Service Employee Responses to Angry Customer Complaints


[We’re pleased to welcome authors Christina Jerger of the Catholic University of Eichstaett–Ingolstadt and Jochen Wirtz of the National University of Singapore. They recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “Service Employee Responses to Angry Customer Complaints: The Roles of Customer Status and Service Climate,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Jerger reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]



It is not uncommon that customers behave aggressively in service encounters, especially after experiencing a service failure. In turn, front line service employees should not retaliate this customer misbehavior to not jeopardize effective service recovery. Furthermore, service employees are requested to not discriminate customers and to treat them equal in terms of their displayed emotions as well as offered restitution in the service recovery encounter. The equal customer treatment becomes even more important in our increasingly diverse societies but is scantly researched.

This research gap spans many fruitful avenues for the research I have conducted as part of my PhD thesis. This current study examines whether a customer’s status determines how well service employees respond when they get confronted with an angry customer complaint, and whether a firm’s strong service climate can help to reduce customer status effects. Specifically, to assess employees’ emotional (i.e., expressed anger) and behavioral (i.e., restitution offered) service recovery responses, we had to develop an innovative field experimental design: We conducted role-played complaints in fast-food restaurants and observed and coded employees’ actual responses. In addition, we conducted scenario-based experiments with restaurant waiters to find out more about how the employees’ background and their personality might influence their responses to angry customers of different status.

The studies’ findings confirm that in weak service climate conditions, employees treated low-status customers significantly worse; they expressed more anger and they were less likely to offer restitution. In contrast, a strong service climate moderated the effects of customer status on employees’ response behaviors in both studies. As a result, employees’ service recovery behaviors converged at what is generally considered good practice in customer service. The strong organizational rules, routinization of recovery processes, better employee skills and knowledge, and guidance by leadership meant that employees knew what is expected from them and led to better service recovery outcomes. Importantly, employees did not treat low-status customers worse than high-status ones.

Interestingly, although it didn’t reach statistical significance in both studies, we found a tendency that low-status customers were more likely to receive restitution in a strong service climate than high-status customers. It seemed that employees made an effort to not treat low-status customers worse than high-status customers, and in the process, they overcompensated low-status customers.

Furthermore, our findings show that service climate governs both employees’ immediate affective and delayed conative recovery responses. This suggests that a strong service climate is authentic, internalized, and on a level of deep acting. Therefore, it is effective in governing employee responses in difficult situations, including in establishing emotional display rules.

One major input to building a strong service climate is training. A strong service climate seems a necessary requirement for effectively dealing with angry customer complaints. Employees should be trained in handling their feelings and how to use emotional displays in an appropriate manner. Especially for organizations with a weak service climate, this training needs to include on how to treat customers equally and independent of potential biases employees may have.

Overall, this paper offers highly valuable insights for service theory and management and helps understanding how service employees respond to angry customer complaints.


Christina Jerger, July 18, 2017

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Customer Service photo attributed to PublicDomainPictures. (CC)

Is Value Creation from Human Connection an Area of Opportunity for Companies to Stand Out?


Company executives believe they know the value of their product or service they provide, but the true judge of value comes from the customer’s perspective, which is constantly changing and shaped by every interaction, directly or indirectly, with a company. Customer perspective plays a large part in determining a company’s brand and the values the company stands for. It can impact how the employees of a company work collectively toward specific company values.

The number one reason customers leave a business feeling dissatisfied with their experience is poor customer service and indifferent customer representatives. As a result, customer service is an area that holds great potential for companies to really stand out from their competition.

In a marketplace with fewer competing companies, consumers have little choice as to JCVwhere they buy their goods. Companies can tell the customers that they provide a great service without actually following through with the promise—how easy for the companies! But now that companies face more competitors, companies no longer rule the marketplace. The consumer does. It does not matter how much value the company executives and employees think they are providing the customer. If the customer perceives that the value provided is lacking, then they can easily take their business to a competitor instead.

With the introduction of the Internet and web, information is readily available. Technology has changed the behavior of consumers overnight. That once-trusting ‘believer’ evolved into a very sophisticated ‘researcher,’ and the buying patterns of consumers are no longer as predictable, controllable or reliable as they have been.

When a company transforms into a customer-centric organization, a collective mindset emerges that prompts employees to strive for a positive customer experience and perception.  In every transaction between the customer and a company representative, value is always being created or destroyed! Positive value leaves the customer feeling better than before they interacted with a company and employee. Negative value leaves the customer feeling worse than before the interaction. Understanding customer perceptions is fundamental to facilitating positive customer value creation, and it is something every executives and employees alike should be aware of.

