See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: a study of defensive organizational behavior towards customer complaints

Abstract

Despite substantial benefits of an effective complaint management for companies, there is ample evidence that many firms do not handle customer complaints appropriately. This paper aims at providing a theoretical explanation for this surprising phenomenon. Drawing on psychological and organizational theory, the authors introduce the concept of defensive organizational behavior towards customer complaints as well as provide a rich conceptualization and operationalization of this phenomenon. Moreover, in an empirical study, they systematically analyze how defensive organizational behavior towards customer complaints is driven by organizational antecedents and, based on a dyadic data set, how it affects customer post-complaint reactions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Figure 1
Figure 2

References

  1. Andreasen, A. R. (1988). Consumer complaints and redress: What we know and what we don’t know. In E. Scott Maynes & ACCI Research Committee (Eds.), The frontier of research in the consumer interest (pp. 675–722). Columbia, MO: University of Missouri.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Argyris, C. (1985). Strategy, change, and defensive routines. Marshfield: Pitman.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming organizational defenses—facilitating organizational learning. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Ashforth, B. E., & Lee, R. T. (1990). Defensive behavior in organizations: A preliminary model. Human Relations, 43(7), 621–648.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bagozzi, R. P. (1994). Structural equation models in marketing research: Basic principles. In R. P. Bagozzi (Ed.), Principles of marketing research (pp. 317–385). Cambridge: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bagozzi, R. P., & Baumgartner, H. (1994). The evaluation of structural equation models and hypothesis testing. In R. P. Bagozzi (Ed.), Principles of marketing research (pp. 386–422). Cambridge: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bagozzi, R. P., & Yi, Y. (1988). On the evaluation of structural equation models. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 16(1), 74–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bartko, J. J. (1976). On various intraclass correlation reliability coefficients. Psychological Bulletin, 83(5), 762–765.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Baumeister, R., Dale, K., & Sommer, K. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology. Journal of Personality, 66(6), 1081–1124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Baumeister, R., & Scher, S. J. (1988). Self-defeating behavior patterns among normal individuals. Psychological Bulletin, 104(1), 3–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Berry, L. L. (1995). On great service. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Best, A. (1981). When consumers complain. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Bitner, M. J., Booms, B. H., & St. Tetreault, M. (1990). The service encounter: Diagnosing favorable and unfavorable incidents. Journal of Marketing, 54(1), 71–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Bollen, K. A. (1989). Structural equations with latent variables. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Brewin, C. R., & Andrews, B. (2000). Psychological defence mechanisms: The example of repression. Psychologist, 13(12), 615–617.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Brown, S. W. (1997). Service recovery through IT. Marketing Management, 6(3), 25–27.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Brown, A. D., & Starkey, K. (2000). Organizational identity and learning: A psychodynamic perspective. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 102–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Campbell, A., & Noble, D. S. (1993). Japan: An illustrated encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Cook, S., & Macaulay, S. (1997). Practical steps to empowered complaint management. Managing Service Quality, 7(1), 39–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Cramer, P. (2000). Defense mechanisms in psychology today: Further processes for adaption. American Psychologist, 55(6), 637–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Dellande, S. (1995). Consumer response to dissatisfaction: An overview. GSM Working Paper #MK95012, Graduate School of Management, University of California, Irvine.

  23. de Ruyter, K., & Brack, A. (1993). European legal developments in product safety and liability: The role of customer complaint management as a defensive marketing tool. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 10(2), 153–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Deshpandé, R., Farley, J. U., & Webster, F. E. (1993). Corporate culture, customer orientation, and innovativeness in japanese firms: A quadrad analysis. Journal of Marketing, 57(1), 23–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Deshpandé, R., & Webster, F. E. (1989). Organizational culture and marketing: Defining the research agenda. Journal of Marketing, 53(1), 3–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Diamantopoulos, A., & Winklhofer, H. M. (2001). Index construction with formative indicators: An alternative to scale development. Journal of Marketing Research, 38(2), 269–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Edwards, J. R. (2001). Multidimensional constructs in organizational behavior research: An integrative analytical framework. Organizational Research Methods, 4(2), 144–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Edwards, J. R., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2000). On the nature and direction of relationships between constructs and measures. Psychological Methods, 5(2), 155–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Estelami, H. (1999). The profit impact of consumer complaint solicitation across market conditions. Journal of Professional Services Marketing, 20(1), 165–195.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Estelami, H. (2000). Competitive and procedural determinants of delight and disappointment in consumer complaint outcomes. Journal of Service Research, 2(3), 285–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Fenichel, O. (1945). The psychoanalytic theory of neurosis. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Fornell, C. (1981). Increasing the organizational influence of corporate consumer affairs departments. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 15(2), 191–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Fornell, C., & Bookstein, F. L. (1982). A comparative analysis of two structural equation models: LISREL and PLS applied to market data. In C. Fornell (Ed.), A second generation of multivariate analysis (pp. 289–324). New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Fornell, C., Johnson, M. D., Anderson, E. W., Cha, J., & Bryant, B. E. (1996). The American customer satisfaction index: Nature, purpose, and findings. Journal of Marketing, 60(4), 7–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 18(1), 39–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Fornell, C., Rhee, B.-D., & Yi, Y. (1991). Direct regression, reverse regression, and covariance structure analysis. Marketing Letters, 2(3), 309–320.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Fornell, C., & Wernerfelt, B. (1987). Defensive marketing strategy by customer complaint management: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Marketing Research, 24(4), 337–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Fornell, C., & Westbrook, R. A. (1984). The vicious circle of consumer complaints. Journal of Marketing, 48(3), 68–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Freud, A. (1946). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. New York: International Universities. (Original work published in 1936)

