Modeling Choices Among Alternative Responses to Dissatisfaction

ABSTRACT - The dissatisfied consumer faces a choice among a variety of options ranging from doing nothing to engaging in a number of different forms of complaining. Past efforts to model complaining have stressed the intensity of felt dissatisfaction. A conceptualization stressing the emotional nature of dissatisfaction and the importance of situational and personal factors in the post-dissatisfaction decision making process is presented.


Ralph L. Day (1984) ,"Modeling Choices Among Alternative Responses to Dissatisfaction", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 496-499.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 496-499


Ralph L. Day, Indiana University

[Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Department of Marketing, School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.]


The dissatisfied consumer faces a choice among a variety of options ranging from doing nothing to engaging in a number of different forms of complaining. Past efforts to model complaining have stressed the intensity of felt dissatisfaction. A conceptualization stressing the emotional nature of dissatisfaction and the importance of situational and personal factors in the post-dissatisfaction decision making process is presented.


Much of the rapidly growing literature on consumer complaining has treated it as part and parcel of the consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction process. Whether or not a dissatisfied consumer complains has been considered to be primarily a function of the degree or intensity of felt dissatisfaction. This assumes that the more intense the degree of felt dissatisfaction, the higher the probability that the consumer will complain. In modeling the satisfaction/dissatisfaction and complaining process with data from survey research, this translates to predicting that the higher the respondent's dissatisfaction score, the higher the probability of one or more complaining actions. This conceptualization is reflected in a recent article in the Journal of Marketing Research (Bearden and Teel 1983) which depicts "complaint actions" as a function of satisfaction which is in turn a function of expectations and disconfirmation. As has been the case in previous studies relating the intensity of dissatisfaction to complaining, the relationship was quite weak with satisfaction accounting for only 15% of the total variance in complaining. This suggests that the intensity of dissatisfaction is a relatively minor factor in determining the nature of complaint actions and suggests that other more important factors were omitted from the model.

An alternative conceptualization to complaining as a simple function of the intensity of CS/D has been offered by Landon (1977). This conceptualization includes the degree of felt dissatisfaction as one of several factors along with the perceived importance of the purchase, the expected benefits from complaining, and the individual's personality. Landon's model was an important development in that it called attention to the need to consider personal and situational factors in any effect to explain and predict complaining behavior.

The major objective of this paper is to clarify and extend previous efforts to build on Landon's notions and develop a conceptualization of complaining behaviors which can provide a better explanation of actual behaviors than the 'direct" model and lends itself more readily to operationalization than Landon's model (Day 1980, 1983). Instead of treating the consumer's feelings of satisfaction/dissatisfaction as a direct predictor of complaining, the outcome of the evaluative response is utilized only as a means of identifying the dissatisfied consumer. Responses in the satisfaction range or indifference responses such as "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied' do not provide a basis for complaining and it is assumed that fraudulent complaining is not sufficiently widespread to be included in a general model of complaining. In the case of a response in the "satisfaction" range the appropriate decision making process would be a consideration of whether or not to engage in complimenting behaviors (Robinson and Berl 1980, Day 1977).

It is hypothesized here that various personal and situational factors have more influence on the dissatisfied consumer's decision to complain or not than the intensity of the consumer's feelings of dissatisfaction. Reasoning and evidence supporting the conceptualization of the complain/don't complain decision as largely independent of the strength of the consumer's felt dissatisfaction will be discussed in the following section.


The major reason for questioning the relationship between the reported intensity of dissatisfaction in a particular consumption event and the consumer's decision to complain or not is theoretical in nature. Although it was not uncommon in the early satisfaction/dissatisfaction literature to see satisfaction described as "a kind of attitude," more and more support is being given to the idea that the satisfaction construct has to do with more or less temporary feelings or emotions and is not properly considered to be an attitude. Most recent efforts to model satisfaction/ dissatisfaction treat attitude as a separate construct outside the immediate evaluative process with measures of brand attitude both before and after the consumption event of interest. Most of these models include attitude toward the brand purchased (or store where purchased) as a separate construct and some models include both attitude toward the specific brand purchased and toward the entire product class. Typically these models show that the evaluative response to the current consumption event influences the post-event attitude (Oliver 1980, Day 1983).


