Customer service, customer vulnerability, mixed methodology, qualitative, exploratory factor analysis, service management, hospitality


The purpose of this study is to explore the concept of customer vulnerability across varying service industries. While the concept of customer vulnerability has been debated in business, marketing, sociology, and psychology scholarly literature, there has been little research conducted that specifically investigates consumers’ perceptions of vulnerability during the service exchange. Specific to this research, customer vulnerability is defined as experiences in which consumers participate in a service exchange with a firm during a time of individual or shared medical, physical, emotional, or spiritual necessity, whether the vulnerability is experienced during the course of the transaction or whether consumers arrive to the firm already immersed in that state. Customer vulnerability is an important concept for research, as the exchanges between service providers and consumers during a time of vulnerability are heightened in emotion and memory. As a result, these exchanges lend themselves to be more likely to become transformative experiences, in that the provider and recipient may be left emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually changed as a result. Therefore, additional focus is needed in this area to understand transformative experiences in service as a result of exchanges between service providers and customers. The explorative study first conducts a critical literature review across disciplines regarding scales that have been used and are considered by the researcher to be important constructs of analysis when exploring vulnerable service encounters. Next, a qualitative investigation of consumer forums is conducted in the air travel, banking, and assisted living industries, which resulted in the finding that similar behavioral attributes within industry, but iv different behavioral attributes between industries, were needed to cater to consumers experiencing vulnerability. The study is followed by a quantitative investigation of vulnerable service experiences through an application of the identified scales combined with the results of the qualitative investigation across the same three industries. Exploratory factor analysis revealed that two industries’ results loaded onto two factors; however, each industry’s factors differed due to the nature of that industry. The air travel factors were entitled task humanism and task functionality. The banking factors were entitled maintenance functionality and maintenance humanism. A third factor was revealed within the assisted living facility segment entitled hospitable humanism, along with factors of personal humanism and personal functionality. The study concludes by presenting a discussion of the findings and practical implications for service industry managers, a presentation of the study limitations, and suggestions for future research.


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Graduation Date





Severt, Denver


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance

Degree Program

Education; Hospitality Education








Release Date

June 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Rosen College of Hospitality Management


Dissertations, Academic -- Education and Human Performance, Education and Human Performance -- Dissertations, Academic