[We’re pleased to welcome authors Yelena Tsarenko of Monash University, Yuliya Strizhakova of Rutgers University, and Cele C. Otnes University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Reclaiming the Future: Understanding Customer Forgiveness of Service Transgressions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivation and impact of this research:]
When customers are wronged, a diverse array of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses can result. Noticeably absent in prior marketing research, however, is the study of customer forgiveness as a viable response to transgressions. Forgiveness, a moral concept with religious overtones, has not been perceived as relevant to the secular world of business and marketing. However, business transgressions are inevitable and, just like human transgressions, customers apply forgiveness to these transgressions. Business success further hinges on understanding customer forgiveness and its impact on subsequent customer-provider relationships. Grounding our investigation in interdisciplinary research on forgiveness and self-determination theory we analyze 34 in-depth interviews with customers who experienced transgressions in the healthcare, financial, and retailing sectors. Our findings show that forgiveness is both internal and intrinsically driven process that releases the emotional burdens weighing on consumers after they experience a transgression by a service provider. Furthermore, businesses can foster forgiveness through service-recovery efforts, and seek to restore customers’ violated needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence.
We demonstrate that the interplay between customers’ motivation to forgive and their internal reconciliations of the transgression supports four pathways to forgiveness: transgressor’s atonement (driven by feelings of justice and the transgressor’s repentance and service-recovery efforts), disillusionment (driven by (in)equality and marketplace constraints), self-healing (driven by personal growth and the customer’s desire to heal), and grace (driven by humanity and empathy). Whereas some pathways of forgiveness offer the potential to restore damaged relationships and enable continued patronage, others require transgressor efforts that extend beyond compensation, to open an avenue for relational repair. However, other cases of forgiveness may never result in relationship restoration, but nonetheless can improve customer well-being, and even positively impact consumers’ mental, physical, and relational states. We further encourage future research on this transformative concept of customer forgiveness.
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