Listen, respond, say sorry: Righting wrongs for unhappy customers

By our News Team | 2022

Food-delivery customers tell researchers how businesses can save day and rebuild trust after failures in service.

Food-delivery services should give customers a voice, respond quickly to complaints and proactively apologise when things go wrong, according to a new study which explores what companies can do to rebuild trust after failures.

Researchers at five universities – four in the UK and one in the US – surveyed 925 people on their experiences with the nation of Iran’s largest online food ordering platform; a service similar to those such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo which receives more than two million online visits each month.

Rebuilding Trust

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

The survey was followed up by 45 in-depth interviews to better understand how people experience and recover from services failures during food ordering and delivery. It revealed that an apology, an offer of compensation, and giving customers a voice to air their grievance all helped to rebuild trust through forgiveness.

However, responses also suggested that customers who were more familiar with company failures were more likely to respond negatively to apologies and offers of compensation, feeling their voice wouldn’t be heard. Here, when an incident has become public knowledge and awareness amongst consumers is high, firms should quickly and proactively accept responsibility and provide automatic compensation as these may be inevitable; positioning their response in a manner likely to provide the best chance of recovery and retention.

Anger and frustration were found to be key themes in the interviews. However, these emotions were not related to the service failure itself, but instead to factors such as the response provided by the company, a perceived ineffectiveness in handling complaints, and not giving customers a chance to be heard.

Generic complaint-handling processes frustrate clients

Participants were also frustrated by generic complaint-handling processes, instead desiring a personal response from the company. This exacerbated negative emotions and increased the likelihood of the customer not using the service again.

Babak Taheri, Professor of Marketing at Nottingham Business School’s Marketing and Consumer Studies Research Centre, said: “A positive reputation and customer retention is vital for food-delivery services which need to attract food vendors to partner with them.

“While we focused on one company for this study, all food-delivery services can learn from the comments we received. The importance of having a service recovery strategy cannot be underestimated when it comes to rebuilding trust among customers, particularly those who order frequently and have already experienced a company’s response to failure.

“We see that customers are often not discouraged from using a service due to the failure itself, but the way it is handled. Food-service delivery companies should take note of the need for a quick, clear, and personalised complaints process which is open to feedback and ensures repeat custom.”

He added: “[Food-delivery services] must provide these more proactive problem-solving methods in order to restore relationships with consumers through openness and honesty before their customers become increasingly aware, knowledgeable and initiate their own service recovery efforts.”

The paper, entitled ‘Investigating the Effects of Service Recovery Strategies on Consumer Forgiveness and Post-Trust in the Food Delivery Sector’ has been published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management. Find out more about the paper here.