Illegitimate complaining: the consequence of customers who ‘want’ to, ‘can’, or ‘must’ complain.

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
“The customer is always right” is a slogan that many firms unrealistically rely on. Illegitimate complaints are a common, and, oftentimes, problematic phenomenon for organizations with service recovery policies in place. However, some illegitimate complainers can, in fact, be beneficial for the firm in terms of long-term profitability: the ‘can’ complainers. While research on illegitimate complaining behaviour is scant due to the sensitive nature of this topic, some studies did examine the subject more thoroughly. It was suggested that certain categories of illegitimate complainers exist. The purpose of this, in the first place confirmatory study, was to validate these different types of complainers. Furthermore, this research aimed to examine to what extent these complainers use different neutralization techniques to justify their behaviour, and to what extent the relationship with the organization in question would change as a consequence of an illegitimate complaint. An online survey has been conducted, and 502 illegitimate complainants have been analysed. By means of a hierarchical cluster analysis, it was found that people complain illegitimately because they ‘want’ to (as part of a predetermined plan), ‘can’ (due to opportunism), or ‘must’ (as a final cry for help). Besides, a One-Way MANOVA, showed that these different complainers use certain neutralization techniques more often than others, and that ‘want’ to and ‘must’ complainers experience a deteriorated relationship with the firm in question after their complaint. ‘Can’ complainers, however, experience an improved relationship with the firm in terms of a higher level of satisfaction, trust, commitment, word-of-mouth, and repurchase intention. Businesses that still go by the “customer is always right” standard are advised to reconsider this philosophy: the customer is not always right. Managers can benefit a lot from the knowledge of studies regarding this subject. Besides, future research is recommended to replicate this study, to validate and extend the findings of this research, to, ultimately, broaden the knowledge on illegitimate complaining.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen