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

Negative Word of Mouth: Substitute for or Supplement to Consumer Complaints?

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

Negative Word of Mouth: Substitute for or Supplement to Consumer Complaints?

Article excerpt


The predominant conceptualization of consumer complaint behavior argues that voice, private, and third party responses are related but independent complaint actions taken by dissatisfied consumers. Thus, negative word of mouth by dissatisfied consumers (a private complaint response) may occur in addition to other forms of complaint behavior rather than in place of it. This study focuses on whether or not communicating negative word of mouth about a dissatisfactory product experience replaces or supplements other forms of complaint behavior (e.g., voice or third party complaints). Over 400 U.S. carpet consumers were surveyed regarding their complaint practices after product dissatisfaction. The results indicate that negative word of mouth was greatest among consumers who had also voiced complaints to the seller, supporting the supplementary rather than substitution effect explanation.


Identifying consumer needs and wants is a cornerstone of the marketing concept. Satisfying those needs is also a common marketing objective for many organizations. Increasing consumer satisfaction has been shown to lead to improved consumer retention rates, increased market share, and profitability (e.g., Reichheld 1994, 2001; Rust and Zahorik 1993; Rust, Zahorik, and Keiningham 1995). When consumers are dissatisfied, firms can often retain dissatisfied consumers and maintain market share if effective complaint management techniques are instituted. Companies that respond to consumer dissatisfaction and complaints with appropriate recovery strategies and satisfactory complaint resolution can turn dissatisfied consumers into satisfied ones, positively impacting repurchase rates (e.g., Bearden and Oliver 1985; Halstead and Page 1992). In effect, consumer complaints can give organizations a second chance to satisfy consumers. Thus, a comprehensive understanding of consumers' dissatisfaction and their complaint responses is needed to help firms retain consumers and stay competitive.

Using Singh's (1988) typology of consumer complaint responses, three distinct dimensions of consumer complaining behavior (CCB) have been verified: voice complaints (complaining directly to sellers), private complaints (complaining to friends or family members), and third party complaints (complaining to independent organizations such as the media, consumer groups, or legal agencies in order to seek redress, e.g., Better Business Bureau). These complaint actions have subsequently been tested in other research and been found to be robust across a variety of product categories and situations (e.g., Blodgett and Granbois 1992; Blodgett and Tax 1993; Blodgett 1994; Singh 1990b, Singh and Wilkes 1996).

Singh and others have argued that the three complaint behaviors are separate and independent actions, and that future research should investigate complaining at the individual dimension, i.e., voice, private, or third party. More recent research (Boote 1998) suggests that complaining behavior may be sequential in nature-that certain complaint actions are taken only after other complaint responses have been exhausted. For example, negative word of mouth (WOM) and third party complaining would occur only after voice complaints had been made. While this proposition seems logical regarding third party complaining, it is unclear why negative WOM communication could not occur either before or simultaneously with voice complaints. Accordingly, it makes sense to examine the nature and extent of multiple complaint behaviors for a single product category among a single consumer sample.

This study examines whether negative WOM complaints (i.e., private complaints) supplement voice complaints or substitute for voice complaints. That is, do consumers who complain directly to sellers also complain to family and friends about their negative experiences? And if so, to what extent and in what manner do they communicate to others? …

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