Preventing Consumer Grudges across the Age Spectrum: Time Is of the Essence
Aron, David, Gordon, Geoffrey, Judson, Kimberly, Aurand, Timothy, Domagalski, Sandra, Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
Is there such a thing as a long-standing grudge? Based on personal experiences, the authors can definitively say yes. Consider the following: In 1995, one of the authors' friends (who will be called Mike) became Treasurer of a local youth baseball program. As part of his responsibilities, he was charged with procuring uniforms and equipment for more than 600 youngsters. A day before the season opener, three children were added to league rosters. This meant that Mike had to stop by the local sporting goods store which supplied the organization with all uniforms and equipment.
After picking up the uniform pants needed to equip the new players, Mike patiently waited while the store manager was busily fielding phone calls and customer returns. Mike finally reached the front of the line only to have the store manager, frazzled by the amount of people he had to deal with that day, inform Mike that he would have to return to the store the next day if he wanted to charge the cost of the uniform pants to his league's account. He told the store manager that he would just go to a checkout line and pay cash for the uniform pants. At that point, the store manager yelled over to his three checkout people instructing them not to wait on Mike. Incredulous and angered by now, Mike asked the store manager why he would not be allowed to pay cash for the pants. The manager responded that it would create bookkeeping problems for him if Mike were to return the pants. Mike left the store in a rage vowing never to return and proceeded to open up a league account at a rival store that very same day.
What was the cost to the sporting goods store of their store manager "having a bad day" and taking it out on a customer? Mike is still the Treasurer of his neighborhood Little League and annually spends upwards of $15,000 on items that had previously been purchased at the first store. Furthermore, Mike succeeded in convincing several other local sports leagues to switch their business away from the store. Add in the lost sales from individuals such as Mike and his friends and it can be estimated that over $25,000 in annual purchases are being lost due to this one incident. Multiply this amount by 13 years worth of business and the price of the store manager's indiscretion can be set at upwards of $325,000...and still counting.
Events like the above are not isolated or unusual as they relate to the amount of revenue that could be lost by offending companies. Companies such as Harley Davidson figure the lifetime value of lost customers is more than $200,000, based on the accumulated product, service, and referral sales that go elsewhere (Mackinnon 2005). Depending on the restaurant format, it can be estimated that lifetime revenues lost from "forever-gone" customers and their dining friends can range from $12,000 for a Taco Bell customer (Kotler 2001) to over $100,000 for an upscale restaurant. In the grocery industry, it is estimated a lost customer can cost the offending grocer up to $50,000 in non-retrievable revenues over a ten year period (Javaigi, Whipple, Ghosh & Young 2005). Remember, even a daily average purchase of $3 at a coffee shop can add up to $5,000 per lost customer over a 5 year period. Consumers are more empowered than ever to express their displeasure toward businesses by holding grudges, withholding their patronage from offending organizations, and then making "grudge purchases" from rival firms, on behalf of his Little League.
The current research has four main objectives. The first objective is to revisit the current knowledge on consumer grudgeholding against businesses. The second objective is to examine using empirical data the causes of consumer grudgeholding, the variety of responses enacted by the grudgeholders against their targeted organizations, and the impact of these responses. The third objective is to determine whether differences between age groups exist as it relates to the abovementioned variables and their impact on the firm. Finally, the fourth objective is to provide recommendations to organizations as to how they can avoid or minimize the impact of consumer grudgeholding and direction for future research.
There's an old adage that holding a grudge is like drinking from a poison cup and waiting for your enemy to die. In the case of the above example, this might be an overstatement but the fact is, consumers hold grudges against offending retailers, companies, and service providers and hold on to these grudges, continuing to drink from the proverbial poison cup despite what might otherwise be called rational consumer decision-making behavior. Whether or not that first sporting goods store ever dies, figuratively, literally, or somewhere in between, Mike offers an example of how customers will go to great lengths to avoid doing business with a person or organization that they feel has done them wrong. Furthermore, the outcome that leads to grudgeholding can be compounded by the offended customer's subsequent negative word-of-mouth behavior against the firm (Aron, Judson, Aurand, Domagalski, & Gordon 2007) and ineffective or otherwise dysfunctional complaint management by the offending firm (Bolfing 1980; Homburg & Furst 2005), just as was demonstrated in the above story.
