After a 45-minute wait in the lobby, you're finally seated at your favorite restaurant. More than 10 minutes go by before a server appears to take your order, which, when it finally arrives 30 minutes later, is cold.
How do you want management to respond?
A. Apologize sincerely, explain what happened and promise to repair the relationship.
B. Offer several options from which you can choose to fix the situation.
C. Acknowledge the mistake and give monetary compensation for it.
Your answer says something about what kind of customer you are, according to a new study co-authored by a Brigham Young University professor that debunks the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to customer service.
Published in the Journal of Marketing, the study outlines three types of customers: relationals, answer A; oppositionals, answer B; and utilitarians, answer C.
"We originally set out to look and understand at a deeper level consumers' recovery expectations," said Glenn Christensen, an assistant professor of management at BYU. "What emerged quickly is they're not monolithic. It wasn't all the same, and people weren't at all the same, as had been tacitly assumed in (previous) research.
Christensen is a self-described relational, someone who uses emotion and expresses hurt feelings at a service failure. These people, according to the study, tend to build relationships with service providers and can feel betrayed when things break down.
"They're very much interested in how they're treated in the process," said Christensen. "I tend to form relationships with providers and want them to form them with me and create a big love group."
Oppositionals, on the other hand, can become aggressive and overly demanding in the face of a customer service failure. These people want to feel in control, the study notes, which is why companies should allow these customers to choose from multiple options to rectify the situation.
"We're not saying that these oppositionals are just grumpy people, but in the context of a service recovery ... it really frames the way they look at the whole encounter," Christensen said.
Finally, utilitarians approach service breakdowns from a rational, calculating perspective. They are interested in the bottom line, according to the study, and see apologies as an attempt to buy them off with emotion.
The study's lead author is Torsten Ringberg of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and co-authored by Christensen and Gaby Odekerken-Schroder of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Christensen hopes the findings will encourage companies to re-evaluate how they approach customer service issues by first diagnosing what type of customers they are dealing with. It will also, he said, change how he teaches his managerial students, particularly in light of statistics that it costs five times as much to attract new customers than to retain existing ones.
Research has also indicated that only 5 percent of customers who experience a service failure complain, Christensen said, meaning that for every one vocal customer, there are 19 others who are equally upset.
"There's a real case for wining and dining (upset customers), to really court them and learn from them and improve your practices so you offend fewer people," Christensen said. "Listening to your customers through the recovery process will also allow you to redefine your process."The group reached their conclusions by conducting in-depth interviews with a group of 24 customers who had experienced customer service problems. The customers shared their experience through writing, discussions and pictures, according to the study.