Special Session Summary the Instantiation, Shaping, and Handling of Consumer Displeasure (And Pleasure)

Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University
[ to cite ]:
Michel Tuan Pham (2001) ,"Special Session Summary the Instantiation, Shaping, and Handling of Consumer Displeasure (And Pleasure)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 43.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Page 43



Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University

As the concept of relationship is replacing the concept of value as the dominant metaphor guiding marketing practice in Western economies, the one area of consumer research that will most certainly not lose any of its relevance is the one that focuses on the judgmental reactions that consumers have to marketers’ product/service deliveriesCan area loosely called "consumer satisfaction." This area is not only managerially relevant. It is theoretically meaningful: It is one of the few areas that we, consumer researchers, can truly call "our own."

As all of us know, many important contributions have been made in this area by people like Valerie Folkes, Valarie Zeithaml, Leonard Berry, and Richard L. Oliver (just to name a few). It would therefore be tempting to feel that "we know it all." Yet, do we really? Consider, for instance, a type of satisfaction response that we, consumer researchers and marketing teachers, really should be expert at: student satisfaction. All of us realize how intricate it is to keep our student "customers" satisfied, class after class, semester after semester, year after year. This should remind us that we clearly do not "know it all" about satisfaction.

It is in the spirit of going past this feeling of knowing it all about customer satisfaction that this session was assembled. The three papers in the session collectively addressed the following issues. How does consumer displeasure (and pleasure) arise? When do different forms of pleasure (e.g., satisfaction vs. happiness) and displeasure (e.g., regret vs. disappointment) arise? Can consumer displeasure be altered by simple contextual cues? What are these contextual cues? Once displeasure has arisen, how can it best be addressed? How do marketers’ attempts to address consumer displeasure mitigate its effects on loyalty? Are there any differences across industries?

The first presentation by Kirsten Elliott (in collaboration with Julie Edell and Kay Lemon), focused on the instantiation of consumer pleasure-displeasure and on the emotional responses that comprise it. Drawing on recent work on regret, counterfactual thinking and attribution theory, they argue that consumer pleasure-displeasure arises in different forms (e.g., satisfaction vs. happiness, regret vs. disappointment). They hypothesize that an important determinant of the form that pleasure-displeasure takes is the focusof the consumer’s emotional response to the service encounter (outcome, self or provider). This in turn influences consumers’ willingness to pursue the relationship with the provider. They reported the results of an experiment that strongly supported their predictions.

The second presentation by Michel Pham (in collaboration with Jennifer Ames) focused on ways of "shaping" (i.e. altering) consumer pleasure-displeasure independently of the delivery itself. They argue that consumer pleasure-displeasure can be shaped by simple contextual cues that raise the consumer’s self-awareness (i.e., self-focused attention), such as the presence of a mirror or filling out a self-disclosing questionnaire. Such cues can modify consumers’ happiness with any outcome by shifting the attribution locus toward the customer and away from the provider. They reported two experiments showing that, when the outcome of a service interaction is negative, heightened self-awareness will increase satisfaction with the provider, as customers accept a greater share of the responsibility (i.e., blame) for the negative outcome. However, when the outcome of the interaction is positive, heightened self-awareness will decrease satisfaction with the provider, as customers will take a greater share of the responsibility (i.e., credit for the positive outcome). Mediational analyses show that these effects are indeed mediated by a relative shift of the attribution locus under high self-awareness.

In the third presentation, Richard L. Oliver (in collaboration with John Goodman and Marlene Yanovsky) presented the results of large-scale field studies conducted by e-Satisfy.com (formerly known as TARP) a consulting firm specializing in customer relationship management. The studies, which covered a wide spectrum of industries, focused on the handling of consumer displeasure after it has arisen. They examined how consumer dissatisfaction affects subsequent loyalty and how displeased consumers respond to redress attempts by marketers. The results suggest that these responses are, in part, moderated by "price-satisfaction," a unit-cost weighted index of satisfaction. The results also show that emotional responses to redress have stable effects on loyalty across industries. In all cases, fully satisfying redress results in greater loyalty intentions than "mollification" (somewhat satisfying redress) which, in turn, dominates dissatisfying redress. Additionally, it is frequently observed that mollification results in greater loyalty than that exhibited by dissatisfied consumers who do not complain.

Gerald Gorn led the discussion and made insightful comments about each presentation. He noted, for instance, that the new economy calls for a reconsideration of the notion of satisfaction as consumers are increasingly involved in the co-production of services. Interested readers are invited to contact the speakers directly.