18 December 2006

Christmas shopping has a reputation for being a nightmare for consumers, but the latest research from The University of Queensland reveals that retail staff may be the ones to face the brunt of the ordeal.

The research, which was completed in collaboration with researchers from the University of New South Wales and George Washington University in the United States, involved in-depth interviews with retail staff in four countries.

Professor Janet McColl-Kennedy from UQ’s School of Business said the results of the research provided a warning to retailers and service providers to be ready for “shopper rage” in the stressful pre-Christmas period.

“Everyone is under pressure at this time of year, trying to get all their shopping and preparation done, and sometimes it’s a bit hard to stay full of Christmas cheer when things go wrong,” Professor McColl-Kennedy said.

“Our research shows anger is the most common negative emotion experienced by customers when a service transaction doesn’t go smoothly.

“The interviews have revealed some pretty unpleasant confrontations between customers and service providers – including customers threatening violence.”

Professor McColl-Kennedy said it was important for employers to understand how these confrontations can occur so they can take appropriate steps to ensure employees don’t inadvertently make things worse.

“Staff need the right training and they also need to feel supported by their employer,” she said.

Co-researcher, Professor Paul Patterson from the University of New South Wales, said the global scale of the research brought an interesting cross-cultural aspect to the project.

“We are seeing some evidence of cultural differences in the way disappointed or mistreated customers react in Thailand and China for example,” Professor Patterson said.

“These cultures are non-confrontational and seek harmony at all costs in public. But privately, when they are badly treated in a service situation, they react by telling as many people as possible and boycotting the firm for long periods.

“They just don’t exhibit their anger in public like we do in Australia.

“In many cases there is what we call a double deviation – that’s when there is an initial service failure, but then when a customer seeks redress, the front line employee only makes the situation worse by their attitude and behaviour in attempting to repair the original problem.

“We’re interviewing people who are happy to admit to getting angry in service delivery situation so, at this stage, we can’t draw any conclusions about the frequency of incidence of customer rage.

“That might be an interesting follow-up study,” he said.

Professor Janet McColl-Kennedy, Professor Paul Patterson, and Professor Amy Smith (The George Washington University) are co-researchers on an Australian Research Council Discovery grant worth $240,000 over 3 years.

Media: For more information contact Cathy Stacey on (07) 3365 6179 or 0434 074 372