To read this content please select one of the options below:

Customer captivity, negative word of mouth and well-being: a mixed-methods study

Olivier Furrer (Department of Management, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland)
Jie Yu Kerguignas (Department of Management, University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and École hôtelière de Lausanne, HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, Switzerland)
Mikèle Landry (Department of Management, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 17 August 2021

Issue publication date: 6 October 2021




When customers feel that they have no choice but to stay with their current provider to obtain a service that they need, they feel captive. This study aims to investigate customer captivity as a type of vulnerability and evaluate its effects on customers’ service evaluation and word-of-mouth (WOM) behavior, as well as to identify solutions that reduce customers’ feelings of captivity and improve their well-being.


This sequential, quantitative–qualitative, mixed-methods study draws from a survey of 1,017 customers and a qualitative analysis of 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews. Moderated mediation analysis is used to test the quantitative hypotheses; a thematic analysis explores the qualitative data.


The results of the quantitative study show that captivity emotions and price unfairness perceptions are two manifestations of customer captivity, which directly and indirectly affect service evaluations and WOM behavior. The findings of the qualitative study highlight how captive customers use emotional support-seeking negative word-of-mouth (NWOM) as a solution to reduce their captivity emotions and improve their well-being, by reinforcing their social ties and regaining a sense of control.

Research limitations/implications

This study advances transformative service research by demonstrating how captivity affects customers’ well-being and customer vulnerability literature by investigating captivity as a type of vulnerability. It contributes to service marketing literature by identifying customer captivity as a boundary condition for generic service evaluation models.

Practical implications

Captive customers seek emotional support and consequently spread NWOM. Therefore, it is critical for service providers to reduce customers’ captivity feelings and implement adequate solutions to prevent NWOM and decrease the risk of negative impacts on their profitability.


Any customer can become vulnerable, due to contextual circumstances. This study focuses on customer captivity as a type of vulnerability and proposes adapted solutions to improve customers’ well-being.



The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the ServiceLab foundation and thank Cindy Auderset and Thibaud Salamin for their help with data collection.


Furrer, O., Yu Kerguignas, J. and Landry, M. (2021), "Customer captivity, negative word of mouth and well-being: a mixed-methods study", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 35 No. 6, pp. 755-773.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles