ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (10): 989-999.

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The Role of Relationship Norms in Consumers’ Complaint Intention

HUANG Min-Xue;CAI Feng-Yan;ZHOU Yuan-Yuan;ZHU Hua-Wei   

  1. (1Economics and Management School of Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China)
    (2 The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 999077, China)
  • Received:2008-10-06 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-10-30 Online:2009-10-30
  • Contact: HUANG Min-Xue

Abstract: For a service provider, there are many “nice” customers who never complain and never come back. How-ever, if a dissatisfied customer does not complain, the service provider may miss the opportunity to identify the source of an operational problem and to make amends to consumers for a service failure. As a result, service provider may lose that customer along with that customer’s future profit. From this perspective, customers should be encouraged to complain about service quality, especially process quality which is more difficult to control and more likely to fail. Although many factors influencing consumers’ complaint intention have been proved by researchers, relationship between consumers and service provider is rarely considered. Thus, this pa-per tries to explore the role of relationship norm in consumers’ complaint behavior.
Although relationship with non-social subjects is different from social relationship, recent research in mar-keting notes that consumers often form relationships with brands that mirror interpersonal relationship in social context and use norms of these relationships as a lens to evaluate the brand and its actions. Extant literature has classified interpersonal relationship into two kinds according to their behavioral norms. One is exchange rela-tionship norm in which people are motivated for interacting with others to get something from them and con-cerned with what they receive for what they give. The other one is communal relationship norm in which the motivation for interacting with others is to satisfy their needs because of a genuine concern for their well being. Based on these arguments, this study proposes that consumers also form these two different relationships with the service provider and use norms of these relationships to guide their complaint behavior when there is a ser-vice failure. We propose an interaction effect of relationship norm and magnitude of service failure on con-sumer’s complaint intention. Specifically, when the magnitude of service failure is high, consumers in different relationship have no significant different complaint intention. However, when the magnitude of service failure is low, consumers in communal relationship are more likely to complain than consumers in exchange relationship. Results of two experiments supported this proposition.
A 2 (magnitude of service failure: high, low) * 2(type of relationship: communal, exchange) experiment was designed to test the interaction effect of relationship norm and magnitude of service failure on consumers’ complaint intention. 135 college students participated Experiment 1. The manipulations were scenario-based, in the context of restaurant. Results of Experiment 1 showed that the expected interaction effect of the two ma-nipulated variables on consumers’ compliant intention was significant, providing support for our propositions.
Experiment 2 was designed to explore the underlying mechanism and also to provide further support for the re-sults found in Experiment 1. Experiment 2 used the same design and procedure as Experiment 1 except that we measured consumers’ complaint motivation. The results we found in Experiment 1 were replicated in Experiment 2. More importantly, Experiment 2 showed that compared with consumers in exchange relationship, consumers in communal relationship complained to service provider in order to help the service provider find out potential problems especially when the magnitude of service failure was low.
This paper may contribute to extant literature in several ways. Firstly, it provides an empirical evidence for the debate whether loyal customer is more likely to complain. Our results demonstrated that whether behavioral loyalty results in more complaints depends on the relationship norm guiding the customers. Secondly, it offers a practical implication in service quality management—letting customers found out potential problems for managers.

Key words: complaint intention, complaint motivation, relationship norms, communal relationship, exchange relationship