It has been established that consumers hold grudges against the organizations that mistreat them (Hunt & Hunt, 1990; Aron, 2001; Aron, Judson, Aurand, & Gordon 2006). Consumer grudgeholding is not a limited phenomenon. When a customer develops an intention to withhold patronage from the offending business, the customer is demonstrating consumer grudgeholding: a negative attitude toward a firm, a planned and persistent avoidance of an offending business, along with possible other actions that can include complaining and negative word-of-mouth behavior. This sort of passive-aggressive or retaliatory activity can be seen as a way to cope with a customer's real or perceived grievance against the firm.
A typical response of dissatisfied consumers, whether classified as grudgeholders or not, is called voice or complaining behavior (Hirschman 1971; Kowalski 1996). Hirschman (1971) provided the seminal framework for the understanding of consumers' reactions to dissatisfaction. He labeled this response to dissatisfaction as voice, the consumer telling employees, managers, or anyone who is willing to listen about the encountered situation. Sargeant and West (2001) expanded the consideration of voice to include three more specific avenues for complaining behavior. Vocal describes when consumers express their displeasure directly to the company. Private describes negative word-of-mouth behavior and third party describes occasions when the consumer seeks help from an outside entity, such as lawyer, regulatory agency, or the Better Business Bureau.
Hirschman also described what he called exit behavior (Hirschman 1971). Exit behavior is, on one hand, fairly straightforward: the consumer leaves the store of or the relationship with the offending business. Exit can also be more subtle, especially if constrained by a monopoly or quasi-monopolistic company (such as Microsoft or a utility) or contractual obligations (such as with a cellular phone service provider). Under these circumstances the grudgeholding customer might simply reduce the relationship with a firm, and stop or drastically reduce purchasing activity with the organization until finally able to withdraw from the relationship.
The different uses of voice and exit behavior can be illustrated by examples from the financial services and airlines sectors. Hogarth, Hilgert, and Kolodinsky (2004) found that 55% of the respondents in their study acted upon their displeasure by either canceling their credit card from a specific financial institution, thereby reducing their relationship, or by completely severing their relationship with that firm. Research by Panther and Farquhar (2004) showed that 30% of the dissatisfied financial services customers also exited and switched to a different service provider. Colgate and Hedge (2001) saw almost one quarter of a bank's customers leave within three months of their dissatisfactory encounter. Bunker and Bradley (2007), in a study of the airlines industry, found that a large percentage of individuals who developed a grudge against a particular airline intended to never fly that specific carrier again. Furthermore and as testimony to the endurance that defines grudgeholding behavior, another survey found that half of the dissatisfied customers polled would not return to a business that made them wait too long for service (Woodward 2006).
Voice, exit, and the kind of response described in the opening story are not the only approaches to expressing one's disappointment, anger, or dissatisfaction against a firm. Retaliation represents a more aggressive response (Huefner & Hunt 2000). In fact retaliation, once limited to negative word-of-mouth behavior among friends, family members, coworkers, and fellow consumers has been supplemented by consumer vigilantism (Ives, 2004; McGregor, 2008). This sort of response can include activity on the Internet. Whether through discussion boards, blogs, elaborate anti-brand web sites (Aron & Muniz 2002) or anti-brand advertisements (Ives, 2004; Muniz & Schau 2007), dozens to hundreds of thousands of consumers can be warned online against the risk imposed by a brand or company. For example, http://www.allstateinsurancesucks.com represents an individual company complaint site while http://www.ripoffreport.com/ provides grudgeholders an avenue to air their frustrations at a multitude of companies.
From the firm's perspective, grudgeholding may be easy to ignore. A manager with a perspective that is too broad might not notice as leaving customers are replaced by new customers who have yet to face a suboptimal experience. Yet every dissatisfied customer that bears a grudge represents a relationship and a revenue stream that is lost, about to be lost, or at least reduced. These customers might be tempted to switch to a rival firm and are likely to tell friends, family members, and other customers (Aron et al. 2007). The distressing product- and service-related experiences potentially leading to long-standing grudges are not isolated events. Results of a recent survey reveal that nearly half of all Americans (46%) state that they have walked out of a business in the past year after encountering poor service (McNulty 2004). Indeed, telecommunications companies spend hundred of millions of dollars to bring in new wireless customers while unhappy existing customers, often bearing grudges, exit out the back door (Snyder 2004). Results of a recent study by a major consulting company found that 80 percent of senior managers believed their companies were doing an excellent job of serving their customers. Conversely, only eight percent of their customers agreed (Brooks 2006). Other consumer research has found that more than 50 percent of Canadian shoppers won't even walk into a store if they have heard something bad about it from a friend or family member (Verde Group 2005). In sum, customers may not tell businesses they are mad at them and, worse yet, their friends simply won't shop at the business because they know someone who once did is bearing a grudge (Weir 2006).
