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Customer Anger: can (should) we do anything about it? Professor Janet R. McColl-Kennedy Director of Research Professor of Marketing UQ Business School,

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Presentation on theme: "Customer Anger: can (should) we do anything about it? Professor Janet R. McColl-Kennedy Director of Research Professor of Marketing UQ Business School,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Customer Anger: can (should) we do anything about it? Professor Janet R. McColl-Kennedy Director of Research Professor of Marketing UQ Business School, University of Queensland 1 June 2007



4 Importance Anger is frequently experienced in our daily lives, especially at work Anger is the most commonly experienced negative emotion in service encounters. It can result in harmful and destructive behaviours. Doctors, psychologists, and other health professionals have long understood the importance of dealing with negative emotions, especially anger.

5 What we know Considerable attention has been given to the study of anger in the social psychology and organisational behaviour literatures. When individuals experience anger they exhibit a tendency to want to attack the target verbally and/or non-verbally. Often this results in non-confrontational behaviours such as exiting, boycotting, negative word of mouth, complaints to third parties as well as sabotage

6 What we know (cont) All of this has a negative impact on the organisation’s bottom line But more overt behaviours can result in verbal intimidation, damage to the organisation’s property and or its people – frontline employees, other customers and the customer themselves

7 Rationale Current conceptualisations of consumption-related negative emotions do not address extreme anger (Richins 1997) limited to “angry,” “frustrated,” “irritated” Little is known about the causes, contexts and consequences of extreme customer anger (Grove et al 2004) This needs to be examined in more depth because the stakes for organisations are high.

8 Our work Aim: to understand the psychological processes that propel some consumers to extreme anger, including rage so that employees can avoid/reduce negative consequences

9 What other studies show Theory of psychological stress and coping (Lazarus and Folkman 1984) Two key processes cognitive appraisal coping

10 What other studies show In stressful life events Cognitive appraisal individuals evaluate whether the encounter is relevant to their well- being (eg harmful/beneficial) What’s at stake Is there possible harm or threat to my values, commitments, or goals?

11 What other studies show Cognitive appraisal Goal relevance (implication for my wellbeing) Goal congruence (thwarts my goals) Ego involvement aspects of one’s self identity and self esteem

12 What other studies show Coping (what you do to tolerate/minimise a stressful encounter) Emotion focused coping Problem focused (alter the troubled environment-person)

13 Our studies Part 1 Surveys with customers and employees Part 2 depth interviews in four countries

14 Part 1 Customer Sample Customers who have experienced rage following a service failure encounter 140 student consumers in the U.S., Australia, and Thailand Employee Sample Employees who have witnessed first hand and/or been the target of a customer rage episode 83 employees from three organisations in Australia (electricity utility, bank, pharmacy chain)

15 Context Focus on customer rage triggered by a service failure on the part of an organisation Does not include rage induced by other customers Explore rage from both customer and employee perspectives

16 Method Survey Two-part questionnaires Part I - Critical-Incident-Technique-based questions requiring open-ended responses Part II – Batteries of structured questions assessing customer rage spectrum emotions, expressions, and behaviours Different versions for customers and employees Distributed to separate (unrelated) convenience samples of customer and employee respondents

17 Rage Incident Characteristics Customer Data types of organisations telecommunications, airlines, retail, banks, restaurants and cafes incident timing <1 month to 10 years (median=6 months) encounter mode 70% in person, 27 % phone, 3% on-line length of relationship with organisation <1 month to 20 years (median=12 months)

18 Rage Incident Characteristics Employee Data type of organisation 84% current org, 16% previous org incident timing <1 month to 14 years (median=6 months) encounter mode 23% in person, 77% phone, 0% on-line length of employment with organisation <1 month to 42 years (median=24 months)

19 “Kill you” “I was asked by the team leader to take an escalated call from one of the new staff. The male customer was the boyfriend of the account holder who had been advised power was going to be disconnected as account was 8 weeks overdue. Customer advised that he was going to come to XXXX and kill me. Said that if the power was cut off then he would find me and kill me. Very abusive and would not listen to advise. In the end he hung up after many abusive words.” (Electricity utility)

