The sudden rise of ‘bully consumers’ in India
About 10 years ago, it used to take 15 days to 3 months to get a telephone installed at your residence. Today it takes less than 24 hours for an active landline connection and you can have an active mobile phone connection almost instantly. There are more than 20 banks to choose from – all of them armed with latest technologies to make your life easy.
An even more intriguing aspect is consumer behavior before all this. 10 years back, the line man from the state-owned BSNL would install the telephone after months of applying, but most consumers felt very obliged to happily offer him sweets and warm hospitality.
And yet today, when we as consumers are having the best time of our life, and service brands are treating the consumer as King, we are becoming increasingly foul.
What explains the sudden emergence of this rude consumer behavior towards service brands?
A look at the social structure in Indian society would reveal a pyramidal construction with the power gradient being steep between levels/classes.
A more scientific understanding of this behavior comes from the study of different cultures by Geert Hofstede on various dimensions. One of the dimensions is Power Distance, defined as "the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally".
India has Power Distance (PDI) as the highest Hofstede Dimension (among the five dimensions), with a ranking of 77 as compared to the world average of 56.5.
Implication for brands
To be respected in such a culture, brands will need to increase their distance and will have to assume power. If brands try to play a ‘subservient’ role in such cultures they will not be treated well. Hence the conclusion that in India (and similar cultures with high PDI) THE CONSUMER NEED NOT BE THE KING. Brands should not operate from “You are the king” mindset with the consumer.
What does it mean?
It simply means that brands need to be always at a higher level of hierarchy than the consumer if they need to protect the premium-ness. If the choice has to be made, then brand should be the king.
Service brands need to be careful when they’re training their staffs in soft skills. They need to be told the difference between being polite and being servile.
The argument that by increasing the Power Distance from your consumers you will become niche is also not correct. In fact, brands with high Power Distance from their consumers will always be the bigger and more desired brands than others.
Indian has a PDI (Power Distance Index) of 77. But then there are countries like Russia, Romania, Mexico, Bangladesh and countries from the Arab world with PDI scores higher than 80. While other cultural dimensions too affect the overall consumer behaviour in each country, when it comes to Power Distance, brands will have to decide which side of the power equation they want to be.