A Temporal Model of Perceived Control to Explain Service Failures.

AutorPacheco, Natalia Araujo


Service failures are realities in the service industry, and by no means can their occurrence be fully prevented (Joireman, Gregoire, Devezer, & Tripp, 2013). Some of these failures lead consumers to get angry with their service providers, ruminate about the failures and seek revenge (Gregoire, Laufer, & Tripp, 2010; Strizhakova, Tsarenko, & Ruth, 2012); at the same time, failures cause consumers to think about their own role in the situation. Consider the following complaint about a hospital laboratory, posted on ConsumerAffairs.com:

I have had blood work done annually. Every year. Same insurance. No problems. Today I was asked for my driver's license and a credit card was demanded!! This NEVER happened before. Does this sound like the start of identity theft? I was very upset and should have left, but I handed over the documentation like a fool. Now I will be worried for months. I am planning to cancel my credit card. Will use another lab (P., 2017). This complaint shows that although the consumer thinks that the employee was wrong in requiring her personal documents--which denotes external attribution according to the attribution model (Weiner, 1985)--she regrets providing the documents, which she could have controlled in the past (i.e., during the service encounter). The consumer's comment that she will be worried for months suggests her lack of control over her present thoughts about what happened. When she mentions her plan to cancel her credit card and switch to another laboratory, it implies her control over the situation in the future by avoiding further consequences and preventing the recurrence of the incident. Importantly, most of the highlighted aspects in her comment are not considered in the current models adopted in the service literature.

Current models that are used to explain consumers' emotional and behavioural reactions after product and service failures, such as the widely used causal attribution model (e.g., Dunn & Dahl, 2012; Harris, Mohr, & Bernhardt, 2006; Iglesias, 2009), encompass a broad range of investigations. However, such models do not address the temporal dimension of control (i.e., consumers' perceptions about their past, present and future control over service failures), which appears in the cited complaint. Recently introduced in psychology, the temporal model of perceived control (Frazier, Anders, et al., 2012; Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011) may fill this gap. According to the authors, people's perceptions that: (a) they could have done something to prevent a stressful event (past control); (b) they can control their own emotions and thoughts about it right now (present control); (c) they can prevent its recurrence (future control); and (d) such a situation is (un)likely to recur (future likelihood) are important determinants of distress. Therefore, this temporal model of perceived control refers to cognitions that have not been addressed by the attribution model--particularly those associated with past and future times--and are important to gain a better understanding of consumer reactions to service failures.

Addressing the temporal dimension of consumer-perceived control is important because perceived control has already been proven to influence consumers' emotional and behavioural reactions (Hui & Bateson, 1991; Kumar & Anand, 2015; Rompay, Galetzka, & Pruyn, 2008). Moreover, depending on whether this perceived control refers to the past, present or future, different emotional and behavioural reactions arise (Frazier, Anders, et al., 2012; Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011). These effects of past, present and future control are yet unexplored in the context of service failures. This paper aims to highlight the potential contribution of the temporal model of perceived control to the service literature by comparing its explanatory power, considering emotional (i.e., anger and regret) and behavioural reactions (i.e., repurchase behaviour) after failures, with that of the attribution model. By understanding the effects of the temporal dimension of consumer perceived control, service providers gain important insights to prevent some consumer reactions after service failures and better manage the service provider-consumer relationship, because it is possible to influence consumer perceived control through information, choice, co-production, etc. (Chan, Yim, & Lam, 2010; Pacheco, Lunardo, & Santos, 2013; Skinner, 1996).

Theoretical Framework

Perceived control

Perceived control--someone's belief about how much control one has (Skinner, 1996)--has received ample research attention over the past decades. In consumer behaviour and service literature, perceived control is deemed to lead to positive effects, such as great pleasure, satisfaction and intention to do business with an organisation (Bolkan, Goodboy, & Daly, 2010; Chang, 2008; Hui & Bateson, 1991; Namasivayam & Guchait, 2013; Rompay et al., 2008).

