How Complaining Customers Make Companies Listen and Influence Product Development

John K. Christiansen, Marta Gasparin, Claus Varnes, Ina Augustin

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1650001
JournalInternational Journal of Innovation Management
Issue number1
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • Complaints
  • Users
  • Product development
  • Actor–network theory
  • Hybrid collective

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