Click here to read the full article!

The abstract:

This article introduces an area of value creation seldom considered in the strategic sense in business: value creation from human connections. And given the number one reason for customers leaving a business is a feeling of indifference from a company representative; this is an area that holds a great opportunity for companies to really stand out from their competition. This article examines where business has come from, where we are now and why the critical need to revamp our way of thinking. When a company transforms into a customer-centric organization, a collective mindset to design for the desired outcome of customer emotion emerges.

Click here to read Human Connection: Uncharted Territory for Value Creation for free from the Journal of Creating Value.

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*Market photo credited to the US Department of Agriculture (CC)

A Matter of Formality: How Dress Code Can Impact Customer Behavior

Retro Fashion Image

How an individual dresses can be quite revealing about their personality and how they would like to be perceived, but there is more to be said on the effect of dress style beyond first impressions. Customer experience and behavior, for instance, can be significantly impacted by the dress style of other customers around them. In their article, “The Effects of Other Customers’ Dress Style on Customer’s Approach Behaviors: The Moderating Role of Sense of Power,” published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, Choongbeom Choi of University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Anna S. Mattila of Pennsylvania State University explore how a customer’s sense of power can change depending upon the dress style of others, particularly in formal situations. For some businesses, enforcing a dress code could have the positive effect of encouraging customers with low sense of power to engage in word-of-mouth behaviors.

The abstract:

Most hospitality services are delivered in the same location in which they are produced, and, thus, their delivery involves the presence of other customers. Yet, the role of other customers’ physical appearances in influencing service encounter evaluations has received scant attention. Moreover, previous research shows that consumers with a low sense of power are motivated to seek status by engaging in conspicuous consumption. The current study examines the joint impact of other customers’ dress styles and the observer’s sense of power in influencing customers’ approach CQ Covers.inddbehaviors (e.g., willingness to stay longer in a restaurant, interact with other customers). The results from our experiment show that customers’ approach behaviors among observers with a low sense of power were significantly higher when other customers’ dress styles were formal rather than informal. Conversely, the effect of other customers’ dress styles was minimal among observers with a high sense of power. Results from this study indicate that approach behaviors mediate the impact of other customers’ dress styles on word-of-mouth intentions among customers with a low sense of power. The findings of this study help hospitality operators use dress codes to their advantage.

You can read “The Effects of Other Customers’ Dress Style on Customer’s Approach Behaviors: The Moderating Role of Sense of Power” from Cornell Hospitality Quarterly by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Cornell Hospitality Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

About Time: How Temporal Construal Changes Customer Satisfaction

Clock FaceTime works wonders–it’s a familiar saying that speaks to the fluid nature of an individual’s experiences, and how, as time passes, perceptions of those experiences often change. And yet, in customer satisfaction research, time has often been neglected, despite the fact it plays a significant part in how customers reflect on their service experience. In their article, “The Temporal Construal of Customer Satisfaction,” published in the November 2015 issue of Journal of Service Research, authors Gabriele Pizzi, Gian Luca Marzocchi, Chiara Orsingher, and Alessandra Zammit of the University of Bologna outline how customer satisfaction changes over time. In particular, the paper highlights how customer feedback shifts from focusing on concrete details to more abstract details as time passes.

The abstract:

Traditional customer satisfaction research considers satisfaction judgments invariant to temporal distance. We conduct two experiments and a field study to show that the amount of time elapsed between a service consumption experience and its evaluation influences satisfaction judgments. We show that consumers rely on concrete attributes to represent near-past (NP) experiences and on JSR Coverabstract attributes to represent distant-past (DP) experiences (i.e., different construal levels). The findings indicate that construal mechanisms generate intertemporal shifts in the importance of the attributes driving satisfaction over time (Study 1), in the weights assigned to abstract and concrete attributes of a past service experience (Study 2), and in overall satisfaction judgments when abstract and concrete attributes perform differently (Study 3). Overall, the results provide support for the idea that satisfaction judgments shift over time as a result of the different psychological mechanisms that are activated as a function of the time elapsing between the service experience and its evaluation. Managers are advised to adopt longitudinal approaches to customer satisfaction measurement: An immediate assessment to capture customers’ evaluations of the performance of the concrete details of the experience and a delayed assessment to measure customer satisfaction with more abstract and goal-related features of the experience.

You can read “The Temporal Construal of Customer Satisfaction” from Journal of Service Research by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Journal of Service Research? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Book Review: A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media

A Social Strategy Cover

Mikolaj Piskorski: A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. 275 pp. $29.95, cloth.

