To complain or not to complain

Satisfied with your purchase or not? To speak or remain silence? That is the question. Do you want to gain more as a consumer? Speak up! When a consumer is not satisfied with a product bought and chooses to be silent, he or she chooses to be a victim. Speak up and you will always win. In fact, it’s a win for both the company and you. Besides the fact that you will get value for your money, the company will learn more about its products’ failures and a chance to turn dissatisfied customers into happy satisfied ones. Let’s make a change. Let us be smart consumers. Share your experiences with us and speak out on how you would wish companies to address dissatisfied customers.

Many consumers have been in situations where they were dissatisfied with a product and would have liked to complain to the company in question, however, never actually did so. Consumers’ complaints are expressions of dissatisfaction and there are various factors underlying complaint behavior. A majority of dissatisfied consumers do not voice their complaint to the company in question (Best and Andreasen 1977, TARP 1986, Tschol 1994).

Consumer Complaint Behavior and in particular the interactive exchange between the company and the consumer is an often overlooked topic. This exchange determines the eventual satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the consumer (Davidow and Dacin, 1997). Among the few researchers that are arguing about the importance of encouraging customers to complain to companies can be mentioned Fornell and Wernerfelt (1987, 1988). Most literature, see for instance Day (1984), Gilly (1987) and Singh and Wilkes (1991), about consumer complaint behavior have mostly focused on describing and developing general models of consumer complaint behavior or on modeling organizational complaint responses, such as for example TARP (1986). Davidow and Dacin (1997) argue that not many have attempted to integrate these two streams of research.

There are two main sources accountable for causing customers to become dissatisfied with a product namely, the formation of expectations made by the customer and the disconfirmation of those expectations evaluated by the performance of the product. Before buying the product, consumers form expectations about what the product characteristics will perform. The actual usage of the product will then reveal the performance of the product and is compared to the consumer’s expectations. If the product does not meet the customer’s expectations, the outcome will be negative disconfirmation. On the other hand, positive disconfirmation occurs when the performance of the product was as expected (Oliver and DeSarbo, 1988). In addition, Bearden and Teel (1983) also consider expectations and disconfirmation as determining factors of dissatisfaction. Referring to the discrepancy theory when reading consumer literature, Gilly and Gelb (1982) argue that the amount of dissatisfaction experienced and thus the probability of complaining depends on the size of the perceived discrepancy between expectations and outcomes.

When looking up the word “expectation” in a dictionary, “hope” is one synonym found. One explanation of the word is the following: “hope about a certain development that also is perceived to be possible”. Another description is “what is considered most likely to happen”. I found this discovery quite interesting since when considering the meaning of the word it gives a positive impression. When reflecting upon this word “hope” from a consumer’s point of view I believe it to be logical that consumers do have certain hopes of products to improve their lives in some ways. Considering the positive expectations and therefore aiming to reach a certain “ideal” state of mind, it is not surprising that when these hopes are not being met the consumer becomes dissatisfied.

When customers purchase certain goods in order to fulfill particular needs, they assess the outcomes of their purchases based on what they expect to receive. Consumers tend to voice out their dissatisfaction to companies more frequently when it comes to expensive products as opposed to everyday products (Fast Moving Consumers Goods).

When looking at the products that we use at work, in our spare time, at school, and in our homes, we can observe that we consume more FMCG than we might realize. In fact, we consume more FMCG as opposed to other product categories. Many consumers may not be aware of how much money is actually spent on FMCG yearly. It is therefore in my opinion that exploring the complaint behavior of consumers of this product category of great importance if not, a necessity from both the consumer’s as well as the company’s perspective.

Claudia Rademaker, M.Sc.

Let’s make a change. What are your experiences as a dissatisfied customer? How did the company react? How do YOU think companies should address dissatisfied customers? Discuss your experiences with me! You can reach me at

Claudia is currently conducting research in the area of Consumer Complaint Behaviour

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