Consumer Culture: Who Complains More? Men or Women
One gender complains about bad service more than the other. / Credit: Woman with megaphone image via Shutterstock

Whether it's a defective product or an incompetent customer-service rep, at one time or another, everyone has had an experience with a product or service that hasn't met their expectations — but not everyone complains about it. Now, new research shows that several factors play a role in that decision.

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research discovered that both the gender of the consumer who had the bad experience and the person with whom he or she was speaking play a role in shoppers' decision of whether to engage in negative word-of-mouth advertising.

"Negative word-of-mouth advertising is the most persuasive form of marketing communication," the study's authors wrote. "Whether or not you engage in this type of behavior depends on whether you are a male or a female, whether the person you are talking to is a close friend or just an acquaintance, and whether or not you are concerned about impairing your image (that is, admitting you are not a smart consumer)."

As part of the research, the authors asked 297 women and 128 men ages 18 to 75 to recall a dissatisfying retail experience and indicate how likely they were to tell others about it. The researchers manipulated how the message was transmitted and also measured the varying levels of concern about what other people thought of them.

The researchers found that men were sensitive to impairing their image but did not show any preference in the people to whom they complained. If they had a high level of concern about what other people thought of them, men were less likely to complain at all.

In contrast, the results revealed that females showed a remarkably different pattern. Only when they had a high concern about their reputation were they less likely to complain to strangers. Otherwise, women had a higher likelihood to complain to close friends.

The authors noted that previously, research has assumed that negative word-of-mouth complaining was largely a function of product performance, and that social factors played a negligible role.

"Our research, in contrast, shows that social factors — particularly those related to a person's gender — can crucially affect whether or not people will complain," the authors wrote. "Moreover, there may be some product categories (fashion goods, for example) where people may be more concerned about their image and less likely to admit when something went wrong."

The study, "How Males and Females Differ in Their Likelihood of Transmitting Negative Word of Mouth" was co-authored by Yinglong Zhang of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Lawrence Feick of the University of Pittsburgh and Vikas Mittal of Rice University.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.