The face of contagion: consumer response to service failure depiction in online reviews


Purpose: Online consumer reviews (OCRs) have emerged as a particularly important type of user-generated information about a brand because of their widespread adoption and influence on consumer decision-making. Much of the existing OCR research focuses on quantifiable OCR features such as star ratings and volume. More research that examines the influence of review elements, aside from numeric ratings, such as the verbatim text, particularly in services contexts is needed. The purpose of this research is to investigate the impact of service failures on consumer arousal and emotions. Design/methodology/approach: The authors present three behavioral experiments that manipulate service failure and linguistic elements of OCRs by using galvanic skin response, survey measures and automated facial expression analysis. Findings: Negative OCRs lead to the greatest levels of arousal when consumers read OCRs. Service failure severity impacts anger, and referential cohesion, an observable property of text that helps a reader better understand ideas in the text, negatively moderates the relationship between service failure severity and anger. Originality/value: The authors are among the first to empirically test the effect of emotional contagion in a user-generated content context, demonstrating that it can occur when consumers read such content, even if they did not experience the events being described. The research uses a self-report and physiological measures to assess consumer perceptions, arousal and emotions related to service failures, increasing the robustness of the literature. These findings contribute to the marketing literature on OCRs in service failures, physiological measures of consumers’ emotions, the negativity bias and emotional contagion in a user-generated content context.

Publication Title

European Journal of Marketing