Research Topic

Creating Value for and Managing Problem Customers

About this Research Topic

The rise of social media and the appification of consumption during the past decade have resulted in increasing consumer power and heightened expectations from service providers. In this emerging era of consumer sovereignty, consumers have become increasingly demanding in response to firms’ service recovery efforts and more aggressive towards customer-facing employees. Alarming statistics also report an exponential increase in problem customers, that is, consumers who engage in psychological and verbal aggression, have excessive demands, or display manipulative behaviours towards employees across a range of industries (including services, retailing, and hospitality). Such consumer acts are often fuelled by consumer entitlement and empowerment, and are manifested either face-to-face or via social media (Caruana et al., 2008; Chylinski and Chu, 2010; Ruvio et al., 2020), with detrimental consequences for employees’ psychological states and job performance. In such circumstances, firms face a dual challenge. On the one hand, there are no service blueprints to manage such incidents or policies in place to emotionally support customer-facing employees and avoid burnout. On the other, firms need to apply customer relationship strategies that will enable employees to co-create effective solutions, especially in post-service failure settings, and retain demanding/problem customers in the long term. The existing literature, however, contains few insights into such issues.

To address these issues, this Research Topic focuses on creating value for and managing problem customers. Our goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the key issues in question and recommend best practices for organizations.

Against the backdrop of prior literature in the management, services marketing and tourism fields that provides extensive evidence on the impact of customer aggression/misbehavior/excessive demands on employees and organizations, the Research Topic aims to stimulate discussion on processes and policies that may fulfil a dual aim. On the one hand, these should support employees in dealing with disruptive encounters with customers and avoid fatigue; on the other, they should help prevent such customers from switching. Our Research Topic therefore seeks studies that explore the role of organizational resources and actors in fulfilling these aims (e.g. supervisors, rewards, blueprints) and that aim to better understand how consumers rationalize and engage in such encounters.

We welcome qualitative, experimental, survey-based and ethnographic/netnographic manuscripts from the management, HR, marketing and tourism fields. Contributions may focus on, but are not limited to, to the following questions:

• What marketing strategies might firms adopt to cope with problem customers?
• How can firms employ technology-enabled approaches to manage excessive requests from problem customers?
• What is the role of different organizational resources (e.g. supervisor intervention, rewards, discounts offered to customers) in affecting the management of problem customers?
• How can firms encourage customers’ active participation in the service recovery process?
• What organizational and people management practices could be used to support employees in dealing more effectively with problem customers?
• Can the adoption of service blueprints and standardization of norms in automated service encounters help firms better cope with demanding consumers?
• How should companies manage customer misbehaviour in technologically mediated/asynchronous (as opposed to real-time, face-to-face) encounters, and to what extent is their impact different on employees?
• How do consumers strategize their demands and threats towards firms?
• How do third-parties (e.g. other consumers and employees) feel when firms satisfy excessive or unreasonable consumer demands?
• To what extent do encounters with problem or demanding customers on different channels (e.g. online vs face-to-face) have a short- or long-term effect on customer-facing employees?


Keywords: Problem/demanding customers, service recovery, customer-facing employees, customer participation, customer misbehavior


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The rise of social media and the appification of consumption during the past decade have resulted in increasing consumer power and heightened expectations from service providers. In this emerging era of consumer sovereignty, consumers have become increasingly demanding in response to firms’ service recovery efforts and more aggressive towards customer-facing employees. Alarming statistics also report an exponential increase in problem customers, that is, consumers who engage in psychological and verbal aggression, have excessive demands, or display manipulative behaviours towards employees across a range of industries (including services, retailing, and hospitality). Such consumer acts are often fuelled by consumer entitlement and empowerment, and are manifested either face-to-face or via social media (Caruana et al., 2008; Chylinski and Chu, 2010; Ruvio et al., 2020), with detrimental consequences for employees’ psychological states and job performance. In such circumstances, firms face a dual challenge. On the one hand, there are no service blueprints to manage such incidents or policies in place to emotionally support customer-facing employees and avoid burnout. On the other, firms need to apply customer relationship strategies that will enable employees to co-create effective solutions, especially in post-service failure settings, and retain demanding/problem customers in the long term. The existing literature, however, contains few insights into such issues.

To address these issues, this Research Topic focuses on creating value for and managing problem customers. Our goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the key issues in question and recommend best practices for organizations.

Against the backdrop of prior literature in the management, services marketing and tourism fields that provides extensive evidence on the impact of customer aggression/misbehavior/excessive demands on employees and organizations, the Research Topic aims to stimulate discussion on processes and policies that may fulfil a dual aim. On the one hand, these should support employees in dealing with disruptive encounters with customers and avoid fatigue; on the other, they should help prevent such customers from switching. Our Research Topic therefore seeks studies that explore the role of organizational resources and actors in fulfilling these aims (e.g. supervisors, rewards, blueprints) and that aim to better understand how consumers rationalize and engage in such encounters.

We welcome qualitative, experimental, survey-based and ethnographic/netnographic manuscripts from the management, HR, marketing and tourism fields. Contributions may focus on, but are not limited to, to the following questions:

• What marketing strategies might firms adopt to cope with problem customers?
• How can firms employ technology-enabled approaches to manage excessive requests from problem customers?
• What is the role of different organizational resources (e.g. supervisor intervention, rewards, discounts offered to customers) in affecting the management of problem customers?
• How can firms encourage customers’ active participation in the service recovery process?
• What organizational and people management practices could be used to support employees in dealing more effectively with problem customers?
• Can the adoption of service blueprints and standardization of norms in automated service encounters help firms better cope with demanding consumers?
• How should companies manage customer misbehaviour in technologically mediated/asynchronous (as opposed to real-time, face-to-face) encounters, and to what extent is their impact different on employees?
• How do consumers strategize their demands and threats towards firms?
• How do third-parties (e.g. other consumers and employees) feel when firms satisfy excessive or unreasonable consumer demands?
• To what extent do encounters with problem or demanding customers on different channels (e.g. online vs face-to-face) have a short- or long-term effect on customer-facing employees?


Keywords: Problem/demanding customers, service recovery, customer-facing employees, customer participation, customer misbehavior


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

20 June 2021 Abstract
20 October 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

20 June 2021 Abstract
20 October 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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