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Complaints handling and service recovery


The aim of this essay was to explore service marketing with respect to the complaint case of a university student regarding credit point transfers. The service provider is university UC which offers diploma, degree and post graduate courses. The core services are teaching and learning with ultimate conferment of degree certificates. The supplementary services include admissions, research and development, student counseling and relations, accommodation and interuniversity exchange programs. The main competitors are other universities such as Hubei University, and technical colleges and polytechnics. The main customers are both local and international students at various levels of learning. From the case, the customer, student, is complaining about the delay and irresponsiveness of concerned staff to credit points earned and transferred from another university.

Cause and effect analysis

The imaginary customer is complaining on a number of issues that gravitate around poor service delivery. First, there is delay in processing and response to customer inquiries. Second, there is lack of feedback to the customer on the state of application for university admissions. Third, there is a slow response to complaints and concerns regarding the university systems management. Fourth, there is lack of proper use of communication channels and modes to easily solve customer complaints. The root causes and factors that engender poor service delivery include gaps in management monitoring and supervision, poor quality of training among personnel, irresponsibility, lack of proper complaints handling processes, and laxity among staff. Although the organization can set systems that can ease service delivery, presence of gaps in supervision and control among management could result in service failure (Tronvoll, 2010). For example, when the university Dean of School cannot command the subordinates to give attention to student issues, the result is laxity and delay in complaints handling. Moreover, lack of service charter on how to escalate and resolve complaints within a specified period is a recipe for disaster. The service charter provides means and avenues of handling customer complaints (Lovelock et al. 2010). This implies that leadership and proper processes can deliver high level of services in an organization if effectively implemented. However, the organization that lacks proper complaints handling procedures and service measurement is unlikely to have competent and well trained staff. The root causes and effects of poor service delivery in the case are shown in the figure below.


Figure 1: Fishbone diagram of poor service delivery at the university

From the figure above, it shows that customers experience service from the actions of both front stage and backstage personnel. The service organization easily identifies problems and their causes. Moreover, the causes could be attributed to materials, facilities, procedures, and information (Tronvoll, 2010). Despite some students being dishonest while dealing with the university, they have little impact on the decisions that the faculties or schools can make. For example, the student having been promised that the case was being ‘processed’ was not neither given an explanation to the fate of credit points nor informed on time. Fishbone diagram demonstrates that it is possible to find the root causes of poor service delivery and find ways for improvement.

Analyzing the university’s response

Poor service delivery leads to low customer satisfaction and retention (Johnston & Michel, 2008). From the complaint, there was mishandling and disregard to the concerns of the student. According to the Justice Theory, principles and values articulated at the senior management level should inform effective service recovery programs. From the feedback of university management, actions have been taken to resolve the complaint effectively and within the shortest time of fifteen business days. An organization is committed to satisfy dissatisfied client by responding directly to the issues that went wrong (Wirtz & Mattila, 2004). This implies that the service recovery of University C, of which the service promise was broken, will need to plan ways of putting thing right one more time. Although poor service was rendered to the student, justice considerations can have huge impact on recovery efforts of the university.

First, procedural justice regards rules and policies and constitutes the complaint process that the client undergoes. The consumer evaluates acceptance of responsibility of failure, speed and convenience of the process, follow up for satisfaction and flexibility and customer control on the process. The university apologized to the student and promised a speedy investigation and feedback within fifteen days. The university also provided direct contact lines and possibility of additional counseling to the student. Interaction justice deals with the behavior of representatives during the complaint resolution process (Tronvoll, 2010). These include explanation for initial failure, effort to resolve problem, politeness, genuine concern and honesty and open communication. The university begins the response by regretting any inconvenienced caused, resolution to take serious steps and procedures in future and genuine concern to solve the problem by appointing a number of reporting units. On the other hand, Homburg and Furst (2005) observe that distributive justice is about compensating the client for loss in the event of service failure. The methods of compensation can be apologies, replacements, and correction of charges, credits and refunds. The university made an open apology and a promise to check the electronic responding system for mistakes and expressed remorse for the poor service rendered. In addition, the university management promised to book a psychologist for free to ease psychological problems and pressure.

Service recovery is an essential component in which an organization can develop a strong customer service program and ensure repeat business (Gruber, 2011). Under service recovery, service provider convert into satisfied customers the dissatisfied customers by taking responsive action to recover. Although satisfaction of the university student who complained was initially low, the results of the resolution of their complaints may potentially express the overall satisfaction with university services. However, if it continues to dissatisfy its customers, the overall outcome tends to be service dissatisfaction in general (Harris & Ogbonna, 2006). Success of an organizational customer retention plan depends on the minimization of the proportion of negative responses and increasing the proportion of positive responses. If the provider is unaware of dissatisfied customers, then service recovery cannot take place (Bell & Luddington, 2006). Unfortunately, dissatisfied customers are less likely to complain to the provider than they would to their friends and family members.

Major sources of competitive strengths are service quality and customer service (Kristina et al. 2004). Kau and Loh (2006) suggested that perceived justice is critical in service recovery which leads to increased loyalty, positive word-of-mouth behavior and higher level of trust. Although the authors accepted that successful service recovery may bring customer satisfaction, it is essential to offer service right at the first time (Strauss & Seidel, 2005). The university should not rely on service recovery to correct pre-service failures as it will impact negatively on the level of loyalty. Lovelock et al (2010) observes that although complaint barriers among dissatisfied customers can be inconvenience, unpleasantness and doubtful pay off, it can be reversed through positive feedback experience, and serious convenient feedback. This implies that taking a suitable compensation levels and implementing an effective service recovery will lead to delighted customers. Customers may not bother to make the effort if the organization does not make complaining worthwhile. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of customers do not complain because the complaints handling procedure and customer service are poor (Komunda, 2013).

Gruber (2011) argues that where organizations do not care, customers take complaining as a load of hassle or confrontation. Hence, customers dissatisfied may exit as a result of poor complaining procedures. To reduce the negative effect, Komunda (2013) suggests that there is need for action and feedback. However, customers may choose to make repeat purchases where organizational complaints are not handled well. While customers may demonstrate their loyalty, Gelbrich and Roschk (2010) argue that the organization can easily miss out on avenues for continuous improvement as well as critical information from feedback. When poor service is coupled with organizational failure to meet the expectations of the customers, service failure occurs. As a result, organizations may be force to explore appropriate service recovery strategies (Gruber et al. 2009). These strategies include keeping the customer by all means, reducing negative word-of-mouth towards the organization and lowering customer defection. Therefore, the university will need to adopt service recovery strategies that are geared to removing negative attitudes among dissatisfied consumers and resolving customer problem. Service recovery can help build a long term relationship between the organization and customer.


Poor service delivery can be costly to the organization as it not only leaves a pool of dissatisfied customers but also loses their trust and loyalty. The case of the university student complaining about poor handling of credit points transfer showed organizational failure to uphold service quality and customer service. However, the university management responded to the complaints in a way that concurred with the justice theory of procedural, interactional and distributive justice. The essay recommends a number of service recovery strategies that the university and any other organization should adopt. To ensure an effective service recovery, the university will need to be proactive, adopt plan recovery procedures and teach recovery skills to the concerned personnel. Moreover, the staff should be empowered to develop recovery solutions through use of skills and judgment. Service should be offered on the spot prior to customers complaining. While there are common service problems in organizations, a script will need to be prepared to guide employees during service recovery. The university can use this complaint as part of learning to improve on their future service delivery. This happens by preventing service failures and training personnel personal to adhere to complaints handling code of the organization.


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