Managing Post-Purchase Moments of Truth: Leveraging Customer Feedback to Increase Loyalty

Clay M. Voorhees, Paul W. Fombelle, Alexis Allen, Sterling A. Bone, and Joel Aach, 2014, 14-115

Many service firms are developing new approaches to managing “moments of truth,” the critical encounters that significantly impact customers’ impressions of the firm and consumption experience. After such service encounters, firms routinely collect consumer feedback yet few act on this information. In particular, little attention is given to managing feedback from highly satisfied customers.

Here, Clay Voorhees, Paul Fombelle, Alexis Allen, Sterling Bone, and Joel Aach posit that positive feedback from satisfied customers provides firms with an opportunity to create a new moment of truth. In this study, they examine the effects of acknowledging positive customer feedback on future customer patronage and perceptions of communal relationships with the firm.

In a large field experiment with highly satisfied customers of a Fortune 500 firm in the hospitality industry, the researchers track both customer attitudes and behavior over a 12-month period. The researchers find that a firm response to highly satisfied customers (in the form of a “thank you” email from the restaurant group’s president) increased patronage by more than 50%. In addition, it significantly strengthened the communal relationship with female customers.

Study 2 replicated these effects in a simulated experiment and demonstrated that perceptions of gratitude are the driving mechanism. The study also examined the influence of timing and reward provision on the impact of the firm response. The researchers found that the benefits of acknowledgement were only experienced when the acknowledgment followed two days after the customer feedback, and that neither monetary nor social rewards increased gratitude over the “acknowledgment only” condition.

Managerial implications

This study suggests that managers can develop new strategies to enhance customer relationships among highly satisfied consumers. The results reveal that a simple acknowledgment of customer feedback can lead to substantial gains in the strength of firm–customer relationships and repatronage behavior.

The study also provides insights into how service firms might calibrate these efforts. Specifically, while men and women both increased repatronage, only women experienced gains in the strength of the communal relationship. Thus, women may represent an ideal target for such efforts.

Further, this research suggests that replying to all survey responses immediately with a generic thank you message may not provide any value to the firm, developing a process that systematically delays the reply, thus providing the illusion or actual perception that the expression of gratitude is personal and genuine.

Finally, since social and financial rewards had no significant impact on the relationship between firm response and positive outcomes; this suggests that simple, sincere gestures are enough to drive feelings of gratitude among consumers.

Clay M. Voorhees Associate Professor of Marketing, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University. Paul W. Fombelle is Assistant Professor of Marketing, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University. Alexis Allen is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky. Sterling A. Bone is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University. Joel Aach, MBA, leads an independent Consumer Insights and Brand Strategy consulting firm.

 Related links

Fishing for Compliments and Complaints: The Influence of Solicited Customer Feedback and Company Acknowledgment on Customer Attitudes and Intentions
Sterling A. Bone, Katherine N. Lemon, Katie A. Liljenquist, R. Bruce Money, and Kristen B. DeTienne (2009) [Report]


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