The Influence of Socio-Cultural Frameworks on Consumers’ Service Recovery Experiences

Torsten Ringberg, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Glenn Christensen, Brigham Young University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Current research in the service marketing literature is at odds when it comes to explaining how similar service failures sometimes lead to different expectations of recovery among customers. Typically, researchers try to understand recovery expectations among consumers by framing the service encounter as a step-by-step process, beginning with acknowledgement and ending with compensation. A recovery is presumed to have failed if one or more of these steps were not completed in a largely linear process. The focus has been on developing a schematic representation that matches customers’ perception of the severity of the breach with customer’s recovery expectations. Yet contradictory positions exist in the literature concerning why some steps are indispensable to one successful recovery, while pointless in another. Similarly, we are left with little understanding of how and why service recovery is expected in the first place. Additionally, it is not well understood why some consumers are perfectly happy with an apology, almost regardless the level of breach, while others demand the world in return for even the smallest service infringement.
[ to cite ]:
Torsten Ringberg and Glenn Christensen (2003) ,"The Influence of Socio-Cultural Frameworks on Consumers’ Service Recovery Experiences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 385-386.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 385-386

THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIO-CULTURAL FRAMEWORKS ON CONSUMERS’ SERVICE RECOVERY EXPERIENCES

Torsten Ringberg, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Glenn Christensen, Brigham Young University

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Current research in the service marketing literature is at odds when it comes to explaining how similar service failures sometimes lead to different expectations of recovery among customers. Typically, researchers try to understand recovery expectations among consumers by framing the service encounter as a step-by-step process, beginning with acknowledgement and ending with compensation. A recovery is presumed to have failed if one or more of these steps were not completed in a largely linear process. The focus has been on developing a schematic representation that matches customers’ perception of the severity of the breach with customer’s recovery expectations. Yet contradictory positions exist in the literature concerning why some steps are indispensable to one successful recovery, while pointless in another. Similarly, we are left with little understanding of how and why service recovery is expected in the first place. Additionally, it is not well understood why some consumers are perfectly happy with an apology, almost regardless the level of breach, while others demand the world in return for even the smallest service infringement.

It has long been argued in psychological anthropology that individuals construe "reality" according to largely tacit and unexamined frames that embed a view of what is and what it means that seems wholly natural. It follows that consumers accessing different frameworks may interpret both service encounters and service breaches differently. In this paper we set out to investigate consumers’ framing of service breaches, and whether these framings lead to differences in service recovery expectations. More specifically, we examine the extent to which these frames are grounded within socio-cultural presuppositions.

We conducted in-depth interviews with fifteen informants, recruited through posters. The only requirement was that they had experienced service/product failure in the past. A week prior to the interviews, the informants were asked to write down four to five thoughts and feelings that came to mind when thinking about past product/service failures. The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET)(Zaltman 1997) informs our methodology. The ZMET method is a semi-structured, in-depth interview approach that focuses on uncovering deep-seated beliefs and values.

The analytical coding of the interview transcripts follows the open coding techniques proposed by Strauss and Corbin (1990) as part of the grounded theory framework. Furthermore, identification, organization, and grouping of identified constructs (more than 180) were facilitated by the computer-aided qualitative analysis program Atlas (Muhr 1997). Open coding requires a "constant comparative method of analysis" (Glaser and Strauss 1967), where interpretations are challenged on evidentiary grounds from the data itself. Open coding allows the researcher to identify categories or currents of meaning in the texts that cluster around certain ideas and thus emerge from the dataset. The coding schemes were modified as the analysis progressed and as new concepts were encountered.

The hermeneutic maps of service recovery evident in the narratives of each respondent can be mapped onto the deeper, embodied metaphor of balance. The deep metaphor of balance is expressed either directly or indirectly, and most expressly as a need for equal power, justice, and reconciliation during the service recovery experience. Paradoxically, we found that in and of itself, the notion of balance is meaningless. While all humans embody balance and deeply understand this universal idea, its manifestation differed among the informants. In our data set, derived from Caucasians living in the U.S., three key cultural frameworks emerged: personal relationship, individualism, and utilitarian. Each framework pivots around a concern for balance, yet differs considerably in the means of achieving and maintaining balance in the face of service failure (i.e., reconciliation). Balance and reconciliation depend on the particular framework brought to bear as an individual tries to make sense of the experience of service breach and failure.

The first framework (personal relationship) focuses on the emotive aspects of human relationships. Within this framework the reconciliation process follows the path of a relationship, where a breach leads to surprise, disappointment, then anger toward the other and/or self. An important aspect of the reconciliation process is the apologizing elementBhow sincere the provider is in feeling guilt and remorse. Reconciliation or deterioration and dissolution all depend on the sincerity of the provider’s apology and request for forgiveness.

