Handling customer complaints effectively: a comparison of the value maps of female and male complainants

Purpose – This paper explores the nature of complaint satisfaction with particular emphasis on the qualities and behaviors that male and female customers value during personal complaint handling service encounters. Design/Methodology/Approach – A semi-standardized qualitative technique called laddering was used to reveal the cognitive structures of complaining female and male customers. In total, 40 laddering interviews with 21 female and 19 male respondents with complaining experience were conducted. Findings – The research indicates that being taken seriously in the complaint encounter together with the employee’s competence, friendliness and active listening skills are particularly important for both male and female complainants. Females were more able than male respondents to develop strong associations on the highest level of abstraction and link desired employee behaviors with several values. Female customers tended to be more emotionally involved than male customers as they wanted employees to apologize for the problem and sometimes needed time to calm down and relax. By contrast, male complainants were mainly interested in a quick complaint solution. Research limitations/implications – Due to the exploratory nature of the study in general and the scope and size of its sample in particular, the findings are tentative in nature. As the study involved students from one university, the results cannot be generalized beyond this group even though in this case the student sample is likely to represent the general buying public. Practical implications – If companies know what female and male customers expect, contact employees may be trained to adapt their behavior to their customers’ underlying expectations, which should have a positive impact on customer satisfaction. For this purpose, the paper gives several suggestions to managers to improve active complaint management. Originality/value – Our findings enrich the existing limited stock of knowledge on complaint management by developing a deeper understanding of the attributes that complaining male and female customers expect from customer contact employees, as well as the underlying logic for these expectations.