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How Complaining Customers Make Companies Listen And Influence Product Development



    (Copenhagen Business School, Department of Operations Management, Solbjerg Plads, 3, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark)


    () (#x2020;School of Management, Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK)


    () (Copenhagen Business School, Department of Operations Management, Solbjerg Plads, 3, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark)


    (Copenhagen Business School, Department of Operations Management, Solbjerg Plads, 3, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark)


The analysis in this paper shows how complaining customers can make companies listen to them by spurring the mobilisation of various actors into a hybrid collective strong enough to influence companies’ product development. Customers as sources of innovation have been analysed previously in the literature, whereas the process of how complaining users mobilise support to influence companies has received less attention and is not well understood.This study uncovers the processes that made it possible for a 17-year-old Norwegian to become pivotal in constructing a problematisation, which emerged to become so strong as to alter the Norwegian Coca-Cola Company’s earlier decision to cease production of a product in a certain size. The analysis uses constructs from actor–network theory (ANT) and shows how a single dissatisfied individual was able to become a spokesperson who, through different processes, mobilised a heterogeneous group of consumers into a loosely connected hybrid collective. The spokesperson acted on behalf of the hybrid collective and put growing pressure on a multinational company, influencing its decision making. In this case, the complaining customer did not exit, nor did he become a lead user, but rather became a hybrid customer who actively tried to mobile others in his desire for a product.The study reports on a process analysis of the means by which the company was induced to reinstate a discontinued product. The analysis is divided into three episodes, each marking a critical phase for the collective. This opens up the way for an examination of the processes of mobilisation, interessement, enrolment and mobilisation, revealing the margins of manoeuvre and how these are negotiated and delimited in the process.

Suggested Citation

  • John K. Christiansen & Marta Gasparin & Claus Varnes & Ina Augustin, 2016. "How Complaining Customers Make Companies Listen And Influence Product Development," International Journal of Innovation Management (ijim), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 20(01), pages 1-31, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:wsi:ijimxx:v:20:y:2016:i:01:n:s1363919616500018
    DOI: 10.1142/S1363919616500018

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eric von Hippel, 1986. "Lead Users: A Source of Novel Product Concepts," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(7), pages 791-805, July.
    2. Claes Fornell & Birger Wernerfelt, 1988. "A Model for Customer Complaint Management," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 7(3), pages 287-298.
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    7. Volker Bilgram & Alexander Brem & Kai-Ingo Voigt, 2010. "User-Centric Innovations In New Product Development — Systematic Identification Of Lead Users Harnessing Interactive And Collaborative Online-Tools," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Perspectives On User Innovation, chapter 5, pages 91-129 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    8. Virgile Chassagnon & Marilyne Audran, 2011. "The Impact Of Interpersonal Networks On The Innovativeness Of Inventors: From Theory To Empirical Evidence," International Journal of Innovation Management (ijim), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 15(05), pages 931-958.
    9. James C. Ward & Amy L. Ostrom, 2006. "Complaining to the Masses: The Role of Protest Framing in Customer-Created Complaint Web Sites," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(2), pages 220-230, July.
    10. Michel Callon & Fabian Muniesa, 2005. "Economic markets as calculative collective devices," Post-Print halshs-00087477, HAL.
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