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EMAC 2020 Annual Conference

The customer is often not right. The prevalence, types, drivers and timing of illegitimate complaining.

Published: May 27, 2020


Herm Joosten, Institute for Management Research / Radboud University; Csilla Horvath, Institute for Management Research, Radboud University,The Netherlands


illegitimate complaining; service recovery; multiple-case study


Main goals –This study investigates the prevalence, types, drivers and timing of illegitimate complaining based on a unique dataset of 325 real-life complaint cases assessed by a team of independent industry-, legal- and academic experts. This approach provides us with unbiased and rich insights into this sensitive issue, and as such, this is the first study to objectively estimate the prevalence of illegitimate complaints. Findings –The results suggest that a majority of complaints is unfounded, but not dishonest. The study introduces 4 new types of illegitimate complaints, 8 drivers and 2 moderators of illegitimate complaining. Conclusions - Researchers and practitioners should not conflate unfounded with dishonest complaints. Given the extent of illegitimate complaining, prevention is paramount by asking (customer) and providing (firm) relevant information about products and services.