    Google Scholar 

  40. Freud, S. (1959). Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. In J. Strachey (Ed.) and trans., 20, The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud (pp. 77–174). London: Hogarth. (Original work published in 1926)

  41. Freud, S. (1962). The neuro-psychoses of defense. In J. Strachey (Ed.) and trans., 3, The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud (pp. 45–61). London: Hogarth. (Original work published in 1894)

  42. Gilly, M. C., & Gelb, B. D. (1982). Post-purchase consumer processes and the complaining consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 9(3), 323–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Gilly, M. C., Stevenson, W. B., & Yale, L. J. (1991). Dynamics of complaint management in the service organization. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 25(2), 295–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Grainer, M. (2003). Customer care—the multibillion dollar sinkhole: A case of customer rage unassuaged. Alexandria: Customer Care Alliance.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Halstead, D., Dröge, C., & Cooper, M. B. (1993). Product warranties and post-purchase service. Journal of Services Marketing, 7(1), 33–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Harris, L. C. (1998). Cultural domination: The key to a market-oriented culture? European Journal of Marketing, 32(3/4), 354–373.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Hartline, M. D., Maxham III, J. G., & McKee, D. O. (2000). Corridors of influence in the dissemination of customer-oriented strategy to customer contact service employees. Journal of Marketing, 64(2), 35–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Hedberg, B. (1981). How organizations learn and unlearn. In P. C. Nystrom & W. H. Starbuck (Eds.), Handbook of organizational design (pp. 3–27). London: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Homburg, C., & Fürst, A. (2005). How organizational complaint handling drives customer loyalty: An analysis of the mechanistic and the organic approach. Journal of Marketing, 69(3), 95–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Hu, L.-T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis. Structural Equation Modeling, 6(1), 1–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Janis, I. L. (1977). Groupthink. In J. R. Hackman, E. E. Lawler, & L. W. Porter (Eds.), Perspectives on behavior in organizations (pp. 335–343). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Jarvis, C. B., MacKenzie, S. B., & Podsakoff, P. M. (2003). A critical review of construct indicators and measurement model misspecification in marketing and consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(2), 199–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Jaworski, B. J., & Kohli, A. K. (1993). Market orientation: Antecedents and consequences. Journal of Marketing, 57(3), 53–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Johnston, R. (2001). Linking complaint management to profit. International Journal of Service Industry Management, 12(1), 60–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Johnston, W. J., & Kim, K. (1994). Performance, attribution, and expectancy linkages in personal selling. Journal of Marketing, 58(4), 68–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Jöreskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1982). Recent developments in structural equation modeling. Journal of Marketing Research, 19(4), 404–416.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Kasouf, C. J., Celuch, K. G., & Strieter, J. C. (1995). Consumer complaints as market intelligence: Orienting context and conceptual framework. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, 8, 59–68.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Kasper, H. (1984). Consumer complaints as an input into corporate decision making processes. In H. K. Hunt & R. L. Day (Eds.), Consumer satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and complaining behavior (pp. 86–93). Indiana University, School of Business, Bloomington.

