When Customer Love Turns into Lasting Hate:The Effects of Relationship Strength and Time on Customer Revenge and Avoidance

Yany Grégoire, Thomas M. Tripp, & Renaud Legoux
Journal of Marketing
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Key Takeaways

Executive Summary
After service failure episodes, some customers may hold a grudge—in terms of revenge and avoidance desires—against firms. Such disaffected customers may act on this grudge in different ways, such as taking their business elsewhere and, more recently, complaining about firms online. For example, complaint Web sites (e.g., Ripoffeport.com) and online consumer agencies (e.g., ConsumerAffairs.com) now provide accessible venues in which customers can post their service misadventures and alert others. Although the business press has identified online customer complaining as a growing threat, this phenomenon has received limited attention until now.

In a longitudinal survey of online complainers on two established Web sites, the authors examine (1) how long these customers hold a grudge over time and (2) the effects of a strong customer relationship (i.e., prior loyalty) on holding this grudge. Addressing the first issue, the authors find that a grudge is maintained over time. More precisely, although customers’ desire for revenge decreases over time, it never completely disappears and remains high even after two months. More important, online complainers’ desire for avoidance increases over time. In summary, online complaining could be viewed as a form of divorce that is announced publicly. Complainers claim that they will not return to these firms, and they do not.

As for the second issue, the authors also find that prior loyal customers hold this grudge over a longer period. Specifically, compared with regular customers, loyal customers’ desire for revenge is sustained over a longer period, and their desire for avoidance increases more rapidly over time. These results are explained by the notion that firms’ best customers feel more betrayed after difficult and unresolved service failure episodes. This sense of betrayal energizes their grudge over time. This overall effect is what the authors refer to as “customer love turning into lasting hate.”

As a final issue, the authors examine what firms can do to prevent this “love turning into hate” effect. Specifically, they explore the effects of postcomplaint resolutions on online complainers’ grudges. The data suggest that such postcomplaint resolutions have mixed effects. On the one hand, postcomplaint resolutions have no decreasing effect on online complainers’ desire for avoidance; regardless of the resolution offered, these customers are unlikely to patronize firms ever again. On the other hand, postcomplaint resolutions decrease complainers’ desire for revenge, but only when such resolutions are offered within five weeks of the online complaint. In a follow-up experiment that further investigates the effectiveness of a timely postcomplaint resolution, the authors find that for loyal customers, an apology and a modest compensation substantially reduced their desire for revenge. For regular customers, however, the apology must be accompanied by a full compensation to reduce their desire for revenge. In summary, firms’ loyal customers remain more amenable to any forms of resolution after their online complaints.

Yany Grégoire is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Washington State University. He earned a PhD in Marketing from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. His main research topics are customer revenge and betrayal after a service failure. His research also examines the effects of a prior relationship on customer retaliatory behaviors. Grégoire’s current interests include customer online blogging, aggression and forgiveness, and the effects of time on these responses. His research has been published or is forthcoming in Journal of Marketing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Marketing Letters, Psychology & Marketing, and Industrial Marketing Management. His work has also been presented in major consumer, marketing, and management conferences.

Thomas M. Tripp is coauthor (with Robert J. Bies) of the 2009 book Getting Even: The Truth About Workplace Revenge—and How to Stop It. Tripp is a Professor of Management at Washington State University, where he teaches courses in leadership skills and in negotiation skills. A popular teacher, Tripp has won numerous teaching awards. He earned a PhD in Organizational Behavior from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a BS in Psychology from the University of Washington. He has published dozens of scientific articles on workplace conflict and especially on workplace revenge and forgiveness. In addition, Tripp serves on the editorial boards of several academic journals, including Negotiations and Conflict Management Research and the International Journal of Conflict Management. Tripp is the 2009 chair of the Conflict Management Division of the Academy of Management, which is the primary association of workplace conflict scholars.

Renaud Legoux is Assistant Professor of Marketing at HEC Montréal. He received his PhD in Management with a concentration in Marketing from McGill University. Before his academic career, he worked as a manager for a professional theater company. His current research interests include longitudinal dimensions of consumer behavior, temporal perceptions, arts marketing, sales promotion, and sponsorship.

Journal of Marketing, Volume 73, Number 6, November 2009
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Author Bio:

Yany Grégoire, Thomas M. Tripp, & Renaud Legoux
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