The second framework (individualism/control) is characterized by the notion "I am the center of the universe." Service providers who do not view the individual with reverence are viewed with skepticism and antagonism, and ultimately as an opponent that must be defeated. These consumers demand attention and want to be in control. Similarly, any notion of loyalty is a calculated one and only lasts as long as the consumer feels revered and on a pedestal.

The third framework (utilitarian perspective) is typically measured in utilitarian/functional metrics, such as time and money. A successful recovery is achieved through a balancing of the provider’s compensatory offer with the level of consumer inconvenience. Relatively low emotional involvement characterizes this type of encounter. This perspective may be best characterized as that of professional buyers who base their decisions on strict economic benefits ad value evaluations.

Fundamental socio-cultural themes (relationships, individualism, and utilitarianism) both enable and constrain the way in which we interact in the world, as well as our notions of justice, fairness, atonement, and reconciliation. That is, the success of service recovery attempts hinges on centrally held cultural codes, each of which serves as a conduit toward facilitating and rehabilitating a sense of balance. Whether the application of these frameworks is a location or is person specific (or a combination hereof) remains to be investigated.

One managerial implication, among many, is that service providers might develop framework-screeners that establish the type of individual they interact with during a service recovery attempt. This knowledge may then be used to adjust response and compensation, accordingly.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bell, Chip R. and Ron E. Zemke (1987), "Service Breakdown: The road to recovery." Management Review 76 (October): 32-35.

Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 1-38.

Bitner, Mary Jo, Bernard H. Booms, and Mary Stanfield Tetreault (1990), "The service encounter: Diagnosing favorable and unfavorable incidents." Journal of Marketing, 54 (January): 71-84.

Dasu, Sriram and Jay Rao (1999), "Nature and determinants of customer expectations of service recovery in health care." Quality Management in Health Care, 7 (Summer): 32-49.

Folkes, Valerie S. and Barbara Kotsos (1986) "Buyers’ and Sellers’ Explanations for Product Failure: Who Done It?" in Journal of Marketing. (April) Vol. 50, Issue 2, 74-81.

Fournier, Susan (1998), "Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 24 (March), 343-373.

Gilly, Mary C. and Betsy D. Gelb (1982), "Post-Purchase Consumer Processes and the Complaining Consumer," Journal of Consumer Research; (December), Vol 9, Issue 3. 323- 329.

Glaser, Barney and Anselm Strauss (1967), The Discovery Of Grounded Theory: Strategies For Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Hart, Christopher W. L., James L. Heskett, and W. Earl Sasser Jr. (1990), "The Profitable Art of Service Recovery." Harvard Business Review 68 (July/August): 148-154.

Heisley, Deborah and Sidney Levy (1991), "Autodriving: A Photoelicitation Technique," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 18 (December), 257-272.

Hoffman, K. Douglas (1995), "Tracking service failures and employee recovery efforts," Journal of Services Research 9 (2): 49-61..

Jacoby, Jacob and Robert W. Chestnut (1978), Brand Loyalty: Measurement and Management, Chichester and New York: Wiley

Johnston, Robert (1995), "Service Failure and Recovery: Impact, Attributes and Processes." Advances in Services Marketing and Management: Research and Practice 4: 211-228.

Johnston, Robert and Adrian Fern (1999), "Service recovery strategies for single and double deviation scenarios." The Service Industries Journal 19 (April): 69-82.

Kelley, Scott W., and Mark A. Davis (1994), "Antecedents to customer expectations for service recovery." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 22 (Winter): 52-61.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1999), Phlosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind And It Challenge To Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1980), Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Levinger, George (1983), "Development and Change," in Close Relationships, (eds.) Harold H. Kelly et al., New York W.H. Freeman, 315-359.

Miller, Daniel (1995 [1987]), Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Blackwell, Cambridge USA

Muhr, Thomas (1997), ATLAS.ti. Berlin: Scientific Software Development.

Ringberg, Torsten V. (2001), "Cultural Models and Their Role in Consumers’ Comprehension of Marketing Communications." Dissertation. The Pennsylvania State University.

Smith, Amy K., Ruth N. Bolton, and Janet Wagner (1999), "A model of customer satisfaction with service encounters involving failure and recovery." Journal of Marketing Research, 26 (August): 356-372.

Strauss, Anselm and Juliet Corbin (1990), Basics Of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures And Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997), A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning, Cambridge University Press.

Wells, William D. (1993) "Discovery-oriented consumer research." Journal of Consumer Research 19 (March): 489-505.

Zaltman, Gerald (1997), "Rethinking Market Research: Putting People Back In," Journal of Marketing Research 34 (November): 424-437.

Zaltman, Gerald and Robin A. Coulter (1995), "Seeing the Voice of the Customer: Metaphor-Based Advertising Research." Journal of Advertising Research 4 (July/August): 35-51.

----------------------------------------