Past research has examined the use of voice, exit, and the retaliatory responses described above; yet, there exists little research concerning how responses are influenced by the age of the consumer (e.g., Francis and Davis, 1990; Moschis, 1992; Otto, Parry, Payne, Huefner, & Hunt 2004). Previous research has examined grudgeholding among different age-groups such as college students and young adults (e.g., Hunt, Hunt, & Hunt, 1988; Huefner & Hunt 2000), adults in their late twenties and early thirties (Aron et al. 2006), and adults aged forty and older (Aron et al. 2007). Missing from the existing research is a bridge across the age gaps that might add insight to the consumer grudgeholding response, insight that might benefit companies that seek to avoid or remedy such an outcome.
When considering consumer grudgeholding, the influence of age might be manifest in a number of ways. By simply having lived longer lives, older consumers should be expected to have more experience with products, services, and the various expectations and complications that accompany the consumption experience. Along those lines, and older and more experienced consumer would have been exposed to a wider array of positive and negative outcomes, and therefore have more experience in coping with these events. After such an event, the more mature consumer would then experience a variety of supportive, conflicting, and counterexperiential marketing communications (Aron, 2007) to inform and perhaps strengthen or weaken their held positions.
General difference in coping patterns between age cohorts were described by Folkman, Lazarus, Pimley, and Novacek (1987). Folkman, et al. found significant differences in terms of how the respondents cope with stressful situations. Members of the younger group (between 35 and 45 years of age at the time of the study, born approximately between the early 1940s and 1950s) would rely on more confrontational patterns, planned problem solving, and social support. In contrast the older cohort (between 65 and 75 years of age, born approximately between the early 1910s and 1920s) relied on distancing behaviors, greater acceptance of responsibility for their situation, and positive reappraisals (Folkman et al. 1987; Lazarus 1999). This provides evidence that whereas younger consumers would engage in problem solving and interactive responses to stressful situation, older consumers would opt to handle their issues internally, by redefining or avoiding the situation. While research on the influence of age on consumer grudgeholding is limited, this existing research in related areas offers motivation for the current study.
The current study took place in suburban communities located near a large city in the Midwestern United States. A total of 2,142 surveys were distributed, and 1,964 were returned for an effective response rate of 92%. The high response rate was attributable to the survey being personally distributed on or near a college campus. Of the 1,964 surveys returned, 910 of the respondents met the criteria for inclusion in the study: aged 18 or older, at least some college experience, and currently or formerly bearing a grudge of six months or longer against a store, company, or organization. Due to the manner in which the data was collected, (in person) a nonresponse bias is not a major concern of this study.
Potential study participants were screened on two factors. The first factor was age, as it was desired that only those participants, aged 18 and older, participate in the study due to their ability to make purchases from their own earnings. Respondents were then asked if they were currently in or had ever attended college. For the sake of consistency among the sample of respondents, only those stating that they had attended college for any amount of time were included in the sample. An existing survey (Aron et al. 2006) was then administered to gain insight on the consumer grudgeholding response, including the purchase leading to a grudge, the use of voice and exit responses, and consideration of future relationships with the organizations that provoked the consumer grudgeholding in the first place.
All individuals received the same survey regarding their grudgeholding attitudes and behaviors, based on the following definition:
"[Grudgeholding is] A strong, lasting feeling of hostility or dislike of a company or organization that you feel has treated you badly."
Respondents were asked to recall "a purchase experience involving a company or an organization against which you have held, or currently hold, a grudge," based on an experience that occurred six months ago or longer. The timeframe was included to avoid experiences that were so recent that they would not meet the definitional criteria of "a lasting feeling of hostility or dislike ... ." All respondents were asked their age and gender, and were then asked if they currently held or have ever held a grudge against an organization. As mentioned above, surveys filled out by respondents that claimed to hold no grudge were not used for purposes of further analysis. Those answering "yes" (910 individuals) were then asked to reveal the name of the offending company or organization, the item that was purchased, and the cost of the purchase, selected from a list of price ranges. They were then instructed to indicate their voice responses, including post-experience word-of-mouth behavior. The voice responses in the questionnaire include communication to parties inside the offending organization and outside the organization (e.g., friends and family). Then, respondents were asked if any member of the offending organization had tried to rectify the situation by offering any kind of refund or reparation.
