The Contrasting Effects of Negative Word of Mouth in the Post-Consumption Stage

Have you ever had bad experiences with a product or service? Nowadays it becomes easier to spread your experiences through word of mouth, as there are many forums and web pages to talk about them. In this article, the effects of negative word of mouth (NWOM) is explored in the post-consumption stage (i.e. after experiencing it).

Think of the following scenario:
You are a post office to send an important letter. You expect it to only take a few minutes. There are a number of people ahead of you and the service is very slow. Furthermore, you notice that only three out of eight counters are open. You end up waiting thirty minutes before you are finally served.

Chan et al. demonstrate that, although you have gone through this bad experience, NWOM can have a negative (aggravating) effect on dissatisfied customers, but NWOM can also have a positive (alleviating) effect. For example, when you talk about your experience and your friend tells you “Again? Last time there were only two counters open and the clerks were extremely slow” we speak of an attribute-based NWOM condition. As two dissatisfied consumers exchange information, the dissatisfaction will increase.

However, imagine your friend responds with “Well, if you think that is bad, the last time I was there I had to wait for over an hour and I missed my soccer training because of that.” Here we speak of an experience-based NWOM condition. When this happens, you compare yourself to your friend and his situation, realizing that your situation could have been worse. This in turn leads to a decreased level of satisfaction on your behalf.

The difference between the situation is the context in which it is described. In the first situation, you talk about the actual service delivery of the company, whereas in the second situation you talk about experiences you’ve had with this service delivery. Furthermore, the authors found that dissatisfaction increases when consumers are in highly comparable situations.

It is important to realize what effects word of mouth can have on purchasing behavior. When told about negative experiences, consumers in the pre-purchase stage may be discouraged to finalize their purchase. But those that are dissatisfied in a post-consumption state, might be alleviated when finding out other consumers had worse experiences. This in turn may increase their repurchase intent.

The authors conclude that in a post-consumption state, a social-comparative process, rather than a product-evaluative process may be predominate in determining the repurchase intentions of dissatisfied consumers, by either aggregating or alleviating the past experiences. There is a growing consensus that WOM can be used as a marketing tool. There are studies on how to manage online forums and referral programs. Therefore, firms can learn from these experiences to know where they have to improve.

I personally don’t fully agree with the findings of the authors. They state that repurchase intent may increase after hearing other consumers have had it worse. However, when I would experience bad quality of service (or a bad product) and I hear I am not the only one, and my situation is not even the worst, I would definitely not repurchase anything at the firm.

Chan, H., Cui, S. (2011) The contrasting effects of negative word of mouth in the post-consumption stage, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 21, pp. 324-337.

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