It is almost universally accepted in the literature that consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction is the consumer's response in a particular consumption experience to the evaluation of the perceived discrepancy between prior expectations (or some other norm of performance) and the actual performance of the product as perceived after its acquisition. It is also more or less generally agreed that positive disconfirmation (better than expected) results in satisfaction while negative disconfirmation (worse than expected) results in dissatisfaction. Perhaps less widely accepted but intuitively appealing is that when perceived performance is not noticeably different from expectations in either direction, the consumer is indifferent to the outcome (is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the experience). Unfortunately, there is much less agreement on the nature or meaning of the satisfaction/indifference/dissatisfaction outcome.

Satisfaction doesn't fit the definition of an attitude with respect to the usual assumption of persistence and some degree of stability over time. Satisfaction with a particular consumption event cannot exist before that event occurs and, especially for frequently purchased items, tends to fade quickly from memory as new consumption events occur or merely from the passage of time. As mentioned above, most recent efforts to comprehensively model the CS/D process include brand attitude as a continuing construct which is updated after each new consumption experience. Modeling brand attitude as a separate and continuing construct which reflects attitude changes resulting from CS/D provides a conceptually neat means of capturing the effects of time specific evaluative responses on the continuing attitude toward a specific brand, store, or product class


Although the notion that the CS/D response is a short term phenomenon of an emotional nature has been recognized in the CS/D literature since the early days of research in the area (Bunt 1977), the first serious effort to evaluate the role of emotion in satisfaction/dissatisfaction is contained in a recent paper by Westbrook (1983) which provides a useful summary of the literature on emotion and presents the results of an empirical study of emotion in a CS/D context. As pointed out by Westbrook, emotion is a complex phenomenon for which there is no universally accepted definition. Emotion represents a state of arousal which is manifested in conscious feelings, neurological processes, and observable expressions or behaviors. Emotions may quickly subside when the triggering stimulus is removed or the situation changes. Emotions are thought to be motivational in nature with the ability to precipitate actions.

In his field study, Westbrook (1983) utilized Izard's differential emotions theory which recognizes ten distinct emotions and developed a shortened version of the differential emotions scale (DES). Westbrook applied the DES in the context of owner satisfaction with automobiles and related the results to each of eleven measures, several of which were multi-item scales, of satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and disconfirmation. The results showed that the two most positively toned emotions ("interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy") were rated more highly than negative emotions such as anger-sadness and self blame-anxiety, tending to confirm the findings of most previous CS /D studies which show that far more consumers are satisfied than dissatisfied with the products and services they purchase.

After factor analysis of the DES items, Westbrook correlate four factor scores with the results of eight different measures of satisfaction/dissatisfaction (including several multi-item measures), an intentions measure, and two measures of disconfirmation. Most of the measures were correlated with the first factor at levels ranging from .41 to .66. The second factor correlated with the various CS/D measures in a similar but weaker manner, with a majority of the correlations in the .31 to .54 range. Westbrook interpreted the first and second factors as follows: "Factor I, a combination of three fundamental emotions. Anger-Range, Sadness-Anguish, and Disgust; Factor II, a combination of Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy" (Westbrook 1983, p. 6). The third and fourth factors showed very weak relationships with the various CS/D measures with few correlations achieving statistical significance.

As Westbrook (1983) noted, correlations with his emotional factors varied widely over the eleven measures of satisfaction and related constructs. As Westbrook also noted, this suggests that some of the measures apparently are doing a better job of capturing the emotional content of the satisfaction/dissatisfaction response than others. Further examination of Westbrook's Table 3 (page 8) suggests that this is at least partially explained by the fact that some "satisfaction" measures appear to be tapping disconfirmation judgments (cognitive responses) rather than the emotional responses which are triggered by cognitions of discrepancies between expectations and performance. Both of two disconfirmation measures used by Westbrook show considerably weaker relationships with the emotional factors than is the case with the more subjective and qualitative satisfaction measures such as the Likert scale and the scale derived from content analysis of open end reports of experiences.