Respondents then were asked if they still held this grudge, and to share their current feelings toward the offending organization on a seven point scale, ranging from "Much Better Than When It Happened" to "Much Worse Than When It Happened"
Repurchase intentions in the aftermath of the grudge were assessed by the following question, measured on a seven point scale: "How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? 'I will shop or purchase from this store, company or organization again.'" Responses can range from "Strongly Agree" to "Strongly Disagree." Respondents were then asked "Had you purchased from the company before the grudge-causing event," and the responses were "Yes," "No, but my family/friends had," and "No." Finally, the survey concluded with the open-ended question, "How do you currently feel about the whole incident? Are you generally pleased with the way the company or organization handled it? What would you suggest the company or organization do now in order to correct the situation?" These questions were asked to gather additional insight regarding the grudgeholding incident.
To learn how responses of grudgeholders may change with age, usable data was collected from 910 individuals ranging in age from 18 to 82, all of whom stated that at some point they held a grudge against a store, company, or organization. Of those who participated in the study, 56.8% are male and 43.2% are female. The median age of the respondents is 26 with 65% of the respondents under the age of 35 and 35% 35 or older. Study participants were asked a series of open and closed-ended questions, as well as questions based upon Likert-type scales in order to capture their opinions regarding their grudges. Once collected, the data was edited, coded, and entered into SPSS 15.0 for analysis in order to produce the following findings. Respondents were placed into age groups with ten-year ranges in order to enhance analysis.
As is evident in Table 1, less expensive products or services (such as a clothing item or poor service at a restaurant) are largely responsible for the formation of grudges with younger consumers. Probably due to financial limitations of younger consumers, participants 25 years old or younger were more apt to have grudges surrounding products or services costing $25 or less. Over one-third of respondents under the age of 25 hold a grudge centering on a product or service costing $25 or less. This could also have to do with the fact that individuals of this age are prone to dine out more frequently and make more spontaneous purchases of lower cost items. However, respondents over the age of 25 are more apt to hold grudges involving products or services costing over $2,000 (such as an automobile or a vacation package) than any other single price category examined in the study. This is most likely due to the fact that the older consumers are in the life stage where significant and expensive purchases can be made.
Grudgeholders are quick to voice their concerns with employees of the store, company, or organization with over 70% of these consumers voicing a complaint about the incident. Older grudgeholders are more apt to do so than are younger ones. As Table 2 illustrates, as consumers age, they are more likely to share their concerns with store, company, or organization employees. Members of the 36-45 year old purchasing group are particularly inclined to voice their opinions to store, company, or organization employees, and this inclination is relatively consistent as the consumer moves beyond his/her late thirties and early forties. In the survey results, many older consumers commented about how they raised their voices in anger at what they perceived to be the injustice perpetrated against them. Others mentioned that they viewed it as their duty to speak loudly and often at offending personnel so as to alert other shoppers around them that an injustice against consumers had transpired
This study indicates that nearly 95% of all grudgeholders tell someone who does not work at the store, company, or organization about their grudgeholding incident and older grudgeholders tell more people than do younger grudgeholders. Table 3 illustrates the importance of the key buying age group of 36-45, of which nearly 30% tell more than 13 people about their grudgeholding experience. As older grudgeholders have had the opportunity to meet more people through either work or social situations, they may be even more likely to tell 13 or more acquaintances outside of the store, company, or organization about their negative consumer experiences. Indeed, several respondents to the survey noted that they make it a point to tell at least 2-3 people weekly about how they were taken advantage of and harmed by the offending business. Add to this amazing revelation the fact that in several of the cases, the grudge has been held for many years. When the authors' friend, Mike, who was described in the opening story, was asked how many individuals he had told his story to, he paused, smiled, and replied, "Easily, over a thousand!"
