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Coalitions, Social Exclusion and Recovery in Trilateral Service Failure Constellations
Authors: Christina-Franca Feyertag (Alpen Adria Universität, Austria), Holger Roschk (Alpen Adria Universität, Austria), Nilüfer Aydin (Alpen Adria Universität, Austria)
This research introduces coalition forming and social exclusion as novel behavioral phenomena into service recovery. For that we focus on triadic constellations (i.e., complainant, co-customer, service employee). Researchers so far focused on bilateral relationships, most prominently between the complainant and the firm. Also group settings have been analyzed. However, the group has been considered as one entity, again forcing a bilateral approach (Du Fan and Feng 2014). A behavioral phenomenon idiosyncratic to triadic relationships is coalition forming (Thibaut and Kelley 1959), which yields two coalition possibilities for the failure context: the complainant may need support from the co-customer to achieve a desired failure reparation (complainant–co-customer coalition); the service employee may need support to oppose a quarreling customer (service employee–co-customer coalition). However, who is supported has serious consequences, as one of the triad members gets left out and experiences social exclusion. Especially if the complainant stands alone with the failure and fights against an opposing coalition, it may turn into a hostile social dynamic that affects his emotional state and behavioral responses.
We therefore explore coalition forming and its consequences by addressing three research questions: (1) Do coalitions occur in a systematic manner? (2) Do coalitions due to social exclusion cause harmful effects? (3) How can those negative effects be counteracted? To answer our research questions we conducted four consecutive experiments from the perspective of the complainant, using video and photographic material for our manipulations. The first experiment (2x2x2x3) showed that coalitions are formed in service failure situations due to high emotional contagion and relationship strengths with the supported person. The second experiment (3x1) revealed higher negative emotions, feelings of betrayal and retaliation, compensation demands and negative Facebook ratings in case of the complainant’s social exclusion (vs. inclusion). The third experiment (2x2) evidences that the service employee’s rejection (vs. acceptance) to ally with the co-customer mitigates the negative reactions but not the complainant’s perceived social exclusion. Finally, the fourth experiment (2x2) shows that the firm not only needs to compensate for the original failure, but also the exclusion transgression.
Our results contribute to the literature in three ways: First by presenting coalition forming as a novel behavioral pattern, it allows a deeper understanding of the social dynamics in service failure settings. Second, besides various established harmful phenomena such as customers’ opportunistic claiming (Wirtz and McColl-Kennedy 2010), and the 'love becomes hate effect' (Grégoire, Tripp and Legoux 2009), we find social exclusion to be the driving force behind deviant customer behavior. And third, we introduce a novel mechanism to the service recovery literature that represents a foundation for preventive and reactive strategies counteracting exclusion-driven negative effects.