The current highly-uncertain service environment and frequent customer complaints continue to exacerbate the work crisis of front-line employees in the service industry. This means that front-line employees must respond to the complex and changing service environment by understanding and digesting customer complaints in order to achieve adaptive improvements in service abilities. However, existing literature focuses more on the impact of customer complaints on the customers themselves, and lacks exploration on how customer complaints affect the employees with whom they contact. In view of this, based on the regulatory focus theory, this paper proposes an integrated model of customer complaints, work regulatory focus, work centrality and prosocial service behaviors, and constructs hypotheses accordingly.
The study was conducted as a combination of questionnaire and experiment, and validated scales were selected to develop into question items. The questionnaire was divided into two phases for matched data collection. In the first phase, data on customer complaints (antecedent variable), work centrality, and related control variables were completed by front-line employees in the hospitality industry in early August 2021, while information on promotion / prevention work focus (employee questionnaire) and role-prescribed / extra-role service behaviors (supervisor questionnaire) were collected later in the same month. Finally, 352 valid samples were obtained. The experimental study manipulated the high level of customer complaints and asked subjects to fill in the questionnaires of promotion / prevention work focus and role-prescribed / extra-role service behaviors after receiving stimuli, and 106 valid samples were finally obtained.
The results indicate that: Customer complaints have a facilitating effect on both role-prescribed and extra-role service behaviors; customer complaints can affect employee prosocial service behaviors by stimulating their work regulatory focus; and increased work centrality can change the impact of customer complaints on work regulatory focus and thus promote individuals to implement differentiated prosocial service behaviors. Therefore, this paper verifies the mediating role of work regulatory focus and the moderating role of work centrality, clarifies the mechanism of customer complaints on employees’ cognitive and behavioral responses, and enriches the research on customer complaints and customer-employee relationships.
The main contributions are that: First, the relationship between customer complaints and employees’ long-term responsive behaviors is systematically and empirically sorted out, and the impact of customer complaints is further extended from the customer level to the employee behavior level, which enriches the theoretical research in the field of customer complaints from an extra-organizational to an intra-organizational perspective. Second, this paper incorporates individual state-based regulatory focus and work cognition into the process of customer complaints affecting employee work behaviors, and clarifies what type of state-based regulatory focus formed by employees in their work can better help them perform subsequent prosocial service behaviors and how work centrality plays a modulatory role in this relationship, which expands the research on employees’ identification and assessment of customer complaints in the work environment. Third, this paper provides valuable reference for firms to effectively relieve the negative state of employees and guide employees to actively seek service improvements, which helps to effectively resolve the adverse impact of customer complaints on employees.