In spite of the importance of acquiring and maintaining satisfied customers, relatively few firms (about one-third) take any corrective action to address incidents responsible for the formation of grudges. Table 4 identifies the kinds of corrective action that is provided, by age group. The vast majority (over 95%) of firms gives extra attention to grudgeholders. Actions such as engaging the customer in dialog, referring the customer to superiors, providing follow-up phone calls, are commonly employed. Surprisingly, very few firms (approximately 13%-14%) take the conscious step to apologize to the grudgeholder, regardless of the age group. Many of the respondents commented that all would have been forgiven if they had received a simple apology. Instead, failure to utter the simple words, "I'm sorry" has led to countless dollars of lost revenues to the offending parties. Grudgeholders in the 46-55 year old range do fare slightly better than their grudgeholding peers when it comes to having their product repaired or replaced (11%-12% in the 46-55 year old compared to less than 7% in the other age groups), but the offering of store credit or store refunds is implemented less than 7% of the time regardless of the age group.
Regardless of age, grudgeholders are relatively neutral regarding the negative experience that they encountered. With a mean score of approximately 4 (3.93) on a 1-7 Likert-type scale, grudgeholders do not feel much better, or worse, than they did when the negative incident occurred. However, younger grudgeholders are more likely to shop, or purchase from the offending store, company or organization again than are older grudgeholders. As Table 5 illustrates, especially among those 36 years of age or older, current feelings toward the store, company, or organization do not necessarily translate into shopping intentions. Time does not appear to heal all wounds, and older grudgeholders are more apt to translate their negative feelings toward the store, company, or organization into what could be considered a personal boycott of the store.
One grudgeholder, in her early fifties, told the story of how she has deliberately avoided shopping at a grocery store for the last twenty-two year period despite the fact that it is located less than one block from her home. Instead, she drives over four miles to shop at the next nearest store. The reason for her long-standing grudge? A bagger at the offending store forgot to place all the bags in her cart. When the aggrieved shopper returned to claim her missing bag, it was nowhere to be found. Instead of replacing the misplaced items or providing her with a refund for the items, the store manager claimed it was not the store's fault; the next customer must have received the groceries and that the upset shopper herself held responsibility for ensuring her groceries made it to her cart. In other words, a $10 bag of groceries has probably cost this business more than $50,000 in lost revenues. Younger grudgeholders, while holding similar feelings regarding the store, company, or organization as their older counterparts, are more willing to return to these stores as customers. As one respondent put it, "While I am still highly irritated at this store, it only hurts me more to have to drive 10 extra minutes to shop at a more expensive place."
In summary, and as might be expected, the less expensive products are responsible for the formation of grudges among younger consumers. Products or services valued at more than $2,000 are commonly the source of grudges for consumers in their thirties and older. Grudgeholders, regardless of their age, are quick to tell people at the respective store, company, or organization about their concerns, with customers in the key 36-45 year old age group particularly likely to seek assistance.
Older grudgeholders are more apt to tell more friends, relatives, and acquaintances about their grudgeholding experience, thereby increasing the impact of the negative experience among older, more financially secure customers.
As shown by the above findings, relatively few firms appear willing to take significant corrective action to address the concerns of grudgeholders. While nearly all firms do give extra attention to the grudgeholder, regardless of their age, very few stores, companies or organizations take steps as simple as apologizing to the grudgeholders. Actions such as giving refunds, offering credit, repairing or replacing the product are rare, regardless of the age of the grudgeholder.
There is little difference among grudgeholders with regard to their current feelings toward the offending organization; most (on average) claim relatively little change from their original negative feelings. An important exception can be found among the older consumers, ages 66 and older, who claim to feel substantially worse than when the incident first occurred. This would seem to suggest that firms should provide more personal attention to elderly purchasers of their products. In terms of repurchase intentions, the youngest of the consumers, ages 35 and younger, seem much more willing to leave history in the past and resume their relationships with the company or organization responsible for the grudge. Companies could provide these consumers with immediate promotional incentives hoping capitalize upon their consumers' willingness to the organization a second chance. Older grudgeholders are far less inclined to do business again with the offending organization, so it is imperative that firms serve these customers well the first time.
It appears that firms must be conscious of any customers who come to them with issues that could conceivably be responsible for the formation of a grudge. Toward this end, employees at all levels and in all capacities should be trained in the art of listening so feelings of unhappy customers do not go unaddressed. Special attention should be given to older customers who appear more willing to tell others about their grudgeholding experiences, and less willing to forgive the store, company, or organization to the point where they return to shop again.
