2004 April 26 Monday
British Unwillingness To Complain Causes Worse Service

The British "Stiff Upper Lip" dooms the nation to suffer lousy service.

New research into British attitudes to complaining confirms a long-held national belief: U.K. customers are more tolerant of poor services than their U.S. counterparts. In a comparative study of consumer behavior in the United Kingdom and United States, a team led by Chris Voss, London Business School Professor and Fellow of the United Kingdom's Advanced Institute of Management Research, found that customers play a critical role in the development of service quality.

The "stiff upper lip" has often been used as a metaphor for the British character, implying conservatism and emotional restraint. We live with it, but it is important to question its impact on business. "Ask any American who has spent time in Britain what strikes them about the British character and they will probably say that it is how we put up with poor service without any complaint" comments Professor Chris Voss.

The research indicates that emotional restraint means that U.K. customers, on average, provide less direct unsolicited feedback to service providers than U.S. customers when services fall short of expectations. As a result, an important portion of customer comment regarding poor service is unrealized. A lack of criticism when there is poor service has important implications for U.K. organizations. Without adequate customer feedback, they lose a major opportunity to learn how to enhance or improve service design and delivery.

A British company that wants to develop a competitive advantage would be advised to try harder to find out what dissatisfactions customers have with its products and services. Surveys of customer satisfaction should be structured with this in mind. Simply asking if they have complaints will not work as well as asking them to list their top 5 or 10 complaints. In general, put the customers in the position where they are expected to produce complaints so that the more awkward thing to do is to not complain.

A British company would also benefit from recording all complaints at an American subsidiary and then presenting the complaints to their British management to change British business practices to match what the complaints in America push them to adopt there.

British companies should also advertise email addresses and web pages where complaints can be filed. Brits might be more willing to complain if they can do so anonymously. Also, British customers might be more willing to complain if their are solicited for advice on how to improve service rather than on what they are unhappy with. Try to put the customers in the position of being advisors rather than complainers.

One challenge for a service-oriented business is a that a lot of service quality is determined by the performance of individual employees in direct contact with customers. It is difficult to compensate for customer unwillingness to complain when the complaints need to feed back directly to the individual employees. Any ideas for how to deal with that problem?

The paper is not on the web but here is the citation.

Voss C. A., Roth A. V., Rosenzweig E. D., Blackmon K. and Chase R.B. "A Tale of Two Countries´ Conservatism, Service Quality, and Feedback on Customer Satisfaction", Journal of Service Research, Vol. 6 No.3, 2004, pp 212-231

One last point: Friends and acquaintances who whine to your face about everything in their lives can be thoroughly annoying. However, they are improving the quality of service you receive from all manner of business establishments. Perhaps knowing that fact doesn't make them any less annoying. But it is nice to know that the whiners are serving a useful function.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 April 26 11:30 AM  Culture Compared


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