Emotion is a complex phenomenon for which there is no universally accepted definition but is generally described as a state of arousal resulting from a triggering stimulus or situation and tends to subside when the stimulus is removed or the situation changes. Cognitions play a role in most contemporary theories of emotion as the evoking element leading to favorable (positive) emotions when in situations perceived as beneficial and unfavorable (negative) emotions in situations perceived as harmful or threatening. This conceptualization of emotions provides the theoretical basis for treating consumer dissatisfaction as a negative emotion triggered by the disconfirmation of expectations in a consumption experience, Most theories of emotions regard them as motivational in nature (Westbrook 1983) and it is posited here that the consumer's emotional state of being dissatisfied provides the motivational basis for subsequent comPlaining behaviors.

This is not to say, as many have assumed, that the intensity of felt dissatisfaction in itself explains subsequent complaining/non-complaining behaviors. Rather, complaining behavior is logically subsequent to dissatisfaction and is a distinct set of activities which are influenced by a variety of personal and situational factors which appear to be unrelated to the intensity of dissatisfaction. Therefore, dissatisfaction is viewed as a state which motivates the consumer to consider engaging in one or more complaining activities but otherwise is not a factor in determining the outcome of the complaining/noncomplaining decision process. In other words, the emotional state generated by dissatisfaction motivates the consumer to complain but the subsequent decision making process depends not so much on how strong the emotions triggered by dissatisfaction were but on the consumer's answers to questions such as the following:

1. What product features or aspects of the situation were responsible for your feelings of dissatisfaction.?

2. To whom (salesperson, store, manufacturer, yourself) do you attribute responsibility for the failure of the product to perform as expected?

3. What can the provider of the product or service do to "make things right" for you (e.g., replace defective product, refund the purchase drive, apologize)?

4. What actions are you able to take to get the provider to take the appropriate action?

5. How much do you estimate that it would cost you to take each of the actions mentioned in (4) including a monetary value for the time you would have to spend?

6. What is your estimate of the monetary value of the settlement you expect to obtain as the result of each of the possible actions mentioned in (4)?

7. After comparing your costs against the expected settlement, which actions, if any, should you actually take?

The above questions, or other relevant questions, may no occur to all dissatisfied consumers but some cognitive process must take place in which the facts of the situation are assessed and a decision is reached on whether to ignore the experience or choose one or more complaint actions (Day et al 1981, Table l) unless the consumer psychologically assimilates the disconfirmation and forgets it without a conscious decision process (Olshavsky 1977).

For those consumers who are motivated to consider complaining action(s), the number and nature of the actions to be considered will depend on situational factors (e.g., the amount of money involved, the importance of the product in the consumer's life style, the amount of effort involved in visiting or otherwise contacting the seller, personal constraints such as poor health. or physical disabilities, the consumer's degree of product knowledge an experience, knowledge of complaint options and experience in complaining, and attitudes toward business and toward the act of complaining). After considering the costs and possible payoffs of complaining and considering the chances that particular complaint actions would produce the desired results, the dissatisfied consumer may conclude that she/ ne hill be better off to ignore her/ dissatisfaction and do nothing at all or decide to take one or some combination of various complaint actions which might be taken. In the following section a conceptual model of this decision making process will be described.


The proposed model seeks to capture the decision making precess in four predictor variables, a mediating variable, and a single dependent variable, using survey data. The dependent variable is a scale of the actual responses as defined in Day et al. (1981, Table l) operationalized as a Gutman scale as reported by Bearden and Teel (1983). The four predictor variables are operationalized as multi-item scales as follows:

Significance of the Consumption Event

1. Amount of money involved.

2. Importance of the product to the consumer's life style.

3. Social visibility; of the product.

4. Time required to totally consume the product.

Consumer's Knowledge and Experience

1. Number of previous purchases of the product type.

2. Number of previous purchases of the same brand.

3. Product knowledge, expertise.

4. Self perception of efficacy as a consumer.

5. Previous complaining experience.

Difficulty of Seeking Redress/ Complaining

1. Would take a lot of time.

2. Would disrupt family routines.

3. Would require substantial out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Would require a lot of effort to find out who to contact.

5. My health is poor and I am unable to get out and take care of things.

6. It would be a hassle I don't need.

Chances for Success in Complaining

1. Chances that full redress would be made (replacement, free repairs, refund of money).

2. Chances of recovering out- )f-pocket costs of complaining.

3. Chances of getting additional compensation or extra product.

4. Chances that my complaint will change (improve) the seller's product/performance.

5. Chances of getting to let them knows Just how I feel (get it off my chest).

6. Chances of influencing consumer organizations to pressure the seller.

7. Chances of influencing government agencies to increase consumer protection activities.

The mediating variable reflects consumer attitudes toward business and toward their personal participation in complaining activities.