20 “Blow you all up” “Customer called up as (he) believed XXXX (was) responsible for 'blowing up' all of his appliances in unit. After questioning customer further, discovered fault to be safety switch tripped. Tried to advise customer of this, but became abusive and unreasonable stating that if we didn't pay to have all appliances replaced he would blow us all up. Kept advising customer that his appliances were ok, it was the safety switch (he'd need an electrician etc.) He became more abusive towards me personally. to them (as it was to him) and matter resolved.” (Electricity utility)

21 Threw products at staff “The customer wished to return an oral product and when she couldn't until the manager was here, she slammed the products (2x900g baby formula) on the table and left. She returned half an hour later and apologised and asked for the products back, they were given to her. She then took lids off and threw them at a fellow staff member when they hit my legs. She then stormed off…” (Pharmacy)

22 Enraged then forcibly removed “Customer was a social welfare recipient looking to make a withdrawal from the account. After standing in the queue for a period, the teller advised that the customer had insufficient funds to make the withdrawal. The customer became enraged accusing the teller of lying/ misappropriating the funds etc. The teller was reasonably cavalier in their treatment of the customer - not showing a great deal of respect. The encounter continued for a few minutes with the volume and insults on each other getting louder and more unpleasant. The teller did try to convince the customer that their regular pension payment was not due for another few days. At the end of the encounter the customer was forcibly escorted from the premises.” (Bank)

23 Part 2 Used critical incident technique To explore the circumstances surrounding extreme anger 50 interviews in US, China, Thailand and Australia

24 What we found… Series of service encounters related to the same incident Occurred over a period of time Double (multiple) deviation – initial failure and then failure again in recovery attempt Anger and accompanying rage expression only surfaced after several attempts to have the problem resolved

25 Escalation of emotions Initial surprise followed by concern, then annoyance and frustration and finally extreme anger accompanied by rage expressions

26 Sense of helplessness 37 year old female customer of an Australian insurance company made 11 calls to a call centre and two in-store visits in a 5 week period to find out when she would get her $500 refund Unwillingness to help, staff didn’t seem to care, couldn’t be bothered to read the file notes On the 5 th encounter she felt “ sense of helplessness, no one would listen to me… I felt I had no control any longer over what was happening…”

27 Perceived threats to fairness A sense of injustice or being treated unfairly “I was being cheated” “I felt cheated by the airline because they had taken my money and now they wanted me to pay again” “I felt betrayed by XXXXX”

28 Perceived threats to self-esteem “The customer service rep didn’t care… They weren’t helpful. They just followed the script” “The whole store treats people like garbage…”

29 Customers expect to be treated fairly If they feel they are not being treated fairly they become angry and mistrustful

30 What can (should) you do about it? We often recognise the investment an organisation makes in delivering the service but think what effort and time the customer has put into this But you can make a difference

31 What can you do about it? First, put yourself in their shoes How would I feel? What would I feel like doing? Acknowledge their views/feelings (show empathy) Think counterfactually How could this be done differently? Could I do more? What should I do in this situation?

32 What can you do about it? Treat the customer with respect Make the customer feel valued Make customer feel they have dignity It’s not only what you do but what you don’t do they makes a difference “Sins of omission”

33 Service Recovery Sins of Omission The service provider had other options available to resolve this service problem The service provider could have done more to resolve the service problem The service provider could have easily found a better solution to this service problem It is really easy to imagine how the service provider could have solved this problem using a solution that was better for the customer The service provider should have used another option to resolve this problem The service provider should have done more to resolve this service problem

34 Sins of Omission and socio-emotional benefits Sins of omission (what you could and should have done) and socio-emotional benefits (making the customer feel valued, respected, have dignity) mediates the relationship between fairness of the outcome and customer anger

35 Sins of Omission and socio-emotional benefits what you could and should have done and the customer’s perceived emotional benefits is what counts you make the difference!

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