Complaint Behavior: Analysis By Demographics, Lifestyle, and Consumer Values

Michelle Ann Morganosky, University of Illinois
Hilda Mayer Buckley, University of Illinois
ABSTRACT - The area of complaint behavior has received considerable attention recently from consumer researchers. However, a neglected approach to the study of complaint behavior has been in investigating the values which complainers bring into the marketplace. The present study attempts to delineate these values in addition to lifestyle and demographic variables. Patterns of differentiation between complainers and non-complainers are presented and implications are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Michelle Ann Morganosky and Hilda Mayer Buckley (1987) ,"Complaint Behavior: Analysis By Demographics, Lifestyle, and Consumer Values", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 223-226.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 223-226

COMPLAINT BEHAVIOR: ANALYSIS BY DEMOGRAPHICS, LIFESTYLE, AND CONSUMER VALUES

Michelle Ann Morganosky, University of Illinois

Hilda Mayer Buckley, University of Illinois

[Funded by the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station, Project Number Hatch HRFS 60-0364.]

ABSTRACT -

The area of complaint behavior has received considerable attention recently from consumer researchers. However, a neglected approach to the study of complaint behavior has been in investigating the values which complainers bring into the marketplace. The present study attempts to delineate these values in addition to lifestyle and demographic variables. Patterns of differentiation between complainers and non-complainers are presented and implications are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Consumer complaint behavior continues to be an issue of importance to marketers. Inherently, complaint behavior involves a negative response on the part of the consumer, or as Jacoby and Jaccard (1981, p. 6) define it, "action taken by an individual which involves communicating something negative regarding a product or service to either the firm manufacturing or marketing that product or service, or to some third-party organizational entity.' Day et al. (1981) suggest that consumer dissatisfaction may have far-reaching implications such as brand switching or store boycotts. Historically, complaint behavior has been analyzed in terms of consumer demographics (e.g., Miller 1970; Liefeld, Edgecombe, and Wolfe 1975; Pfaff and Blivice 1977) while more recent research suggests that complaint behavior is a function of both characteristics of the individual and the situation (Moyer 1985; Beardon and Crockett 1981; Wall, Dickey, and Talarzyk 1979).

Although several studies have focused attention on the importance of consumers' "inner states" or "internal influences" in relationship to complaining (Zaichkowsky and Liefeld 1977; Wall, Dickey, and Talarzyk 1977) a neglected approach has been to investigate the values which the complainer brings into the marketplace. Values, as defined by Kluckhohn (1951), are concepts of the desirable which influence selection from available modes, means, and ends of action. Early attempts to relate the study of human values to marketing were done by Rosenberg (1956) and Yankelovich (1964). More recently, research has focused on utilizing personal values as a basis for market segmentation (Scott and Lamont 1970; Vinson, Munson, and Nakaniski 1977; Vinson, Scott, and Lamont 1977; Munson and McIntyre 1979). The purpose of the present study was to investigate not only the demographic and lifestyle variables associated with complaint behavior, but, in addition and most importantly, to analyze the values of those that are most likely to complain in the marketplace. The hypothesis for the study was that there would be differences in values, lifestyles, and demographics between complainers and non-complainers in relationship to apparel products.

METHOD

Subjects

A sample of 702 women residing in the state of Illinois who met the criterion of having at least one child under 18 years of age was drawn on the basis of a self-weighted systematic probability sample of households in the state of Illinois. With this sampling procedure, each of the residence telephone numbers in the state had an equal or known probability for inclusion in the survey. Random digit dialing was used in the Chicago SMSA to eliminate selection bias of listed over unlisted numbers. Since the proportion of unlisted numbers in downstate areas is not of sufficient size to significantly bias the sample, systematic selection procedures of every nth number were used, yielding an equal probability sample of all numbers in current Illinois telephone directories outside Chicago (Moser and Kalton 1972, p. 195). Statistically this sample provided data at the 95% level of confidence within a maximum sampling error of 3.5%. Of the 702 women in the sample, 607 completed interviews were obtained, yielding an 87% response rate.

