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Angry Versus Anxious Consumers

Angry Versus Anxious Consumers

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The effect of emotional provider support on angry versus anxious consumers
Kalyani Menon
a,
, Laurette Dubé
b
School of Business and Economics,Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue, Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3C5
 b
 Desautels Faculty of Management McGill University, 1001001 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1G5
Abstract
This paper examines the trend in service firms to integrate an emotional dimension into provider responses to consumer emotions. Anempirical study showed that such a strategy is effective only if the consumer coping demonstrates an emotional engagement with the serviceepisode. Because both angry and anxious consumers cope primarily by planful problem solving (i.e., attempting to resolve the situation and attaintheir consumption goal), provider responses that offered solutions (instrumental support) were more effective than responses that offeredemotional support. Further, angry consumers were emotionally engaged with the situation while anxious consumers emotionally disengaged fromit. Consequently, provider response that included emotional support and instrumental support was the most effective for angry consumers, but there was no benefit to also including emotional support for anxious consumers.© 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
 Keywords:
Consumer emotions; Coping; Provider response strategies; Services
1. Introduction
The
People Notice
and
Be Hospitable
campaigns byHolidayInnandHiltonHotelsrespectively,theemployeetraining programs of United, Jet Blue, and SouthWest airlines, andCommerceBank'sbusinessmodel,allrequireserviceproviderstodemonstrate an emotional engagement (e.g., caring, compassion,humor) with consumers while delivering the core, instrumentalaspects of the service. While a large number of service firms havesubscribed to this approach, little research has examined theeffectiveness of such a service strategy, both in terms of themagnitude of its impact and its underlying mechanisms. This paper examines whether the practice of integrating emotionalengagement into instrumental service delivery truly optimizesconsumer satisfaction with the service.Two factors motivated this research. Firstly, while emotionalengagement by providers may be effective in affectivelycharged, long-term, intimate service encounters (e.g.,Arnould& Price,1993), its effectiveness is unclear in the transaction-oriented as opposed to relationship-oriented consumer-service provider interactions that characterize most commercial ser-vices. In fact, there is evidence that non-task-oriented interac-tions with consumers may detract from consumer evaluation of the service (McBane, 1995; Menon & Dubé, 2004, 2000;Suprenant & Solomon, 1987; Sutton & Rafaeli, 1990).Secondly, integrating an emotional dimension into service provider responses entails a cost to the provider and the servicefirm. Providers have to frequently engage in surface and deepacting which extracts considerable psychic toll (Grandey,Dickter, & Sin, 2004; Hochschild, 1983), and firms have toinvest in training and support programs to enable effectiveemotional engagement by service providers. It is prudent toexamine the effectiveness of integrating an emotional dimen-sion into provider responses prior to incurring such costs.This paper focuses on the effectiveness of integrating anemotional dimension into provider response to consumersexperiencingtwokeyconsumptionemotions:angerandanxiety.If consumers do indeed value emotional engagement, then theyare likely to value it particularly when they themselves areexperiencingspecificemotions.Further,negative emotionssuchas anger are highly contagious and responding to such emotions presents a special challenge to providers (Grandey et al., 2004;Menon & Dubé, 2000, 2004).We reason that the effectiveness of emotional engagement withconsumerswilldependontheconsumer'sspecificresponse(coping strategy) to the event that triggers anger or anxiety. Wederive hypotheses for differentiated coping responses to
Intern. J. of Research in Marketing 24 (2007) 268
275www.elsevier.com/locate/ijresmar 
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 519 884 0710x2704; fax: +1 519 884 0201.
 E-mail address:
kmenon@wlu.ca(K. Menon).0167-8116/$ - see front matter © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.ijresmar.2007.04.001
 
