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Hiding Customer Complaints: Studying the Motivations and Forms of Service Employees' Complaint Concealment Behaviours

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Abstract

This study aims to explore both how and why customer service employees conceal the complaints made by customers. Using an exploratory qualitative approach, data were gathered through the in-depth interviewing of 25 managers, 25 supervisors and 57 front-line employees of UK general retailers/supermarkets. Data analysis reveals that the concealment of customer complaints by store employees of all hierarchical levels is common. Front-line, customer-contact employees were found to conceal complaints in four ways: through (1) misleading customers, (2) complaint resolution without logging, (3) concealing recorded complaints and (4) falsification of recorded complaints. Store-level supervisory and managerial employees were also found to conceal complaints in four ways: through (1) complaint resolution without logging, (2) concealing recorded complaints, (3) the non-recording of complaints and (4) the disregarding of ‘minor’ complaints. The motives for complaint concealment differed between managerial/supervisory and front-line employees but included reasons of (1) personal protection, (2) perceived customer unpleasantness, (3) serial complaint avoidance, (4) alienation, (5) friends or family protection, (6) instrumental gain, (7) avoidance of additional work, (8) perceived unfairness and (9) limited time. These findings suggest that theorists and practitioners need to acknowledge the existence and prevalence of these motives and behaviours and incorporate them into their conceptualizations and practices.

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