Coalitions and Their Negative Consequences: An Examination in Service Failure-Recovery Situations
The social nature of customer experiences creates complex and potentially detrimental dynamics in failure situations, such as when other customers side with the complainer or the firm. The present research is the first to analyze such coalitions and their consequences. We conceptualize a triad composed of a complainer, a service employee, and one or multiple others as a third actor. A field study of consumer complaints on social media shows that coalitions occur in 32% of cases, negatively shifting the affective tone of an online conversation from approximately neutral to negative. Both third actor–complainer and third actor–service employee coalitions independently deteriorate the affective tone, their individual effects are not additive, and the third actor–complainer coalition exerts the larger impact of both coalitions. Two experiments reveal that complainers feel betrayed by the third actor when this actor sides with the service employee (vs. the complainer), which strengthens complainers’ satisfaction with taking steps as a recovery effort by the firm and weakens satisfaction with an offered apology. This research provides managerial insights into the practical significance of coalition effects, how coalitions impair firm response effectiveness, and under which conditions different responses sustain their effectiveness. It also presents several avenues for future research.