At the 4th International Colloquium on Corporate Branding, Identity, Image and Reputation (COBIIR) in Calabria (Italy), CCom shared insights on the aftermaths of bad brand experiences with the research community. In the presentation Clemens Hutzinger and Wolfgang Weitzl showed recent empirical insights about how webcare (i.e., online complaint handling) differently affects post-failure coping strategies of committed vs. uncommitted customers.

Extended Abstract: For brands, building and maintaining strong connections with their customers is a key concern. Extant literature emphasizes committed customers’ favorable responses to marketing efforts (e.g., higher willingness to repurchase a brand, pay a price premium). However, research is still in its infancy when it comes to assessing the benefits (and perils) of strong relationships with customers who had experienced a service failure and turn to social media (e.g., Facebook brand pages) for complaining online.

In this research, we introduce a justice-based, process model of online complainants’ reactions following a negative brand experience (Figure 1). We assume that when consumers experience a single or multiple failures, they perceive an imbalance in their relationship with the brand which urges them to restore justice (Adams, 1965). We propose that when consumers complain online, they simultaneously use desires for revenge and reconciliation as two copying mechanisms to rebalance their relationship. Our model asserts that customer commitment determines how intensively consumers desire revenge/reconciliation (Grégoire & Fisher, 2006). Consistent with attribution theory, we assume that the influence of commitment on both desires is contingent on how much the dissatisfied customer blames the brand for causing the problem. We further claim that the initial (pre-webcare) complaint desires are determinative for consumers’ post-webcare retaliatory and reconciliatory intentions (e.g., brand avoidance) and that webcare (i.e., a brand’s online service recovery efforts) moderates this relationship. This study adds knowledge to the current state of literature (e.g., Joireman et al., 2016) by investigating the joint effect of pre-failure customer characteristics (i.e., customer commitment), failure (i.e., attributions) and post-failure conditions (i.e., webcare) on complainants’ multifaceted desires for predicting positive/negative reactions after a critical brand event.

In order to test this research’s hypotheses, an online survey among adult online complainants who experienced a service failure within the last 6 months was conducted (n=587). An established online access panel was used. The standardized questionnaire included multi-item scales of the constructs adapted from well-known literature. The psychometric characteristics of the variables were assessed with CFA before testing the hypotheses with a series of ANCOVAs and planned comparisons. Amongst other, results show that – in support of the hypothesized “love becomes hate” effect (Grégoire & Fisher, 2008) – highly committed customers, who blame the brand for the experienced failure, have a significantly higher desire for revenge than individuals with weak bonds. However, we are the first to show that they also strongly desire reconciliation (i.e., “love becomes hope” effect). This implies that committed customers implement multiple copying strategies in parallel to resolve both emotional and cognitive dissonance. In respect to webcare’s role, data reveals that among uncommitted customers, high webcare satisfaction helps to cultivate positive and mitigate negative post-webcare reactions. Most interestingly, however, committed customers react more negatively to satisfactory webcare than to unsatisfactory webcare. We show that this seemingly paradoxical pattern can be explained by dissonance theory. The findings help marketers choosing response strategies that best fit a brand’s most valuable customers.