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How Complaint Process Recovery Enhances Trust After Double Deviations
Authors: Katja Gelbrich (Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany), Sarah Voigt (Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany), Cristiane Pizzutti dos Santos (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul)
After service failures, firms often fail to recover customers resulting in double deviations. This combination of a service failure plus a recovery failure is particularly harmful as it deteriorates customers' trust and promotes their rage and retaliatory behavior. Some studies already examine how to restore customer satisfaction and trust after double deviations. Yet, they draw on traditional recovery tactics known to be effective for single deviations, such as apology, compensation, and promises. Just one study goes beyond these tactics, unveiling the importance of process recovery communication. Specifically, it finds that firms should inform customers how they adapt their service processes in order to avoid service failures in the future. Although such reworking of service processes is desirable, some problems may be persistent (e.g., power outages), and firms need to address these failures properly to prevent another double deviation in the future. Specifically, a different process recovery tactic is needed that aims to remedy the recovery failure, rather than the service failure. We call this tactic complaint process recovery (CPR), defined as improvements of complaint handling processes in order to avoid unsatisfactory service recoveries.
Drawing on the stereotype content model, we examine effects of CPR on trust recovery. Three experiments across different service contexts are conducted, using apology and compensation as baseline reactions in order to show the effects of CPR beyond these traditional recovery tactics. Study 1 demonstrates the positive effect of CPR communication (i.e., informing customers about improvements of the complaint handling process) on trust recovery, mediated by perceived competence, not by perceived warmth. Study 2 replicated the main effect of CPR communication on trust recovery. Drawing on construal level theory, we also show that concrete (vs. abstract) CPR communication is more effective for high relationship quality customers. For low relationship quality customers, no significant difference is found. Study 3 is a field experiment testing the effect of CPR implementation (i.e., actually improving the complaint handling process) following CPR communication. Results show that a good implementation is more effective than bad or no implementation, again mediated by competence perceptions. Interestingly, a good implementation only maintains the trust levels after CPR communication, whereas a bad or no implementation deteriorates trust.
This research makes the following contributions. First, it is the first article that addresses the particularity of double deviations as it remedies the recovery failure, not the initial service failure. Second, in establishing perceived competence as mediator, we show that customers appreciate firms' ability to adapt complaint handling processes. Third, we provide recommendations on how to fit CPR communication to different customer groups. Fourth, we show the importance of actually changing organizational processes to keep the promise made in the CPR communication.