How can Firms Stop Negative Word-of-Mouth? A Typology of Online Complainants: An Abstract

Wolfgang Jonas Weitzl, Clemens Hutzinger, Sabine Einwiller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingsConference contributionpeer-review


After service failures (e.g., unfriendly staff), dissatisfied consumers increasingly turn to marketer-created social media platforms – like Facebook brand pages – to voice a public online complaint and to achieve their individual and collective complaint goals (e.g., seeking redress, revenge taking, warning other consumers). This research demonstrates that companies can benefit from segmenting online complainants according to their customer-brand relationship status (i.e., affective brand commitment) and the consumer’s initial desire for revenge to improve online complaint handling (i.e., ‘webcare’).

Cluster analysis applied on multi-national survey data from both Germany and the US (n = 812) reveals that marketers have to deal with three major complainant types: (i) ‘Revengeful loyalists’ (i.e., committed, revengeful customers driven mainly by webcare-independent motives and immune to all forms of service recovery efforts) (63%/60%); (ii) ‘Constructive loyalists’ (i.e., committed, cooperative customers with a deep interest to restore the customer-brand relationship, but high recovery expectations) (19%/25%); and (iii) ‘Constructive unattached customers’ (i.e., webcare-receptive customers having weak relational bonds, but no interest to cause harm) (18%/15%).

This study further shows that the three segments differ in respect to various characteristics pertaining the individual and the failure circumstances (e.g., attribution of blame, emotions, complaint history). Besides profiling these segments, this study shows that webcare responses help to mitigate post-webcare negative word-of-mouth when they match the needs of the segment. Besides theoretical contributions, this research also bears some practical implications like demonstrating that about 80% of online complainants have strong pre-webcare social bonds with the brand. This makes webcare efforts particularly demanding: only (highly) accommodative reactions (e.g., a sincere excuse with an explanation and a redress offer) are likely – if at all – to prevent follow-up NWOM among constructive loyalists. These complainants are originally attached ‘brand lovers’ who grant marketers various opportunities to restore the currently disordered customer-brand relationship. However, they have high expectations towards the brand and towards the online recovery episode.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAMSWMC 2019: Enlightened Marketing in Challenging Times
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes
Event2019 Academy of Marketinc Science (AMS) World Marketing Congress (AMSWMC22) - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jul 201911 Jul 2019

Publication series

NameDevelopments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
ISSN (Print)2363-6165
ISSN (Electronic)2363-6173


Conference2019 Academy of Marketinc Science (AMS) World Marketing Congress (AMSWMC22)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Customer commitment
  • Negative word-of-mouth
  • Online complaining
  • Revenge
  • Service failure
  • Service recovery


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