Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Customer Compliments as More Than Complementary Feedback

Academic journal article Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior

Customer Compliments as More Than Complementary Feedback

Article excerpt


Customer compliments as under-researched forms of customer feedback are examined and ten propositions developed. Some preliminary findings from a pilot study are also presented in support of an extended set of motivations to explain complimenting behavior, that is, Complimenting behavior = f(delight, expected benefits, involvement, social norms, and personal and situational factors). Managerial and marketing implications are discussed throughout the paper, including a recommended four step process firms may use to capitalize on the potential that customer compliments offer: Step 1: Encourage compliments. Step 2: Recognize and capture compliments. Step 3: Understand compliments. Step 4: Act on compliments.


One need not look beyond the title of this journal to realize that complaining behavior has played a central role in the study of consumer (dis)satisfaction for more than a quarter of a century. Indeed, it is difficult to discuss (dis)satisfaction or complaining behavior without mention of the other. In contrast, issues pertaining to consumer or customer compliments have received far less attention in the literature. However, customer compliments represent a potent form of feedback to businesses, and their potential for helping to shape both organizational and individual behaviors may be greater than that of customer complaints. The lack of attention in the literature to customer compliments seems quite unjustified.

To help give some momentum to the study of the role of compliments in shaping company policies, we will review some of the things we know about compliments and suggest some possible extensions to compliment research. We believe that expanding the study of consumer satisfaction, dissatisfaction and complaining behavior to include compliments is important and propose that at least four steps are necessary to capitalize on the potential that customer compliments hold. Not only can marketing practitioners use the four step process to orchestrate their efforts, but consumer researchers can use the framework in their investigation of a broad range of compliment-relevant issues. These four steps include:

Step 1: Encourage Compliments

Step 2: Recognize Compliments

Step 3: Understand Compliments

Step 4: Act on Compliments

We will explain why we identify each of these steps, advance several propositions supporting the importance of each, and present some preliminary findings from a small-scale pilot study. We begin by examining a few issues that complaining behavior and complimenting behavior have in common, then progress toward issues more specific to compliments.


When Silence Is Not Golden

Business practitioners often seem to believe and act as though dissatisfaction is directly associated with complaining behavior, i.e., consumers complain because they are dissatisfied and consumers who don't complain must be satisfied. Consumer researchers know better, and a quick review of the literature demonstrates that only a very small proportion of dissatisfied consumers actually complain directly to businesses. (See for example Andreasen & Best 1977; TARP 1986)

Without customer feedback, unrecognized problems cannot be fixed and opportunities to develop and extend customer relationships are lost. But the fact that firms which are aware of complaints often do not systematically heed the message sent to them by the complainers is also very damaging. Oliver (1997) notes that as many as half of all customer complaining episodes actually end with even more dissatisfaction ("secondary dissatisfaction") produced by the business's responses to the complaint itself. Smart and Martin (1992) found that a lack of business response, particularly response addressing the issues raised by complaints, was a very major source of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with business responses, of course, leads to decreased future patronage of the firms allowing the secondary (dis)satisfaction to occur (Lilly and Gelb 1982). …

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