The objective of this study was to examine the extent and expression of consumer grudgeholding for individuals aged 18-82. Across the age spectrum, the vast majority of respondents (over 95%) acknowledged receiving extra attention when service failure occurred even though problems may not have been resolved to their satisfaction. It is interesting to note that recent studies have challenged the notion of the service recovery paradox in which a corporate apology during service recovery is thought to serve as an antecedent to enhanced brand image (Andreassen 2001; Ok, Back and Shanklin 2005). Similarly, the findings from this study clearly do not support the paradox as none of the intervention initiatives investigated (including the apology) proved to significantly alter grudgeholders' feelings and/or intentions to repurchase. Given that this study asked respondents to reflect on a service or product failure that occurred more than six months ago, a possible explanation may be that the offending organization did not resolve the customer complaint in a timely manner and negative feelings were allowed to escalate. When service failure occurs and a service recovery strategy must be implemented, time is of the essence.
Customers indicate that quick problem resolution is very important to them. Based on research from the banking industry in Chicago, three of the top ten attributes customers consider in evaluating bank services focused on the combination of problem resolution and prompt responses:
(#4) Being contacted promptly when a problem is resolved... (#6) Being told how long it will take to resolve a problem... (#10) Being given progress reports if a problem can't be solved immediately. (Berry and Parasuraman 1991, p. 39)
If prompt recovery does not occur and a grudge against the offending firm has had an opportunity to manifest, there is little that can be done to win the customer back (Aron et al. 2006). On the other hand, information released by the Technical Assistance Program indicates that 82% of unhappy customers who choose to complain will buy again after a major complaint if the complaint is resolved quickly. (Ziethaml, Bitner & Gremler 2006) While preventing service or product failure is paramount, anticipating possible service failure and developing proactive measures of recovery is a judicious managerial strategy. Equipping employees with the knowledge and resources to respond quickly to customer complaints through proactive measures is far superior to simply relying on less effective reactive measures to salvage the relationship.
Additional aspects of the findings support the need for speedy recovery time. While the majority of younger respondents hold grudges surrounding a lower priced item ($1-$25), conversely, the majority of older respondents hold grudges surrounding the purchase of a higher priced item (over $2,000). While older consumers are more established in their careers and have a greater level of discretionary income, the findings suggest that they also tend to be less forgiving to the offending organization than younger consumers. While 15.8% of grudgeholders in the 18-25 age range tell over 13 people about their negative experience, the percentage increases to 24.3% in the 26-35 age range and to 57.1% in the 55-65 age range. As consumers age, they may develop a much broader network of friends and acquaintances while simultaneously becoming increasingly influential on the consumer decisions of others. The older consumer may have many contacts with whom to launch an effective negative word-or-mouth campaign. These considerations, combined with larger monetary purchases, indicate that the overall value of a consumer to an organization rises significantly as the consumer ages. Thus, it is in the best interest of an organization to provide customized attention to the older consumer population and incorporate consumer feedback in an effort to deter consumer grudgeholding behavior. Proactive initiatives to stop complaining behavior within this important segment such as follow-up telephone calls and/or e-mails, toll-free telephone lines, comment cards, and web site feedback forms must be considered by service marketing managers.
Another aspect of the findings that underscores the importance of a quick recovery is the presence of younger consumers and with whom they are likely to share their dissatisfaction. While approximately 95% of all grudgeholders tell someone who does not work at the store, company, or organization about their negative experience, younger consumers are clearly less likely to tell an employee of the store, company, or organization. Only 61.3% of those within the 18-25 age range tell an employee while the percentage rises to 84.4% within the 66+ range. Younger consumers do not hesitate to communicate their experiences to friends, family, and acquaintances, but they communicate less frequently with those at the organization that could potentially rectify the situation. Perhaps this occurs because younger people in the 18-25 age range communicate in a much different manner than do older consumers. Whereas older consumers would be inclined to approach the employee face-to-face or via a letter or email or phone call, the younger group might find those approaches prohibitively uncomfortable or inconvenient. Modes of communication such as text messaging and interacting on social networking systems such as Facebook and MySpace are growing in popularity among younger consumers. Rather than wait for younger consumers to contact employees through traditional modes of communication, organizations with business communication acumen will make it easy for the younger, technologically advanced consumers to convey company complaints. Companies such as banks and packaging/shipping firms have enabled customers to solve their own problems using account or tracking information made available online.
