or make a purchase,” Samper said.

If the participant’s pen worked and the confederate’s didn’t, it didn’t change the evaluation.

Samper said they purposely chose an inexpensive item like the pen to prove that the effect was not limited to more expensive products such as smartphones or laptops.

The second study also was a “likeable stranger” study done in the lab, only regarding services such as dining. The third study was an online survey in which participants imagined conversations with their best friends about products and services.

The researchers also wanted to measure expectations, so in the fourth study they manipulated expectations by having the participants read an online restaurant review, then imagine going there and having either a good or bad experience and then discussing it with a friend.

Reading a good review first boosted the effect of discounting one’s own bad experience, they found.

“Because they had such positive expectations, when they had a bad experience and the acquaintance had a positive experience, we found a really big boost,” she said.

They were able to reverse the effect by having the participants read a bad review of the restaurant.

“If I expect the place to be bad, and then I have a good experience, and my friend had a bad experience, then I’m like ‘OK, maybe my experience wasn’t that good. Maybe I just got lucky.’ That’s where the title came from,” she said.

“We were able to show that it’s your expectations in combination with someone else’s experience that can shape whether you are more likely to try a product or service again.”

The marketing takeaway for companies is to not just focus on bad online reviews, but also to encourage good word-of-mouth reviews because interpersonal communication is persuasive.

“These conversations appear to be surprisingly common and powerful, as consumers in an increasingly homogenized retail landscape often use the same products and services, and share these experiences with one another,” the paper said.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Arizona Legal Center helps residents navigate the law

Arizona Legal Center at ASU helped more than 2,000 people last year.
October 9, 2018

Student-based volunteer program helps more than 2,000 people a year find legal guidance

The law is a mystery to most people and can be a scary path to navigate.

Often it seems there is nowhere to turn — or it takes thousands of dollars to find the answer.

Thankfully there’s the Arizona Legal Center.

“We all think we know the general concepts of the law, but when we are thrown into a legal issue, it becomes abundantly clear that unless you really know how to navigate the legal system you can get yourself into trouble quickly,” said Victoria Ames, director of the Arizona Legal Center, which is housed on the third floor of the Beus Center for Law and Society on Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“People come here, and we give them direction.”

Sometimes they receive more than just direction: They get human connection, a sympathetic ear, solid legal assistance and often a resolution.

Established in September 2016, the Arizona Legal Center is a nonprofit organization that provides guidance to community members, mostly at-risk and underserved populations who have legal questions and concerns, so they can make informed decisions about how to deal with those issues.

The center is run by Ames, who is the dean of external projects at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and Michelle Sweeney, assistant director of the center. Together they enlist the volunteer services of about 100 local lawyers and ASU Law students, who host regular events for individuals and businesses at satellite locations and offer in-office hours to provide resources, guidance and information about key legal topics that frequently arise among the community.

Ames said the center formed because ASU Law Dean Doug Sylvester believes the school should stand for inclusion and accessibility within the community.

“With the need for legal assistance far exceeding the resources available to people, we wanted to effect change on a much grander scale within the community,” Sylvester said. “This notion we could start an independent not-for-profit with community funding, separate from the law school, is truly the intersection of law and society that ASU Law wants to be the forefront of.”

Guidance in frequently sought practice areas include criminal and civil law, landlord/tenant law, employment law, estate planning, immigration, family law, juvenile law, health care and mental health law, Social Security claims, veterans’ issues and licensing.

According to the center’s recently released annual report, they opened 985 cases, made 1,299 telephone contacts resulting in immediate help and assisted 2,285 people in the last fiscal year.

“We were very cautious when we opened our doors what expectations we could fulfill, and I think we’ve certainly done a good job,” Ames said. “I was pleased that our expectation was not unfulfilled."

Ames said those numbers wouldn’t be possible without the help of the volunteers, students and corporate support. PetSmart is one of about 30 sponsors who offer resources to the center.

“I volunteer in a variety of different areas. The reason why I like the Arizona Legal Center is because it’s a great setup in terms of helping people in the community and mentoring students,” said Michael Kuehn, senior counsel for PetSmart who specializes in real estate and landlord-tenant issues. “When I was a law student, I really didn’t have an opportunity to work with licensed attorneys. I can offer insight and help with the thought process and breaking down an issue.”

Kuehn, who has been practicing law for about a dozen years, said most of the issues with the community require a simple answer and clients often find resolution after just one visit.

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Attorney and Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Assistant Dean Victoria Ames chats with students about their legal goals at the Arizona Legal Center's community service day project on Aug. 10. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“They are just looking for that first step to take, and we can give that to them,” Kuehn said.

Offering this type of legal assistance to the underserved is personally fulfilling to criminal lawyer and constitution scholar Robert J. McWhirter.

“I think the attorneys that are the happiest in the profession approach it as a service industry and with the idea of actually helping people,” McWhirter said. He said an added benefit is getting to mentor ASU Law students, who assist the attorneys gathering information during a “legal triage” in the initial consultation.

Ames said the legal triage helps students distill vital information into a brief, digestible summary for the attorneys, who can then offer clear direction to those seeking advice.  

“They learn how to ask the right questions, which is a big skill,” Ames said. “They also learn how to deal with upset clients and keep them focused on the legal issue. As attorneys, they’ll be doing the same things.”

Once it has been determined that there is a valid and viable claim that can be addressed through an appropriate referral, a center attorney will provide a direct contact to the person or organization that can help address the issues identified. It could also come in the form of providing information to community services or an invitation to attend a workshop, event or clinic offered by the center. In August, the center hosted a volunteer event at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, which drew approximately 100 students. It was an eye-opening experience for Dustin Rector, a first-year law student.

“I thought it was an awesome event because people who couldn’t normally afford an attorney were getting some high-end help,” said Rector, who will volunteer at the center over the holiday break. “It also set an example to see how attorneys can give back to the community.”

And that’s exactly why attorney Sam Coffman, an attorney with Dickinson Wright, volunteers at the center a few times a month. Coffman, who specializes in employment, labor law and civil litigation, said there’s a public need and a student need. The center addresses both.

“The law students are just learning and they need attorney assistance, and they’re grateful to get it,” Coffman said.

In regards to helping the public, Coffman said he doesn’t feel he’s doing anything special.

“It’s just an opportunity to give back,” Coffman said. “Besides, I’ve never had a day down there that wasn’t fun.”

The Arizona Legal Center office is located at 111 E. Taylor St., Suite 340, Phoenix. Contact by phone at 480-727-0127; calls returned 9 a.m to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Walk-in office hours this semester are 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. They also have visiting hours at the Maricopa Superior Court Law Library, 101 W. Jefferson St. in Phoenix, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Thursdays. 

Top photo: Attorney and Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Assistant Dean Victoria Ames talks with students at the Arizona Legal Center's community service day project on Aug. 10. Around 130 people, including first-, second- and third-year law students and attorneys, attended the second of two programs that day, introducing the center and offering the students community service hours to provide free legal consultations to the public. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now