Many studies in consumer behaviour and service literature measure perceptions of control over a situation that has already occurred or is presented in the form of a scenario. For instance, some authors describe or simulate a purchase or a service situation and measure participants' perceived control over it (e.g., Bolkan et al., 2010; Chang, 2008; Dabholkar & Sheng, 2009; Dellaert & Dabholkar, 2009; Hui & Bateson, 1991; Li, Xu, & Xu, 2018; Pacheco et al., 2013; Rompay et al., 2008). Other authors ask participants to recall a situation that happened to them and report their perceived control over it (e.g., Hui & Toffoli, 2002). Table 1 summarises the way in which empirical studies have been measuring consumer-perceived control. Table 1 evinces what has been neglected by these studies (i.e., the complete temporal dimension of perceived control - past, present, and future), while the discussion that follows this table explains why and how it can be addressed from now on.

Although some of the measures shown in Table 1 use words related to past (e.g., ... I felt in control...), present (e.g., ... give me a sense of control over...) and future (e.g. ... will give me control over.), none of them investigate past, present and future control, at the same time neither investigates any of them in the same way as Frazier, Anders, et al. (2012) and Frazier, Keenan, et al. (2011) do. For instance, none of the studies addressing the past measured whether someone could have prevented an event (e.g., service failure), none of the studies addressing the present investigated perceived control over the current consequences of a purchase/service that has already happened, and none of the studies addressing the future measured perceived control over future purchases/services and the perceived ability to prevent some events in the future. In other words, the temporal dimension of perceived control (i.e., perceived control related to past, present and future) presented by Frazier, Berman, and Steward (2001) and discussed in the remainder of this section has not yet been the topic of investigation in consumer behaviour and service contexts, especially after service failures.

The temporal dimension of perceived control has been mainly investigated in the context of stressful and traumatic life events (Frazier, Berman, & Steward, 2001; Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011) and has been shown to have important implications for individuals' health (Wallston, Wallston, Smith, & Dobbins, 1987). According to the temporal model of perceived control, past control refers to someone's perception that one could have prevented a stressful event, present control signifies one's perceived control over one's present reactions to a stressful event, and future control indicates one's perception that one can prevent the recurrence of a similar stressful event (Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011). This model has a fourth component called perceived future likelihood, which refers to someone's expectation that a similar event will happen to one again (Frazier, Anders, et al., 2012). Looking at these definitions it is possible to realize that none of the measures of Table 1 refers to past, present, and future in the same way as Frazier, Anders, et al. (2012) and Frazier, Keenan, et al. (2011).

Past control is positively related to distress and negatively related to psychological well-being (Frazier, Berman, et al., 2001; Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011; Sirois, Davis, & Morgan, 2006), which means that individuals who think that they could have prevented a stressful event feel bad about it. In turn, present control is negatively related to distress and positively related to psychological well-being (Frazier, Berman, et al., 2001; Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011; Sirois et al., 2006), which means that individuals who perceive that they can control their reactions to a stressful event feel better about it (i.e., they adjust better). Present control also reduces stress, depression and anxiety symptoms (Frazier, Meredith, et al., 2014). Future control consequences seem to depend on objective controllability; thinking that an event is controllable by oneself leads to negative outcomes (e.g., distress) when the event actually cannot be controlled by oneself and leads to positive outcomes (e.g., better performance) when the event can be controlled by oneself (Frazier, Keenan, et al., 2011). Finally, the effects of perceived likelihood are positively related to distress (Frazier, Anders, et al., 2012). In other words, the higher the likelihood of a stressful event's recurrence is, the higher someone's distress becomes.

It is conceivable that the temporal model of perceived control also has an impact on consumers' emotional and behavioural reactions after service failures. Regarding potential emotional reactions, the present paper focuses on regret and anger. The choice of regret and anger from a wide range of negative emotions is due to the relevance of these emotions. Regret is the most frequently experienced negative...

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