Researching complaints: Student satisfaction problem?
Introduction and Background
Professor Damian Murphy, who is the Director of Research of a leading Australian university, has previously established a research program to examine student satisfaction towards the university's services. However, since it received low number of student participation and complaints or feedback from students, it contributed little to the understanding of the underlying causes of student satisfaction/dissatisfaction and the true conception of university services by students. It was also discovered from some special students that both from international and domestic were probably reluctant to make complaints, and were extremely unaware of facilities for complaining and policies for complaining in the university. Because of the unexpected result he decided to plan and undertake a new research project targeted at all undergraduate students to assess student experiences with university services by investigating whether or not students complain, and how and why they complain. It is expected that the feedback of students generated from this new research, no matter positive or negative, would be used to add on current knowledge of student satisfaction and therefore improve service quality of the university. This paper aims to identify the underlying issues of the previous research and propose the directions of a new effective research approach to assess true student experience towards university services.
Case Study Situation Analysis
It is apparent that Damian's need for a new approach in his research program is to make up for the inadequacies and certain underlying issues of his previous research. One of the major issues is that his previous research has resulted in very low student participation rates, which has severely limited the significance of the results in showing the true perception of students towards the services provided by the university. As the number of students participating in these evaluation studies is small, this basically reduces the sample size for the research program and would therefore lead to biased and skewed results (Kotler et. al. 2006). Therefore, although Damian's previous research program has led to results that look to be pleasing to the university, yet given the low participation rate the result from this limited sample size is still far from convincing that this is the true general perception and satisfaction level of students. Moreover, the design of Damian's pervious research program has failed to give a comprehensive analysis of the underlying causes of student satisfaction and dissatisfaction (C/SD). This represents a very important issue because student satisfaction and feedback are the most essential information for the university to improve education and other services so that students' needs are better addressed and teaching standards could be raised, as consumer (students) satisfaction makes up an important end goal of the Marketing Concept (Kotler et. al. 2006). The lack of a relevant management problem and marketing research problem addressing the underlying causes of student satisfaction and dissatisfaction during the design of the previous research could be the reason that it has failed to provide insights into this important issue.
Another major concern of Damian's previous research program is that there was low number of complaints or feedback received from students regarding the educational and administrative services of the university. Since the educational and administrative services make up a significant portion of the overall services provided to students by the university, such low complaining and feedback rates in these aspects could highly limit the usefulness and value of the results generated from this research program in order to improve university services and thus it represents a big issue to be fixed. Results from ad hoc studies conducted by Damian's office have also suggested that students are highly reluctant in voicing their complaints towards these services of the university. From a marketing point of view, students' reluctance to complain is not a good thing to the university nor it could help improving the services of the university, because external research findings have revealed that encouraging customers (students) to complain is actually beneficial to an organisation (university) since it could help releasing negative effects of customers and thus leading to reduced negative word-of-mouth (WOM) activity (Nyer and Gopinath 2005). Another issue ad hoc studies have shown was that reluctance to complain is also prevalent for both international and domestic Australian students, despite possible cultural differences on complaint behaviour. Yet perhaps more importantly, Damian's previous research program's failure to take into account other significant factors that influence complaint behaviour could be crucial in its inability to explain why students are so reluctant to complain. A general literature review has already indicated that there are at least six different factors influencing complaint behaviour.
Formulation and Evaluation of Alternative Managerial Decisions
Based on the above situation analysis, some alternative managerial decisions are formulated and evaluated to help planning the new research program in student complaint behaviour.
Addressing C/SD in Research Questions
In designing an effective marketing research program, a clear management problem has to be addressed appropriately and relevant to the core issues under investigation, and subsequently this management problem will transformed into further marketing research problems, in which eventual research questions will be designed upon (Kotler et. al. 2006). Since the previous research program has failed to address the important issue of the underlying causes of student satisfaction and dissatisfaction, Damian's new research approach should therefore clearly address this issue by setting its management problems as the following: “Do students complain about university services?”, “How do students complain?” and “Why do students complain?”. Other management problems that might be of interest could be “Are students aware of the facilities for complaints?” and so on. Transforming these into specific marketing research problems would produce mission statements such as “To determine whether students complain about university services”, “To identify the ways students complain” and “To estimate student awareness towards facilities for complaints” etc. Based upon these, research questions can be effectively formulated to gather relevant information which Damian truly needed from correspondents.
Utilising all Factors of Complaint Behaviour
Results of past research as collected from literature review have indicated a number of factors influencing complaint behaviour. In order to investigate the reason behind students' reluctance to complain, especially towards educational and administrative services, one should utilize all factors of complaint behaviour when formulating research to give a more comprehensive analysis. These factors include (1) “attitude towards complaining”, where a person who has a positive attitude to seek redress is more likely to complain (Nyer and Gopinath 2005); (2) “the likely success of a complaint”, that is the perceived possibility that one would receive remedial actions from the service provider (Oh 2004); (3) “difficulty in seeking redress”, that is whether it is worthwhile to complain; (4) “perception of responsiveness”, where a person negatively perceives the responsiveness of the service provider tends to engage in negative WOM behaviour (Singh 1990); (5) “importance of service”, that is one who places higher relative worth on a product or service will be more likely to complain (Grambois et. al. 1977); and (6) “loyalty of customers” where the more loyal a customer is the more likely one will complain (Grambois et. al. 1977). All these factors of complaint behaviour should be utilized to assist in the formulation of effective research questions, such as “What is your perception on the university's likelihood to remedy a complaint on its service?” or “What do you think of the university's responsiveness to complaints?” and so on.
Recommendations and Implementation
The new research program can be consisted of a qualitative research phase and a quantitative research phase. This approach can make the most of the advantages of each type and also cover up the shortcomings of each type. The qualitative phase of the research program can help to seek in-depth and open-ended responses which would be helpful in discovering complaints towards specific services or gaining useful feedback that could help narrow down the research problem in the subsequent quantitative phase. It also helps to alleviate response bias on scales in quantitative research. On the other hand, quantitative research efficiently gather quantifiable data and are able to be organised and analysed effectively even though the database might become very large. In terms of data gathering strategy, personal interviews may be of greater advantage to improve response rates since it is easier to get and hold attention, and clarification on questions could be possible for respondents so that they would feel freer and clearer in voicing their complaints. Although this data collecting method is costly, Damian can try to arrange marketing students to do this as part of their course assignment so that research costs could be saved and students can gain research knowledge simultaneously. Lastly, it is suggested that a desirable questionnaire format would include different question types (multiple-choice, ratings, scales, etc) that are simple and clearly worded, consistent in layout and avoiding bias in language.