You can read the book review by Olga Khessina of ILR School Cornell University published online by Administrative Science Quarterly. From the review:

Social strategy is still an emerging phenomenon, but it is increasingly important. There is a great need to understand the role of social strategy not only in building companies’ competitive advantage but also in developing industries. Scholars of industrial evolution, such as organizational ecologists (e.g., Hannan, Pólos, and Carroll, 2007) and researchers of product life cycles (e.g., Klepper, 1996) and dominant design (e.g., Benner and Tripsas, 2012), may find this book appealing, because social strategy may play an important role in the evolution of both new and traditional industries. For example, recent research in organizational ecology suggests that producers may facilitate identity building and legitimation processes in new industries by engaging their audiences to convert the intrinsic appeal of producers’ offerings into actual appeal (Hannan, 2010). Specific forms of engagement, however, have remained underexplored (Verhaal, Khessina, and Dobrev, 2015). Piskorski suggests that one way companies could successfully engage their audiences is by means of social strategy: producers may engage audiences socially and in this way increase the actual appeal of their offerings. Empirical research could investigate whether such social engagement is effective for identity building andASQ_v60n4_Dec2015_cover.indd legitimation processes at both organizational and industry levels, whether new or existing companies are more likely to benefit from social engagement, what role social engagement plays in long-term industrial dynamics, and other interesting questions.

You can read the rest of the review from Administrative Science Quarterly for free by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research and reviews like this from Administrative Science QuarterlyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

An Exploratory Examination in Quick-Service Restaurants

Kimberly Mathe and Lisa Slevitch, both of Oklahoma State University published, “An Exploratory Examination of Supervisor Undermining, Employee Involvement Climate, and the Effects on Customer Perceptions of Service Quality in Quick-Service Restaurants,” in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research. Ms. Mathe kindly provided the following thoughts on the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

The target audience is for hospitality operators and researchers, particularly those interested in quick service restaurant operations.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

I think everyone at one point in their careers has had a boss that undermined them in some way. It is a very relatable topic to everyone, which really sparked my interest.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Not really. I figured that supervisor undermining would be negatively related to service and employee involvement positively related to service quality. The interaction was very interesting. In low involvement climates, supervisor undermining doesn’t really matter suggesting that it is important to provide power, information, rewards and knowledge to employees in the QSR industry to gain the best results.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

From a practical perspective, training and development in the concepts of power, information, rewards, and knowledge should become a priority for companies because of its benefits. However, if companies provide the development or foundation for these concepts, it is critical to have a leader who will maintain these principles instead of undermine the employees which in turn can produce negative results. Additionally, supervisor undermining is very new to the hospitality literature in terms of quantitative studies. Hopefully, more researchers will start to look at this concept and show that in service industries, this variable is particularly detrimental in a variety of aspects.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

I’ve always tended to look at empowerment research so making the shift from empowerment to involvement is a nice transition. Involvement research is much newer and less studied, but I believe could also be as impactful as empowerment as the research stream progresses. I’m very excited to look at involvement in future studies.

How did your paper change during the review process?

It changed A LOT! Three great reviewers pointed out so many points I was missing that really added to the study. The post-hoc collection with lower level employees I believe really added to solidifying the concept of involvement climate. This paper would not be possible without the reviewers.

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JSR Call for Papers

Journal of Service Research (JSR) is calling for papers for a special interdisciplinary issue on IT-related service. JSR invites scholars from marketing, information systems, operations management, human resources, finance/accounting, economics, and organizational research to submit papers on IT-related service.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

*IT’s role in providing cost-effective service

*IT mediated or supported self-service

*IT-related service productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction

*IT servitization

*IT-related service innovations and business transformation

*IT-related service management and marketing

*IT-related service value networks

*IT service, customer service, and service satisfaction

*IT-related service and consumer behavior

*IT-related service and employee attitudes and behavior

*IT-related service economics and pricing

*IT-related service engineering, systems, and computing

This special issue is multidisciplinary in nature as many disciplines play a role in the service economy. JSR is particularly interested in papers that consider the productivity and quality of IT-related service and focus on the relationship with customers (including B2C, B2B and C2C), in contrast to technology-centered approaches to service management and business interaction. Papers that include empirical, analytical, and conceptual approaches that develop or extend theory are welcome.

Please submit manuscripts to and designate “Special Issue on IT-Related Service.” The submission deadline is February 1, 2012 and the expected publication date is August 2013.

Click here for more information regarding JSR‘s call for papers.

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