Consumer Satisfaction and Redress with a Government Third-Party Complaints Agency

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

As governments around the world adopt a marketing orientation, the importance of consumer satisfaction to the effectiveness of the organization is being recognized. While some investigation of satisfaction with a government agencies' service has occurred, there is little examination of satisfaction with a government agency that acts as a third-party on the behalf of consumers to gain marketplace redress. Given the number of third-party complaints is increasing as a result of internet access to complaint channels, this research is a timely investigation. This study reports the findings of a survey of 454 complainants to an Australian Government agency: the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The findings show that satisfaction with the service was subjectively experienced, based around individual expectations of the redress and satisfaction levels were higher when the redress sought was financial compared with non-financial forms of redress such as apology.

INTRODUCTION

In the past decade, many public sector organizations around the world have adopted a marketing orientation (Andreassen and Wallin 1994; Paarlberg 2007; Van Der Hart 1990). Implementing the marketing concept in the public sector has required a shift in focus from a traditional production orientation to a consumer needs orientation. In order to assess the extent to which consumer needs are being met, the public sector has had to

consider the issue of consumer satisfaction (Dann and McMullan 2003). The difficulty in achieving this shift, however, is that there is limited research available on consumer satisfaction with government services. Consumer satisfaction is an important goal for the public sector; it enables the public sector to compare itself favorably with the service of private sector organizations, reduces complaints from taxpayers and improves the working environment of its employees.

In the event of consumer dissatisfaction, there are three types of consumer complaints: private (i.e., complaining to family/friends, which is not normally focused on resolving the complaint); voice (i.e., complaining to the supplier) and third-party (Singh 1990). Third-party complaints are 'behaviors that are directed toward one or more agencies that are not directly involved in the exchange relationship' (Singh 1989), p.333). These are considered the most effortful of all complaint behavior and are largely considered a lastresort action (Singh 1989). Third-party complaints are the main type of market feedback received by consumer protection agencies, and despite their lack of marketplace representativeness (Bearden 1983) they are a valuable measure of business performance.

In this article, we address this gap in knowledge and practice regarding consumer satisfaction with the services of a government third-party agency that handles consumer complaints. We present findings from a study of the Queensland Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which serves a function similar to that of consumer protection agencies found in most developed countries: to resolve disputes and investigate consumer complaints relating to purchases from businesses in the Australian state of Queensland. Often, the outcome sought by consumers is some form of redress or compensation for a service or product failure that has been experienced. Redress is concerned with restoring the consumer to their prior state. This restoration can come in both financial (e.g., money or in-kind goods and services such as vouchers) and nonfinancial (e.g., apology or validation) forms.

Given this, the purpose of this research is to identify how attributes of the service process, redress and consumer characteristics relate to overall consumer satisfaction for a government agency that is acting as a third-party to resolve complaints with suppliers. Key contributions of this study include evidence of differences in satisfaction towards financial and non-financial redress, and evidence of the impact of different types of redress on satisfaction in a third-party complaints context. …