Respondents in the sample had a mean age of 36 years with 13.2 years of schooling. About 45% of the mothers had a high school education and 39% some college education. They were married (83%) and primarily in first marriages (74%) of about 10 years' duration. Many of them (42%) were not employed, but 36% were working full time and 22% were part-time workers.

Measures

Variables included in the study consisted of three major groupings: (1) demographics, (2) lifestyle variables, and (3) consumer values in relationship to apparel products. The demographic variables consisted of age, household income, educational level, race, respondent's employment status, and family type (single parent, dual earner, traditional). Ten items from the Stanford Research Institute study of American Lifestyles (Mitchell 1983) were utilized as the lifestyle variables. These included questions about family life, social status, and money and each was measured on a four-point agree, disagree scale. A four-point scale, rather than the conventional five-point scale, was utilized because of the ease by which it could be administered on the telephone and to encourage subjects to take a stand on the dichotomies through using a forced choice format rather than allowing a neutral stand.

Consumer values based on Stampfl's (1982) consumer value typologies constituted the apparel value variables. Value orientations of quality, quantity, want, need, fashion, aesthetics, and functionality were studied and defined according to Table 1. One four-point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree) question was developed for each value for the product category of apparel. Apparel was chosen as the product category under study because of the frequency with which it is purchased and the possibility of product dissatisfaction. Each of the questions was validated by a panel of ten experts to ensure that the question developed measured the definition as stated. The experts were university professors from the School of Human Resources and Family Studies at the University of Illinois who were familiar with the assessment of products for consumer use. Overall, there was 67% agreement among the experts that the questions developed measured the definitions as stated. Complainers were defined as those subjects that agreed or strongly agreed with the statement -If I buy clothes I am not satisfied with, I take them back to the store and compLain." Non-complainers were defined as those that disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.

TABLE 1

DEFINITIONS OF VALUES

Data Collection and Analysis

A pretest consisting of 35 interviews was conducted by professional telephone interviewers. Questionnaire revisions and an estimate of the average tine required to administer the interview schedule resulted. Following the pretest, 609 telephone interviews were obtained by trained professional interviewers. All interviews were conducted in the evening during the week and during the day over weekends in order to facilitate contact with persons holding jobs. Up to ten attempts were mate to conduct an interview, at a given telephone number, before it was considered a noncontact. At least 10% of the completed interviews of every interviewer were verified by telephone, either by the supervisors or by interviewers specifically trained for this purpose. Analysis of variance, Scheffe post-hoc comparisons, and t-tests of mean differences were utilized to compare differences between complainers and non-complainers.

RESULTS

Analysis of variance and ScheffE post-hoc comparison tests (Table 2) revealed that higher income and better educated consumers were significantly more likely than lower income and less educated consumers to agree with the statement -if I buy clothes I as not satisfied with, I take them back to the store and complain." Other demographic variables such as age, employment status, and family type did not reveal significant differences.

Two lifestyle variables (Table 3) revealed differences in complaining behaviors. Those in strong disagreement with the statement -I prefer to be different rather than to do things the way other people dot were significantly less likely than those in strong agreement to take merchandise back to the store and complain when dissatisfied. In addition, those consumers that disagreed with the statement [a woman can work outside the home even if she has small children and still be a good mother] were least likely to co plain when dissatisfied with apparel products. Lifestyle variables such as the importance of the family, choice of entertainment, and sexual attitudes did not reveal additional differences.

Utilizing t-tests of mean differences, the consumer values of complainers (those agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement "if I buy clothes I an not satisfied with, I take them back to the store and complain") were compared with those of noncomplainers (those disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement -if I buy clothes I au not satisfied with, I take them back to the store and complain"). Results as reported in Table 4 indicate that when purchasing apparel, complainers were significantly sore likely than non-complainers to value aesthetics over fashion, functionality over aesthetics, and want over need. Thus, even the value orientations which complainers bring into the marketplace appear to be different from those of non-complainers.

TABLE 2

SCHEFFE POST-HOC COMPARISONS ON DEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES IN RESPONSE TO THE STATEMENT "IF I BUY CLOTHES I AM NOT SATISFIED WITH, I TAKE THEM BACK TO THE STORE AND COMPLAIN."

