Understanding Emotional Responses in Complaint Behaviour

Emotional Responses in Complaint Behaviour

Project dates: 2006 - 2011

Emotions are part of everyday life and how we feel influences our behaviour as a parent, child, partner, friend, employee, employer, consumer, and service provider. While there is extensive knowledge of decision-making in consumer behavior, little is known about consumer emotional responses and the impact this has on organizations. Poor complaint management may result in organizations losing customers and revenue. Consumers exhibit negative emotional responses when dissatisfied and this may lead to a complaint to a third-party organization.

Since little information is available on the role of emotion in the consumer complaint process or how to manage complaints effectively, this research offers an emotions perspective by applying Affective Events Theory (AET) to complaint behaviour.

Four focus groups were conducted with people (12 female and 9 male participants) who had lodged third party complaints with the Office of Fair Trading. These focus groups discussed service failures and the events and feelings leading to complaint behaviour to a third party, and consisted of male only, female only and mixed gender groups as complaint behavior can be influenced by gender.

This research presents the first application of AET in a consumption context and provides a taxonomy of emotions expressed in complaint behaviour to third parties. Findings demonstrate that consumers will pursue a service encounter gone wrong for days or months, feeling intense emotions that create severe physical consequences, even when the money at stake is trivial. We propose that the emotional motivations for complaints may be more powerful in driving behaviour than previously recognized and that organizations need to address emotional concerns in a more-informed manner to achieve more effective complaint handling.


Guiding Theory:

  • Affective Events Theory

Other Team Members

  • Amanda Beatson, QUT
  • Kay Russell, SJP Insurance Services



  • Russell-Bennett, Rebekah, Hartel, Charmine, Beatson, Amanda, Zerbe, W J, Hartel, C E J, Ashkanasy, N M (2011) Affective events theory as a framework for understanding third-party consumer complaints What have we learned? Ten years on [Volume 7: Research on Emotion in Organizations], pp.167-195.
  • Russell-Bennett, Rebekah, Hartel, Charmine, Zerbe, W J, Hartel, C E J, Ashkanasy, N M (2011) Coding emotions in complaint behaviour: Comparing the Shaver et al. and Richin’s consumption emotions sets What have we learned? Ten years on [Volume 7: Research on Emotion in Organizations], pp.151-166.