A consumer complaint or customer complaint is “an expression of dissatisfaction on a consumer’s behalf to a responsible party” (Landon, 1980). It can also be described in a positive sense as a report from a consumer providing documentation about a problem with a product or service. In fact, some modern business consultants urge businesses to view customer complaints as a gift.
Consumer complaints are usually informal complaints directly addressed to a company or public service provider, and most consumers manage to resolve problems with products and services in this way, but it sometimes requires persistence.
If the grievance is not addressed in a way that satisfies the consumer, the consumer sometimes registers the complaint with a third party such as the Better Business Bureau, a county government (if it has a “consumer protection” office) and Federal Trade Commission (in the United States). These and similar organizations in other countries accept for consumer complaints and assist people with customer service issues, as do government representatives like attorneys general. Consumers however rarely file complaints in the more formal legal sense, which consists of a formal legal process (see the article on complaint).
In some countries (for example Australia, the United Kingdom, and many countries of the European Community), the making of consumer complaints, particularly regarding the sale of financial services, is governed by statute (law). The statutory authority may require companies to reply to complaints within set time limits, publish written procedures for handling customer dissatisfaction, and provide information about arbitration schemes.
Internet forums and the advent of social media have provided consumers with a new way to submit complaints. Consumer news and advocacy websites often accept and publish complaints. Publishing complaints on highly visible websites increases the likelihood that the general public will become aware of the consumer's complaint. If, for example, a person with many “followers” or “friends” publishes a complaint on social media, it may go “viral.” Internet forums in general and on complaint websites have made it possible for individual consumers to hold large corporations accountable in a public forum.
Determinants of Customer Complaint Behaviors
Within marketing, there is a strong tradition of examining factors that can drive customer complaint behaviors. A key factor driving customer complaints is the performance, and consequent dissatisfaction with the product or service. Dissatisfied consumers are more likely to complain than satisfied consumers. Research also shows that when people have a strong tie with the service provider, they are less likely to complain after a negative service experience; that is, a strong tie with the service provider insulates the service provider against complaint behavior. A complete model capturing the different reasons for complaint behaviors is developed by Singh  and tested in another empirical paper.
More recent research shows that the deleterious effects of customer complaints and negative word-of-mouth can be mitigated by increasing the level of customer commitment. Stated differently, customers who are more committed to a brand—even after accounting for their level of satisfaction—are less likely to complain, have stronger purchase and repurchase intentions, and even persist in loyalty behaviors after a negative event occurs,. These findings are especially true in a B2B context.
- Airline complaints
- Better Business Bureau
- Consumer protection
- Consumer organization
- Federal Trade Commission
- Online Complaint Management System
- "What Is a Consumer Complaint?". Wisegeek.com. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
- "BJ Gallagher: A Customer Complaint Is a Gift". Huffingtonpost.com. August 1, 2011. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
- Bleuel, William (December 20, 2010). "The GBR Book Corner Reviews: A Complaint Is a Gift by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller | Graziadio Business Review | Graziadio School of Business and Management | Pepperdine University". Gbr.pepperdine.edu. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
- "Australian Approved Complaint Services".
- "Financial Ombudsman - UK".
- Fornell, Claes, and Birger Wernerfelt. "Defensive marketing strategy by customer complaint management: a theoretical analysis." Journal of Marketing research (1987): 337-346.
- Mittal, Vikas & Carly Frennea (2012) "16- Managing Customer Satisfaction," Handbook of Marketing Strategy, Venky Shankar and Gregory Carpenter (Eds.), 261. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2345484
- Zhang, Yinlong and Feick, Lawrence and Mittal, Vikas, How Males and Females Differ in Their Likelihood of Transmitting Negative Word of Mouth (2014). Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, April 2014. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2425685
- Mittal, Vikas and Huppertz, John W. and Khare, Adwait, Customer Complaining: The Role of Tie Strength and Information Control (October 10, 2008). Journal of Retailing, 84(2), 195-204, June 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2338719
- Singh, Jagdip. "Consumer complaint intentions and behavior: definitional and taxonomical issues." The Journal of Marketing (1988): 93-107.
- Singh, Jagdip, and Robert E. Wilkes. "When consumers complain: a path analysis of the key antecedents of consumer complaint response estimates." Journal of the Academy of Marketing science 24, no. 4 (1996): 350-365.
- Keiningham, Timothy L. and Frennea, Carly and Aksoy, Lerzan and Alexander and Mittal, Vikas, A Five-Component Customer Commitment Model: Implications for Repurchase Intentions in Goods and Services Industries (2015). Journal of Service Research, 1-18, 2015 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2593914
- Vikas Mittal, Rajan Sambandam, & Utpal Dholakia (2010), "Toyota Steers Clear of Reputation Damage," Marketing Research, Summer, 9-13.. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2351456
- Tsiros, Michael, William T. Ross, & Vikas Mittal (2009) "How commitment influences the termination of B2B exchange relationships" Journal of Service Research, 11(3), February, 263-276. (2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2340638