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

Posted June 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 research paper 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 customer 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.”

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