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How Other Customers Responses to Service Failure Affect Focal Customers’ Complaining Behavior：The Complaint Contagion Effect
Authors: Ke Chen (University of International Business and Economics, China), Jiancun Chen (University of International Business and Economics), Zhan Wu (University of Sydney)
While it is important for service providers to understand and deal with customers complaint behavior, how other customers responses to service failure affect focal customers complaint intentions remains unclear in extant literature. Drawing on social information processing theory, this paper proposes that after a service failure affecting multiple customers, other customers complaint behavior (vs. noncompliant) will increase focal customers’ complaint intentions (the complaint contagion effect), which is mediated by the emotion of anger. Two characteristics of complaint others (social identification and credibility) and one factor about the service provider (prior relationship) are examined as moderators. Four experiments are conducted to test the contagion effect and its contingent factors. Study 1 is to examine the contagion effect of other customers’ complaint behavior across two service industries (retailing and transportation). The results show that in both service industries, after encountering a service failure with other customers together, if there are others complain to the service provider, focal customers feel angrier and have higher complaint intentions than if there are no others complain. Study 2-4 are conducted to test moderating effects of social identification, other customers’ credibility, and the prior relationship between focal customer and the service provider respectively. The results reveal that the contagion effect is salient when focal customers have high social identification with others, or the credibility of other customers is high, or focal customers prior relationship with service providers is weak. And vise versa, the contagion effect does not occur.
This paper provides several contributions. First, our findings contribute to the literature of service failure by including the research focus on the comparison between other customers different responses to service failure. Our findings extend the literature that the anger is affected not only by the interaction with group members but also by the observation on others complaint behavior. Second, our findings contribute to customer interpersonal influence in customer complaint research. To our knowledge, our study is the first to include other customers characteristics in examining focal customers’ complaint behavior. Our findings support the argument that social identification with other customers can occur in short-lived groups and even in the absence of a formal group, and extend the effect of source credibility from the research of salespeople, advertising, public relationship, and online reviews to service failure and recovery. Third, our findings contribute to the literature of customer relationship and complaint behavior. Our results support the literature by identifying both the direct negative effect of prior relationship and the interaction influences of prior relationship and others complaint behavior on anger.