This study addresses consumer relations by investigating how commercial friendships are tied to social norms of altruism and selfinterested behaviour. Most notably, this study examines these relations from the perspective of the consumer rather than from a firm perspective. The concept of social norms is chosen because they are recognized as important mechanisms for governing social relations and because punishments and sanctions arise when social norms are violated. Consequently, if there is a lack of knowledge about the social norms that govern customer relations, marketers might unintentionally violate the social norms and face a variety of punishments and sanctions from their customers, such as the dissolution of the relationship or the spread of negative evaluations about the company’s organization, employees, brands, products, or services.
In this piece, social norms of altruism and self-interested behaviour are investigated in commercial friendships and in the more conventional definitions of friendships and commercial relations (discrete transactions). The dissertation finds that consumers expect commercial friendships to be accompanied with doses of altruism that are stronger than what are found in basic commercial transactions, but weaker than what are found in pure friendships. Secondly, this study finds that consumers view self-interested behaviour as a norm violation and that consumers react to violations by wanting to dissolve the relationship and to spread negative word of mouth.
This study shows that when organizations choose to establish close relations with their customers, their customers have different expectations of these relationships when compared to friendships or ones of strictly commercial character. The consumer considers the relationship to be more
than a series of self-interested transactions. Instead, the consumer sees the relationship as being governed by mutual altruism, although to a weaker extent than if the relationship would be seen as a pure friendship. Consequently, what is appropriate and acceptable behaviour in a commercial friendship is different from other relationship forms, and the organizations and their sales representatives need to manage these relations differently.