How Do You Cope with Bad Service? It Depends on Your 'Intelligence'

What do you do when a restaurant waiter brings you the wrong order and it's cold to boot?  Do you raise a ruckus or suffer in silence and pretend it was your fault? How you react depends on your emotional intelligence , a university researcher says.

Customer service failures can be stressful situations that often induce anger and frustration. A lot of research has been focused on the service provider's side of the situation as far as developing strategies to recover from failure, but there has been very little research on what consumers actually feel and how they respond.

Yuliya Strizhakova, a marketing professor at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, has taken a look at the emotional and cognitive factors that determine how consumers cope with those failures. She found that customers employ three kinds of reactions to poor service:  active coping, in which the customer focuses on seeking a solution; expressive coping, in which the customer seeks social support and focuses on expressing emotions; and denial, in which the person ignores the problem.

"The severity and consequences of the failure factor into a consumer's response," Strizhakova said. "But generally, a customer's reaction to service failure is tied to emotional intelligence and self-efficacy."

Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to control his or her emotions. Self-efficacy relates to a person’s belief that he or she can control the overall situation. Both determine how consumers process emotional information and deal with stressful situations.

"Customers who are better able to understand and manage their emotions as well as resolve a service failure avoid denial and focus instead on more adaptive strategies, such as active and expressive [coping]," Strizhakova wrote in a research paper that will be published in the European Journal of Marketing.