In order to deliver quick problem resolution, employee responses to customer complaints cannot be left to chance (Berry and Parasuraman 1991, p. 47) Recovery training must be an integral element of every offering and firms must effectively resolve customer complaints by (1) preparing employees for recovery, (2) empowering employees, (3) facilitating employees, and (4) rewarding employees (Berry and Parasuraman 1991). In addition, employees must not be punished for attempting to resolve problems according to the firm's guidelines. Employees of Ritz-Carlton are authorized to allocate $2,000 a year to customers in order to resolve service failures (Ziethaml, Bitner & Gremler 2006). In addition, Ritz-Carlton employees are instructed to 'own' the problem until it is resolved. Likewise, Kootenai Medical Center, for example, mirrored this strategy and authorized 1,000 of its hospital workers to spend up to $1,000 a year to resolve customer complaints and enhance patients' stays (Welch 1997). These investments in employee empowerment are expected to result in quick problem resolution and pay large dividends in future customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, as well as employee morale.
Communicating with customers and knowing what they anticipate or expect will help firms to avoid disappointing them. When a customer complaint or service/product failure is followed by a weak (or slow) recovery, the organization ends up failing its customers twice which leads to a 'double deviation' according to Mary Jo Bitner and her colleagues (Berry and Parasuraman 1991). Such a deviation is likely to result in a consumer grudge against the offending firm, which is exactly what investments in recovery training, employee empowerment, and technological customer services are intended to prevent.
STUDY LIMITATIONS AND DIRECTION FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The above study, while furthering research related to grudgeholding, has several limitations. First, a large number of the respondents (437 out of 910) fell in the 18-25 age range. Future studies could focus on the older segments to a greater degree and seek to understand what appears to be a less forgiving nature toward offending companies. A second limitation of the study relates to the education and geographic location of the population studied. All participants were college educated and living near one major metropolitan area. Future studies could include individuals of varying demographic backgrounds located in diverse geographical areas. Of interest also would be comparisons of grudgeholding behavior among individuals living in countries outside the United States. Another consideration for future research is to closely analyze the timeliness needed to resolve a problem from the consumer's perspective. A final avenue for future research would focus upon grudgeholding in the business-to-business arena.
Future research opportunities in the area of grudgeholding remain plentiful. As companies seek to significantly enhance customer relationships, findings from studies such as this will become more even more valuable.
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David Aron, Dominican University Geoffrey Gordon Northern Illinois University Kimberly Judson, Northern Illinois University Timothy Aurand, Northern Illinois University Sandra Domagalski, Northern Illinois University
