The Industrial Buyer Complaint Process: An Ethnography of Finding and Fixing Vendor Mistakes


  • John E. Swan University of Alabama Birmingham
  • Thomas L. Powers University of Alabama Birmingham
  • Scott W. Hansen


Maintaining good customer relations is an important consideration for marketers of industrial products. An important component of this task is to identify and rectify any problems or mistakes that have occurred with an order. Although this activity is important, relatively little is known about how the complaint process occurs. The research reported in this paper explores the process of industrial buyer complaining through open-ended, ethnographic interviews with organizational purchasers. The results indicate that the process of organizational buyer complaining involves three interrelated steps of: (1) discovering that a vendor mistake or problem exists with an order; (2) investigating the problem to determine its cause and how it might be corrected; and (3) fixing the problem resulting from the mistake.