Illegitimate Customer Complaining Behavior in Hospitality Service Encounters: A Frontline Employee Perspective [Summary]

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

As an industry known for its willingness to go the extra mile to keep customers happy, the hospitality industry is particularly prone to illegitimate complaints. Illegitimate complaints have a variety of negative consequences for hospitality companies, frontline employees, and customers. Yet many hospitality companies seem oblivious to illegitimate customer complaining behavior ICCB and tolerant of the harm caused by such behavior. A similar void is also observed in academic research.

The results show that frontline employees perceive three types of illegitimate complainants based on distinctive behavioral patterns associated with each type of complainant: opportunistic plotters, repetitive grumblers, and occasional tyrants. The results also suggest that employees perceive illegitimate complaining behavior as unfair but beyond their control; as a result, they develop a sense of learned helplessness over time. A frontline employee’s sense of learned helplessness is multifaceted and reflects a perception of limited choices of actions toward the illegitimate complaint itself, the complainant, and the hospitality firm that employs the individual. The findings further suggest that frontline employees’ emotional experiences with ICCB show an emotional paradox in which employees experience negative emotions, positive emotions, or both simultaneously. More interestingly, this study suggests that ICCB has a double-whammy effect on frontline employees’ justice perception and emotional experiences.

This research contributes to the hospitality literature in several important ways. This study is among the first to examine frontline employees’ perspectives with regard to their evaluative, emotional, and coping responses to ICCB in hospitality service encounters.

The findings of this research have several important managerial implications for hospitality firms. First, hospitality managers should recognize that although both legitimate and illegitimate complaints are guest complaints, the natures of the two types of complaints are qualitatively different.

Second, the findings of this research show that hospitality firms can help frontline employees cope with ICCB more effectively through tailored training, managerial support, and empowerment. Customer service training on service failure and service recovery has traditionally focused on legitimate customer complaints. Finally, from a policy perspective, hospitality firms may want to establish some clear guidelines concerning ICCB. Such guidelines may include a description of some typical behavioral patterns of illegitimate complainants that can help frontline employees differentiate illegitimate customer complaints from legitimate customer complaints

illegitimate customer complaining behavior, frontline employees, perceptions, emotional responses, coping responses, management responses, hospitality industry