DISCUSSION

The results of the study indicate that demographic, lifestyle, and value differences between complainers and non-complainers do exist. The two demographic variables found to be significantly characteristic of complainers in this study (household income and education) tend to be consistent with previous research findings (e.g., Miller 1970; Liefeld, Edgecombe, and Wolfe 1975; Pfaff and Blivice 1977). This finding corroborates past results that complainers tend to be the most highly and financially successful segments in the marketplace. Due to their relatively high educational levels, they may be more aware of alternative modes for gaining satisfaction such as calling the Better Business Bureau, etc. Retailers night, therefore, recognize that complainers tend to be the most powerful segments in terms of success for their businesses by providing them with satisfactory goods. It is recommended that retailers handle co plaints in such a manner that these more highly educated consumers do not take the complaint "out the door" and to another party.

TABLE 3

SCHEFFE POST-HOC COMPARISONS ON LIFESTYLE VARIABLES IN RESPONSE TO THE STATEMENT "IF I BUY CLOTHES I AM NOT SATISFIED WITH, I TAKE THEM BACK TO THE STORE AND COMPLAIN."

TABLE 4

T-TEST OF MEAN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COMPLAINERS AND NON-COMPLAINERS ON CONSUMER APPAREL VALUES

These findings also suggest that not only Lay complainers be more "verbal" but they also may possess greater economic clout due to their higher income status. Of all customers, this is the customer the retailer should be most concerned about not alienating. It, therefore, becomes even more imperative that the retailer deal with the complaint in a satisfactory manner. In many ways it is -fortunate that the more verbal, higher income complainer gives the retailer an opportunity to "repair the damage done." Retailers need to view the complaint as an opportunity to regain customer loyalty rather than another irritation or problem. Salespersons (who are most likely to be the ones to interact with complainers) need to be thoroughly trained to effectively and positively deal with complaints. A "no questions asked" return policy simply may not be good enough anymore. Salespersons need to attempt to professionally restore a damaged relationship between the retailer and the customer. The importance of effectively dealing with the complaints of the higher income, better educated consumer takes on increased importance when it is realized that these customer segments will continue to grow due to maturation of the baby boom generation and dual-wage earner families.

Complainers were further distinguished from noncomplainers on lifestyle variables. Those consumers who prefer to be different rather than to do things the way other people do them tended to be complainers. This may indicate that the complainer values uniqueness, individuality or a sense of independence. In fact, this lifestyle perspective may be a key ingredient in allowing the consumer the freedom to complain. Apparently, this consumer is not afraid of being different (in fact, rather enjoys it) and may transfer this attitude into the realm of shopping behavior. Perhaps, to this consumer, complaining represents a sense of being "different." If this is true, the act of complaining may be in itself a form of positive reinforcement.

The present study also sheds light on the personal consumer values that the complainer brings into the marketplace. For the product category of apparel, complainers tended to value functionality or practicality over aesthetics, and aesthetics over fashion or product newness. Thus, the complainer's "hierarchy of values" tends to be more oriented toward practicality and least oriented toward fashion newness. Apparently the complainer's desire to be "different" as discussed previously does not include a desire to be different based on fashion newness. Rather, practicality in dress is stressed. Although at first this may appear to contradict the "desire to be different" in many ways, it coalesces in the image of the practical, rugged, independent "New Englander" type. Movie and television stars such as Katherine Hepburn and Angela Lansbury fit the stereotype well--bright, articulate, simplistically practical, and fiercely independent. Although retailers say find the need for "practical" clothing terribly boring, the present study suggests its importance to one segment - that of the complaining segment. The success of such retailers as L. L. Bean with their emphasis on high quality "practical" clothing leaves one to speculate on the profitability of selling "practical" clothing.

It is recommended that future research addresses some of the issues and concerns raised in the present study. For example, to what extent is complaining a positively reinforcing behavior for certain individuals? For which individuals is complaining reinforcing? How and why has complaining behavior been learned? Another mode of research might experimentally manipulate various means by which salespersons handle customer complaints. Are complaints made by bright, articulate customers best handled by bright, articulate salespersons? Or would an opposite personality approach work better? A research study which investigates the intergenerational transfer of complaining behavior within the family might prove to be most interestingCfor all we know the kids just might be doing what they saw done!

REFERENCES

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