Lili Wenli Zou, University of Hong Kong
Chi Kin (Bennett) Yim, University of Hong Kong
Echo Wen Wan, University of Hong Kong

Crowding is a common phenomenon in services and is detrimental to customer experience. How to alleviate the perceptions of crowding, particularly when the physical service environment cannot be improved, represents a challenge for practitioners who need to formulate effective strategies of crowding management. Drawing from the social identity theory and using data from three laboratory experiments, the authors investigate how customers’ crowding perceptions can be mitigated by incidental similarity shared with other customers through an increased perception of ingroup identification. The authors also confirm valence and importance as boundary conditions that further modify the effect of incidental similarity in that crowding perceptions can be alleviated only when the similarity is considered positive or aspired by the customer and is perceived to be important. This research enriches the crowding and similarity literature by extending our understanding of the complex relationships among customer density, crowding perceptions, and the magnitude, valence, and importance of interpersonal similarity. Service managers facing constraints of the physical environment are advised to explore ways of customer compatibility management to increase inter-customer similarity so as to alleviate customers’ crowding perceptions and improve customer experience.


This is a working paper.