When retailers strike out twice: How to turn customer revenge into reconciliation

Jun 17, 2013

Canceled flights, lost luggage, a product confirmed to be "in stock" that turns out to be on back order after you've driven 20 minutes to get it—most everyone has at some time experienced anger and frustration over similar service failures. These feelings can, in turn, lead customers to take their business elsewhere, leading the firm to lose a valued patron.

But when a firm strikes out a second time - for example, by failing to resolve the initial mistake - the insult added to injury can lead customers to seek revenge by aggressively confronting frontline employees, bad-mouthing the firm or complaining to third parties to generate negative publicity. Negative impacts can include significant employee stress and further loss of business.

A new by Washington State University marketing experts Jeff Joireman, Yany Grégoire, Berna Devezer and Thomas Tripp offers insight into what firms can do following failed service recoveries to earn a "second chance" by increasing desire for reconciliation and reducing desire for revenge.

When things go wrong with a service provider, customers search for answers, said Joireman, associate professor of marketing in the WSU College of Business. They typically focus on three things: how inconvenient was the first mishap, who was to blame for the failures and how fair was the recovery process? When customers experience a severe service failure, blame it on the firm and feel they have been treated unfairly, they often seek revenge.

Revenge and reconciliation not necessarily opposites

Though seeking revenge is a common response, the researchers suggested that customers may also want to reconcile, under the right conditions.

"Desire for revenge and reconciliation are not necessarily opposites," said Joireman. "Our paper introduces the idea that people may want to reconcile with a firm despite a two-strike situation. Whether a customer desires revenge or reconciliation hinges on whether the customer believes a firm has positive or negative motives."

According to Joireman, following a double service failure, customers might first seek revenge - for example, by posting negative comments online - but then seek to reconcile when a firm, after seeing the posts, contacts the customer to resolve the complaint.

Similarly, a customer might desire revenge and reconciliation at the same time. In this situation, a customer may want to "teach a lesson," which is a common motive for revenge, but then want to "get on with business."

Studies confirm perception drives behavior

In two initial studies, the researchers confirmed that customers get angry and seek revenge because failed service recoveries seem to imply that the firm has a negative motive and is taking advantage of them. On the flip side, if customers believe a firm's motives are positive, they are more likely to engage in steps to repair the business relationship rather than retaliate.

In a third study, the researchers tested actions a firm can take to encourage customers to give the firm a second chance following a failed recovery. A key finding was that just saying "sorry" was not nearly as effective as when the apology was combined with compensation. The combination is viewed as a "sacrifice that benefits the victim" said Joireman, which communicates to the customer that the firm has a positive motive.

These results are important because they suggest, in contrast to what has been argued in earlier literature, that firms can have a second chance to repair relationships with customers following a double incident - under the right conditions.

"Explanations about the occurrence of the failure as well as apologies paired with compensation appear to be effective ways for firms to reduce negative customer response," said Joireman. "It is essential that find a way to convey their positive motives to customers."

Tools for managers

This work suggests several important implications for managers. If managers know that a customer has experienced a severe service failure and perceives the procedures used by the firm to be unfair, the manager can act quickly to help the customer perceive a positive motive and move toward reconciliation.

Additionally, managers may train frontline employees to recognize the importance of perceived motives and empower them with the skills to provide a clear explanation of the firm's positive intent or offer an apology paired with compensation, thus making customers less likely to engage in retaliatory behaviors.

Explore further: Small business owners not always worried about being treated fairly, researcher finds

More information: The article, titled "When do customers offer firms a 'second chance' following a double deviation? The impact of inferred firm motives on customer revenge and reconciliation," is available online at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022435913000237

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In the digital age, managers can't ignore #angrycustomers

Nov 07, 2012

In a digital age where dissatisfied consumers vent their concerns through biting viral videos, nasty blog posts or negative online comments, managers need to develop strategies to soothe angry customers in person as well ...

Social media pays off for businesses, study shows

Jan 18, 2013

(Phys.org)—Customers who connect with a business through social media will go to the business more frequently and contribute more to its bottom line, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo School of Management.

Rude employee behavior quietly sabotages the bottom line

Sep 20, 2011

Insensitive, disrespectful or rude behavior by employees is rampant in US workplaces, yet consumers fail to report the offending workers and instead take their business elsewhere, researchers report in the latest edition ...

Recommended for you

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

Apr 23, 2014

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Which foods may cost you more due to Calif. drought

Apr 17, 2014

With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.