Attitude Toward the Act of Complaining

1. Complaining about anything to anyone is distasteful to me.

2. Complaining is mostly done by people with little else to do.

3. I am embarrassed to complain regardless of how bad the product was.

4. Complaining is a consumer's right, not an obligation.

5. I always complain when I am dissatisfied because I feel it is my duty.

6. Complaining isn't much fun but it's got to be done to keep business on its toes.

7. It really feels good to get my dissatisfaction and frustrations off my chest by complaining.

8. Complaining just leads to more frustration.

9. Most businesses will cheat you if you don't stand up for your rights.

10. The people I know who complain about things they buy are neurotic.

The relationships among the variables are shown graphically in the Figure.




The conceptual model described above offers a more complete conceptualization of the complaining process than models which hypothesize that complaining behavior is a function of the intensity of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction is viewed here as providing motivation for the consideration of available complaining alternatives in view of their feasibility, their benefits when successful and their probability of success. Then the consumer makes a decision of whether doing nothing or taking one or more complaint actions will be in his/her best interest.

The proposed constructs appear to Lend themselves well to operationalization. Once reliable and valid measures have been developed, it will be possible to test the motel's ability to more accurately reflect actual behaviors than previous models.


Bearden, William 0. and Teel, Jesse E. (1983), "Selected Determinants of Consumer Satisfaction and Complaint Reports," Journal of Marketing Research, 20 (February), 21-8.

Day, Ralph L. (1983), "The Next Step: Commonly Accepted Constructs for Satisfaction Research," in International Fare in Consumer Satisfaction and Complaining Behavior, eds. Ralph L. Day and E. Keith Hunt, Bloomington, IN Department of Marketing, Indiana University, 113-7.

Day, Ralph L., Grabicke, Klaus, Schatzle, Thomas, and Staubach, Fritz (1981), "The Hidden Agenda of Consumer Complaining," Journal of Retailing, 57 (Fall), 86-106

Day, Ralph L. (1980), "Research Perspectives on Consumer Complaining Behavior," in Theoretical Developments in Marketing, eds. Charles W. Lamb, Jr., and Patrick M. Dunne, Chicago, American Marketing Association, 211-5.

Day, Ralph L. (1977), "Extending the Concept of Consumer Satisfaction," in Advances in Consumer Research, 4, ed. William. Perreault, Jr., Cincinnati: Association for Consumer Research, 149-54.

Hunt, H. Keith (1977), "CS/D-Overview and Future Research Directions," Conceptualization and Measurement of Consumer Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction, ed. H. Keith Hunt, Boston: Marketing Science Institute, 455-88.

Landon, E. Laird, Jr. (1977), "A Model of Consumer Complaining Behavior," in Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaint Behavior, ed. Ralph L. Day, Bloomington, IN: Department of Marketing, Indiana University, 31-5.

Oliver, Richard L. (1980), "A Cognitive Model of the Antecedents and Consequences of Satisfaction Decisions," Journal of Marketing Research, 27 (November), 460-9.

Olshavsky, Richard W. (1977), "Nonbehavioral Reactions to Dissatisfaction," Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, ed. Ralph L. Day, Bloomington, I Department of Marketing Indiana University, 159-62.

Robinson, Larry M., and Berl, Robert L. (1980), '%hat About Complimenters: A Followup Study of Consumer Complaints and Compliments," Refining Concepts and Measure of Consumer Satisfaction and Complaining Behavior, eds. E. Keith Hunt and Ralph L. Day, Bloomington, IN: Department of Marketing, Indiana University, 144-148.

Westbrook, Robert A. (1983), "Consumer Satisfaction and the Phenomenology of Emotions During Automobile Ownership Experiences," in International Fare in Consumer Satisfaction and Complaining Behavior, eds. Ralph L. Day and E. Keith Hunt, Bloomington, IN: Department of Marketing, Indiana University, 2-9.



Ralph L. Day, Indiana University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11 | 1984

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