The influence of culture on customers' complaint behaviour pertaining to service failures
Walters, Mariëtte Louise
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Organisations are facing increasing pressures in terms of customer service since customers tend to become more demanding as competition within industries increases. In order to succeed in this changing marketplace, organisations should focus on forming and maintaining long-term relationships with their customers. Developing long-term relationships, in turn, depends on the organisation?s ability to exceed customers? expectations and to continuously ensure customer satisfaction. Service organisations in particular find it difficult to provide constant customer satisfaction due to the high level of human involvement in service delivery, which often leads to inevitable service failures. Service failures, as a result, cause the disconfirmation of service expectations. This disconfirmation gives rise to customer dissatisfaction, which is generally considered as the initiator of customer complaint behaviour. Culture is regarded as one of the most influential factors affecting customers? behaviour in response to dissatisfaction with a purchase experience. Customers? culture could have an impact on the manner in which customers engage in complaint behaviour, and could also have a bearing on how service failures and organisations? service recovery efforts are perceived. Organisations functioning in a multicultural country such as South Africa could therefore benefit from gaining a more profound understanding of cultural influences on customer behaviour and specifically complaint behaviour. The primary objective of this study was to determine the influence of culture on customers? complaint behaviour pertaining to service failures within the context of the South African banking industry. A structured, interviewer-administered questionnaire was used to collect data from banking customers residing in Gauteng, who were sampled by means of a non-probability sampling method. In total, 600 respondents participated in this study, comprising 150 each from the black, coloured, Indian/Asian and white cultural groups. Results from the study indicate that although the majority of respondents have a propensity to complain, no practically significant differences were found between respondents from different cultures with regard to their propensity to complain. Results furthermore showed no differences between the different cultural groups in terms of their complaint behaviour following a hypothetical service failure. Although it was established that respondents expect the bank to do something about the service failure ? in particular correcting the problem and providing an explanation for the problem ? respondents? expectations regarding service recovery and perceptions of the bank?s service recovery efforts were found not to have been influenced by their respective cultures. The results, in addition, showed that a higher service recovery effort had a more positive effect on respondents? post-recovery satisfaction, likelihood of maintaining their relationship with the bank and loyalty, than that of a lower service recovery effort. It is recommended that banks should not view their customers differently in terms of their cultural backgrounds, but that they should rather focus continuously on providing all customers with the same level of quality service, even after a service failure has occurred. Banks should also encourage all customers to voice complaints directly to them in order to minimise the harmful effects of negative word-of-mouth and to improve recoveries from failures. Since respondents in this study indicated that they expect banks to offer an apology in the case of a service failure, to provide an explanation of the cause of the problem and to correct the problem, banks should ensure that a high level of quality interaction takes place between the dissatisfied customer and employees following a service failure. Such an approach requires banks to ensure that their employees are motivated and competent to solve customers? problems. It is therefore also recommended that banks should invest resources in employee selection, training, development, empowerment, discretionary decision-making power and support in order to ensure that customer-facing employees are able to provide a satisfactory service recovery, and are able to efficiently manage the complaint process. Recommendations for future research include extending this study to other service settings in order to determine whether there are similarities or differences in the influence of culture on customers? complaint behaviour pertaining to service failures. Future research can be conducted in collaboration with a specific bank in order to discover more specific information with regards to service failures and complaint situations within the bank, as well as customers? perceptions of the bank?s existing service recovery systems. Finally, since no differences between cultural groups were found, this study can be replicated in order to compare South African customers with those in other countries in order to determine differences in national cultures.