revenge-nologoguest article by Mina Rohani, Finalist of the SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award 2016 (granted by Maastricht U)

People are increasingly getting revenge—that is, actions motivated by a desire to harm the firm for what it did in the first place (Grégoire and Fisher 2008)—through online applications. There are plenty of examples on Facebook and Twitter of consumers who were overcharged by mobile phone operators, or who missed a connection for a delayed flight. The demand for online public complaining is large enough that many complaint websites, such as, provide online platforms in which consumers can report their complaints as well as read and follow misadventure experiences of other people.

Consumer revenge can be very costly for firms, and create serious harm to their reputation. This extreme response can also affect consumers’ health and well-being. As a result, consumer revenge has received increasing attention in the psychology and marketing literatures. One of the most robust findings in this literature is that revenge is short-lived because it is associated with intense emotions and cognitions that are difficult and unhealthy to sustain over time. Thus, firms may find comfort knowing that time seems to “heal all wounds.”

Our research challenges the “time heals all wounds” effect by further examining the effect of time on consumer responses associated with revenge/forgiveness. Indeed, we studied a key weakness of most longitudinal designs that refers to the confounding effect of the variable “time” with “answering a questionnaire.” Through the use of two longitudinal field experiments, we examined the effects of different types and contents of questionnaires on the evolution of consumer responses over time.

screen-capture-3 (2)Our robust results suggest that aggrieved consumers can play an active role in managing their cognitive, emotional and motivational revenge responses after a double deviation—that is, a service failure followed by a poor recovery—and a major conflict. They can go through an effective self-expressive process by answering a series of well-crafted questionnaire—that is “multiple surveys that ask about both cognitions and emotions” over time.

This delicate and powerful, yet inexpensive, solution offers four distinct proposals for firms. First, while consumer negative emotions and motivations are unlikely to dissipate on their own, answering multiple surveys over time (about both thoughts and feelings) has a cathartic “calming effect” on the emotional and motivational responses. Second, it is now clear that consumers do not forget and “let go” firms’ negative motive, even if they express less emotional or motivational responses after answering multiple surveys over time. Third, choosing a proper well-crafted type and content of questionnaire is crucially important because expressive writings type of questionnaire or multiple surveys that ask only about consumers’ emotions in online public complaining context may have counterintuitive effects on consumers’ responses. Finally, despite the significant role of multiple surveys over time, managers cannot easily accelerate this catharsis effect by applying shorter time intervals. It seems that consumers still need time to go through the “healing” process.

Assistant Professor of Marketing at the
University of Saskatchewan, Canada