consumer anxiety and anger and propose that incorporating anemotional dimension into provider responses will be effectiveonly if consumer coping involves a specific need for emotionalsupport.
1.1. Conceptual framework and research hypotheses
An emotion experience can be thought of as a scripcomposed of interconnected, organized patterns of cognitiveappraisals, affective responses, physiological changes, andaction tendencies in response to personally relevant events(Folkman,Lazarus,Dunkel-Schetter,DeLongis,&Gruen,1986;Keltner & Gross, 1999; Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson, & O'Connor,1987; Yi & Baumgartner, 2004). These components of anemotion script convey to an individual how best to adapt to the particular event, and this adaptation is seen in the coping that occursduringemotionexperiences.Copingresponsesaimeither to eliminate or modify the conditions that produce stress(problem-focused coping) or to keep emotional consequenceswithin manageable bounds (emotion-focused coping) (Folkmanetal.,1986;Moos&Schaefer,1993;Zeidner&Hammer,1990).Coping reflects a consumer's preferred form of interactingwith the service situation and signals consumer priorities andrequirements in the context of that particular emotion (Thoits,1995). Based on this, we suggest that provider responses that complement consumer coping will be the most effective, andthat integrating emotional support into provider response will beeffective only if consumer coping reflects a need for such anemotional engagement.Fig. 1describes our conceptual model.
1.1.1. Consumer coping with anger 
Anger episodes tend to be initiated by appraisals of an event as being significant to but incongruent with the consumptiongoals. There are appraisals of a well-identified cause for thenegative event which frequently involves blaming others. In thecontext of services, since it is the service provider's responsi- bility to ensure a smooth service transaction, blame for anynegative event will thus be directed towards the service provider, and the service provider, as the causal agent, will beexpected to alleviate the problem (Keltner, Ellsworth, &Edwards, 1993; Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Smith & Ellsworth,1985).Consumer researchers have found evidence linking anger to aform of planful problem solving, i.e., coping that focuses on goalachievement (Duhachek, 2005), as well as to confrontive coping(i.e.,showingantagonisticbehaviortowardstheperceivedcauseof the event) (Menon & Dubé, 2000; Yi & Baumgartner, 2004).Coping responses are highly context specific (Folkman et al.,1986), and individuals typically utilize a variety of coping tech-niques with distinct functions to respond to the adverse event.Therefore, we suggest that the service consumer's coping withanger will be a combination of coping strategies dominated by planful problem solving and followed by confrontive coping.Servicetransactionsarepurposefulexchangeswheretheconsumer has invested time and money to achieve specific goals (Bagozzi &Dholakia, 1999). Therefore the dominant coping response for aconsumerexperiencingahighpower/energyemotionsuchasangewill be planful problem solving, i.e., to see if a solution can befound, or alternative routes explored, to achieve that consumption
Fig. 1. Conceptual model.269
 K. Menon, L. Dubé / Intern. J. of Research in Marketing 24 (2007) 268
 – 
275
 