Table 1: A Comparison Between Products or Service Responsible for a Grudg e and the Age of the Respondent Age $1-$25 $26-$50 $51-$100 $101- $201- Group $200 $500 18-25 $147 66 $63 48 44 -34.20% 0 -14.70% -11.20% -10.20% 26-35 $27 29 $20 15 18 -16.20% 0 -12.00% -9.00% -10.80% 36-45 $20 14 $11 22 20 -13.80% 0 -7.60% -15.20% -13.80% .46-55 13 12 11 4 10 -13.70% -12.60% -11.60% -4.20% -10.50% 56-65 1 1 0 2 1 -5.90% -5.90% 0.00% -11.80% -5.90% 66 + 3 3 5 4 6 -10.00% -10.00% -16.70% -13.30% -20.00% Total 211 125 110 95 99 -23.90% -14.10% -12.40% -10.70% -11.20% Age $501- $1001- Over Total Group $1,000 $2,000 $2,000 18-25 18 20 24 430 -4.20% -4.70% -5.60% -100% 26-35 14 13 30 167 -8.40% -7.80% -18.00% -100% 36-45 8 10 40 145 -5.50% -6.90% -27.60% -100% .46-55 10 6 29 95 -10.50% -6.30% -30.50% -100% 56-65 0 4 8 17 0.00% -23.50% -47.10% -100% 66 + 2 1 6 30 -6.70% -3.30% -20.00% -100% Total 52 54 137 884 -5.90% -6.10% -15.50% -100% * Pearson Chi-Square (2-sided)--0.000 Table 2: Do Grudgeholders Tell Others about the Incident? By Age of Respondent Did Grudgeholder tell anyone at the store, company, or organization? Age Group Yes Pct. No Pct. Total 18-25 268 61.30% 169 38.70% 437 (100%) 26-35 131 77.50% 38 22.50% 169 (100%) 36-45 128 84.20% 24 15.80% 152 (100%) 46-55 84 82.40% 18 17.60% 102 (100%) 56-65 15 83.30% 3 16.70% 18 (100%) 66 + 27 84.40% 5 15.60% 32 (100 %) Total 653 71.80% 257 28.20% 910 (100%) * Pearson Chi-Square (2-sided)--0.000 Table 3: How Many People Did Grudgeholder Tell By Age of Respondent Age Group 1 4-Feb 7-May 10-Aug 18-25 11 (2.8%) 141 115 61 2.80% 0 -28.90% -15.30% 26-35 3 38 40 24 -2.10% 0 -27.80% -16.70% 36-45 0 41 26 25 0.00% 0 -19.30% -18.50% 46-55 6 21 21 16 -6.40% 0 -22.30% -17.00% 56-65 0 4 2 0 0.00% 0 -14.30% 0.00% 66 + 1 9 3 5 -3.70% 0 -11.10% -18.50% Total 21 254 207 131 -2.60% -31.30% -25.50% -16.10% Age Group 13-Nov Over 13 Total 18-25 7 63 398 -1.80% -15.80% -100% 26-35 4 35 144 -2.80% -24.30% -100% 36-45 3 40 135 -2.20% -29.60% -100% 46-55 5 25 94 -5.30% -26.60% -100% 56-65 0 8 14 0.00% -57.10% -100% 66 + 0 9 27 0.00% -33.30% -100% Total 19 180 812 -2.30% -22.20% -100% * Pearson Chi-Square (2-sided)--0.001 Table 4: How do Companies Response to a Grudgeholding Incident? By Age of Respondent Age Group Gave a Offered a Repaired the Refund Credit Product 18-25 29 20 10 6.70% 0 2.30% 26-35 11 9 6 6.50% 0 3.50% 36-45 5 8 5 3.40% 0 3.40% 46-55 2 1 11 2.30% 0 12.50% 56-65 0 1 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 66 + 1 3 2 3.30% 10.00% 6.70% Total 48 43 34 5.40% 4.90% 3.80% Pearson 0.000 * 0.448 0.001 * Chi-Square Age Group Replaced the Apologized Gave Extra Product Attention 18-25 31 59 416 7.10% 13.60% 95.60% 26-35 4 24 167 2.40% 14.10% 98.20% 36-45 6 18 140 4.10% 12.40% 96.60% 46-55 10 11 85 11.40% 12.50% 96.60% 56-65 1 0 17 5.90% 0.00% 100.00% 66 + 2 7 25 6.70% 23.30% 83.30% Total 54 119 850 6.10% 13.40% 96.00% Pearson 0.069 0.365 0.007 * Chi-Square * Pearson Chi-Square < 0.05 Table 5: Current Feelings and Repeat Shopping Intentions of Grudgeholder By Age of Respondent Age Group Current Std. Shopping Std. Feelings of Deviation Intentions Deviation Grudgeholder 18-25 3.93 * 1.332 2.81 ** 1.738 26-35 3.74 1.358 2.48 1.716 36-45 3.88 1.406 4.50 2.408 46-55 3.92 1.505 5.16 2.226 56-65 3.67 1.435 5.41 1.970 66 + 4.64 1.912 4.94 1.950 Total 3.93 1.407 3.41 2.175 * Mean Score: 1 -7 Likert-type Scale, 1 = Much Better than When it Happened; 7 = Much Worse than When it Happened. ANOVA - P = 0.186 ** Mean Score: 1 - 7 Likert-type Scale, 1 = Strongly Agree; 7 = Strongly Disagree with the statement "I will shop or purchase from this store, company or organization again." ANOVA - P = 0.000…
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Publication information: Article title: Preventing Consumer Grudges across the Age Spectrum: Time Is of the Essence. Contributors: Aron, David - Author, Gordon, Geoffrey - Author, Judson, Kimberly - Author, Aurand, Timothy - Author, Domagalski, Sandra - Author. Journal title: Academy of Marketing Studies Journal. Volume: 12. Issue: 2 Publication date: July 2008. Page number: 63+. © 2008 The DreamCatchers Group, LLC. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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