  60. Kauchak, T. (1991). A little service, please! Advertising Age, January 21, 8–10.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Kaufman, H. (1973). Administrative feedback: Monitoring subordinatesbehavior. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Kelley, S. W. (1992). Developing customer orientation among service employees. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 20(1), 27–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Kendall, C. L., & Russ, F. A. (1975). Warranty and complaint policies—an opportunity for marketing management. Journal of Marketing, 39(2), 36–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Kennedy, K. N., Goolsby, J. R., & Arnould, E. J. (2003). Implementing a customer orientation: Extension of theory and application. Journal of Marketing, 67(4), 67–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Laughlin, H. P. (1970). The ego and its defenses. New York: Appleton.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Law, K. S., Wong, C.-S., & Mobley, W. H. (1998). Toward a taxonomy of multidimensional constructs. Academy of Management Review, 23(4), 741–755.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Mabe, P. A., & West, S. G. (1982). Validity of self-evaluation of ability: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(3), 280–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Maxham III, J. G., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2002). A longitudinal study of complaining customers’ evaluations of multiple service failures and recovery efforts. Journal of Marketing, 66(4), 57–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Maxham III, J. G., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2003). Firms reap what they sow: The effects of shared values and perceived organizational justice on customers’ evaluations of complaint handling. Journal of Marketing, 67(1), 46–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Menon, K., & Dubé, L. (2000). Ensuring greater satisfaction by engineering salesperson response to customer emotions. Journal of Retailing, 76(3), 285–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Moorman, C. (1995). Organizational market information processes: Cultural antecedents and new product outcomes. Journal of Marketing Research, 32(3), 318–335.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Moorman, C., & Zaltman, G. (1992). Relationships between providers and users of market research: The dynamics of trust within and between organizations. Journal of Marketing Research, 29(3), 314–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Newman, L. S., Duff, K. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). A new look at defensive projection: Suppression, accessibility, and biased person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 980–1001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Nunnally, J. C. (1978). Psychometric theory (2nd ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Oldham, M., & Kleiner, B. H. (1990). Understanding the nature and use of defence mechanisms in organisational life. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 5(5), 1–4.

    Google Scholar 

  76. O’Reilly III, C. A., & Roberts, K. H. (1974). Information filtration in organizations: Three experiments. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 11(2), 253–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Parasuraman, A. (1987). Customer-oriented corporate cultures are crucial to services marketing success. Journal of Services Marketing, 1(1), 39–46.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Plymire, J. (1990). How to stop firing your customers. Journal of Services Marketing, 4(2), 49–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Read, W. H. (1962). Upward communication in industrial hierarchies. Human Relations, 15(1), 3–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Richins, M. L. (1987). A multivariate analysis of responses to dissatisfaction. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 15(3), 24–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Rosen, S., & Tesser, A. (1970). On reluctance to communicate undesirable information: The MUM effect. Sociometry, 33, 253–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Ross, I., & Gardner, K. (1985). The use of consumer initiated communication as marketing research data. Working Paper, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

  83. Rust, R. T., Subramanian, B., & Wells, M. (1992). Making complaints a management tool. Marketing Management, 1(3), 41–45.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Rust, R. T., Zahorik, A. J., & Keiningham, T. L. (1996). Service marketing. New York: HarperCollins.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Schlesinger, L. A., & Heskett, J. L. (1991). The service-driven service company. Harvard Business Review, 69(5), 71–81.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Siguaw, J. A., Brown, G., & Widing, R. E. (1994). The influence of the market orientation of the firm on sales force behavior and attitudes. Journal of Marketing Research, 31(1), 106–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Singh, J. (1990). A typology of consumer dissatisfaction response styles. Journal of Retailing, 66(1), 57–99.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Sinkula, J. M., Baker, W. E., & Noordewier, T. (1997). A framework for market-based organizational learning: Linking values, knowledge, and behavior. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 25(4), 305–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Smith, A. K., & Bolton, R. N. (1998). An experimental investigation of customer reactions to service failure and recovery encounters—paradox or peril? Journal of Service Research, 1(1), 65–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Smith, A. K., Bolton, R. N., & Wagner, J. (1999). A model of customer satisfaction with service encounters involving failure and recovery. Journal of Marketing Research, 36(3), 356–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Staw, B. M. (1981). The escalation of commitment to a course of action. Academy of Management Review, 6(4), 577–587.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  93. TARP (Technical Assistance Research Program) (1986). Consumer complaint handling in America: An update study (part II). Washington, D.C.: Technical Assistance Research Program Institute and United States Office of Consumer Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Tax, S. S., & Brown, S. W. (1998). Recovering and learning from service failure. Sloan Management Review, 40(1), 75–88.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Wilensky, H. L. (1967). Organizational intelligence: Knowledge and policy in government and industry. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christian Homburg.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Homburg, C., Fürst, A. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: a study of defensive organizational behavior towards customer complaints. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 35, 523–536 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-006-0009-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Customer complaints
  • Complaint management
  • Complaint handling
  • Complaint analysis
  • Complaint solicitation
  • Complaint satisfaction
  • Complaint-based improvements
  • Defensive behavior
  • Defensiveness
  • Defense mechanism