goal. Angry consumers may also engage in confrontive coping.Cognitive appraisals of blame for the negative event attached to aservice provider along with the physiological and behavioralchangesthatreadyanangryconsumerforattack(e.g.,Shaveretal.,1987) will lead to an intense form of negative emotionalengagement i.e., confrontive coping towards the provider.
H1a.
For angry consumers, the primary coping tendencies will be planful problem solving which will be greater than thesecondary coping tendency of confrontive coping.
1.1.2. Consumer coping with anxiety
Anxiety episodes contain attributions of uncontrollablecircumstances (e.g., poor weather) for the negative event over which a consumer perceives low certainty, low perceptions of  power and higher perceptions of helplessness (Ruth, Brunel, &Otnes, 2002; Taylor, 1994).Anxiety tends to be characterized by approach-avoidancetype of coping with anxious consumers likely to approachcertain controllable aspects of the negative event and avoidother more uncontrollable aspects. In the approach form of coping, anxious consumers may focus their resources on tryingto alleviate or gain greater control over the more controllableaspects of it. They may do this on their own account or byrelying on the service provider to help them gain greater control(Beck & Clark, 1997; Laux & Weber, 1991; Rachman, 1998).Thus, anxious consumers too will show an instrumentalengagement with the negative event through planful problemsolving forms of coping. But in addition, anxious consumers arelikely to show emotional disengagement or distancing as asecondary coping tendency that would include trying to controlemotions and distracting oneself to emotionally distance fromthe event (e.g.,Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992; Yi &Baumgartner, 2004). Due to the absence of a well-defined causefor the negative event, as well as the absence of physiologicalchanges and action tendencies that engender aggression,anxious consumers have no particular target or motivation for the kind of venting and confrontive coping we see in anger.Therefore,
H1b.
For anxiety, the primary coping tendencies will be planful problem solving which will be greater than the secondarycoping tendency of distancing.
1.1.3. Complementary provider response to consumer copin
The most efficient and effective use of provider resourceswill require providers to adapt their responses in keeping withthe needs conveyed by consumer coping. The social support literature argues that coping serves to marshal not just anindividual's own resources but also resources from the socialenvironment to respond to the negative event in a manner that the individual is most comfortable with (Holahan, Moos, &Schaefer, 1996; Thoits, 1995).The social support literature groups supportive strategies intotwo categories: instrumental support and emotional support.Instrumental support actively attempts to alter the situation andenable movement towards the particular goal. In a servicecontext, this instrumental support will relate to adapting the coreservice offering because this is crucial to the serviceconsumption. Emotional support extends empathy and under-standing while showing affiliation and reassurance and aiding inan individual's emotion management. It acknowledges theemotional impact of a situation on an individual and focuses onhelping the individual manage the emotions rather than onresolving the situation directly (Thoits, 1995). Such support relates to the more interpersonal and communal aspects of theservice delivery (Clark & Mills, 1993).Sinceplanfulproblemsolvingistheprimarycopingtendencyfor both anxiety and anger, a response strategy that focuses oninstrumental support and focuses on the core service issue will be more effective for both these emotions rather than one that focuses only on emotional support. The hypothesized secondarycopingtendencyforangerindicatesaggressive,confrontive,andcontinuous emotional engagement with the situation (Buss &Perry, 1992; Harmon-Jones & Sigelman, 2001). It will benecessary for the service provider to acknowledge thisconfrontation and the ego-damage to the angry consumers, and provide emotional support. Providing emotional support andattempting to dilute the confrontive nature of angry consumersmay also make it easier for providers to deliver instrumentalsupport. Hence, provider response combining emotional withinstrumental support in a hybrid response strategy (instead of aninstrumental support only provider response) should lead tohigher service evaluation for angry consumers (because of their specific combination of coping strategies).In contrast, the secondary coping tendency for anxiety isdistancing and reflects emotional disengagement. Consequent-ly, any addition of emotional support is unlikely to have asignificant incremental impact on the perceived value of supportive provider responses. In fact, providing emotionalsupport to consumers who are trying to distance themselvesfrom the situation may have a negative impact because it contradicts their own instinctive coping and forces them todeal with an aspect of the issue, i.e., the emotional aspect,when in fact they would rather distance themselves from it.Therefore,
H2A.
Instrumental support strategy will lead to higher serviceevaluation than emotional support in both anxiety and anger episodes.
H2B.
A hybrid support strategy that adds emotional support toinstrumental support will lead to higher service evaluation for angry consumers. A hybrid support strategy will not increaseservice evaluation for anxious consumers.
2. Method
We used an experimental setting manipulating cognitiveappraisals to evoke episodes of consumer anger and anxiety andthen manipulating provider responses to test our hypotheses.The subjects were regular users of airline services and they wererequired to role-play scenarios of episodes of anger and anxiety,indicate their coping tendencies, and then evaluate the provider response strategies they were exposed to. Waiting in line at the
270
K. Menon, L. Dubé / Intern. J. of Research in Marketing 24 (2007) 268
 – 
275

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