Case Study of Students’ Complaints in the University


Conducting marketing research to investigate a social phenomenon is an accepted method, in terms of gathering the information in order to make a decision, and accordingly to discover the root cause of a particular problem, and make corresponding recommendations.

In the light of the aforementioned this paper investigates the possibility of the application of marketing theories and concepts in a specific social problem, based on a case study of students’ complaints in the university.

Background of the Case

The case basically revolves around choosing a different approach, approach in measuring the satisfaction of the student. Professor Damian Murphy is the director of research in a leading Australian university, who has been annually conducting researches, in order to measure the satisfaction of the students of the university’s educational services. A problem was raised with the concern of Murphy of the validity of the results of the research as well as the number of the students willing to participate in the study. Ad hoc studies revealed that there is a possibility of unwillingness on students’ part to complain. Additionally, ad hoc studies showed an indication that there is a low awareness from students regarding the facilities for complaints and policies for complaints handling. In that regard, Murphy decided to take a new approach in which he will be investigating the students’ complaint behavior, measuring complaints’ patterns, along with the reasons and the methods students choose to complain.

The factors Murphy based his decision on were stemming from research findings that indicated that the encouragement of customers to complain can be beneficial in the organization, because complaints reduce the level of word-of-mouth (WOM) activity. Accordingly, Murphy realized that the findings of the study that he intends to conduct can contribute to the existing level of knowledge regarding students’ satisfaction. In that regard, Murphy conducted the first step in his potential study by reviewing the literature on complaint behavior, outlining seven factors that can influence such behavior. Finally, the case study implied that a major study, involving qualitative and quantitative phases, should be conducted using the aforementioned information.


The First Issue – design procedures

Analyzing the steps necessary to conduct a marketing research, it can be seen that they are applicable in the case study. Generally, it can be said that such steps are common in any research study, although it can be assumed that, in marketing researches, as the definition implies, the emphasis is put on information and the way it links the targeted population and the marketer, where it is defined as “the function that links the consumer, customer and public to the marketer through information” (Armstrong and Kotler, 2007).

In that regard, the steps required to conduct a marketing research, and the way they are applied, can be listed as follows:

  • Identification of the problem and the objectives – the problem was identified through the need to locate and outline the causes of an existing issue, i.e. lack of satisfaction response, and accordingly the correlation between them.
  • The development of the plan for information collection – This step is implemented through the identification of the information needed for accomplishing the study’s objectives and subsequently, choosing a method for its gathering, research design. The common designs are the quantitative, qualitative and mixed approaches. The choice of design type in the case study can be influenced by such factors as the attitudes toward possible risks by the decision-maker, i.e. the dean’s university, the budget of the research, and the time frame. (Wrenn et al., 2002).
  • The implementation of the plan – the implementation implies gathering the information through the selected method. In the cases study, considering the university setting, the information will be gathered through survey methods.
  • Interpreting and reporting the findings – the step which results in drawing a conclusion based on the findings of the data analysis, and which answers the main question of the study.

The Second Issue – The selected design

The selection of the design of the research can be seen through outlining the desired outcome from the data, which in the case study can be seen through the establishing and framing the problem, i.e. the possible factors of influence, and describing the nature of the relation of the factors to the investigated phenomenon, i.e. compliant behavior. In the first case, it is an exploratory research, where researchers gather preliminary information, which will help to “define the problem better and suggest hypotheses” (Armstrong and Kotler, 2007) It can be assumed that the exploratory part of the research was accomplished in the case study through the literature review, which framed the possible factors that influence the complaint behavior. The exploratory research would be followed by descriptive research, where it can be defined as the research in which the relationship between the variables or a certain problem would be described. (Armstrong and Kotler, 2007) Accordingly, the literature review can be merely established for the theoretical background of the study, while the exploratory design can be implemented through a preliminary survey with open-ended questions. The selected design can be justified due to the fact that Murphy did not have predetermined methodology, where the exploratory design would give him an insight and understanding into the topic, which he will then confirm through the descriptive design.

The Third Issue – Research methods

In the case of the study, the mixed approach can be seen as apparent, where the exploratory design of the study implied the collection of the data through analysis of the text, e.g. the review in the case, and accordingly the part where the study will investigate the framed problem through the predetermined variables and methods. It should be noted that, a formal qualitative data will be gathered in the addition to the findings of the review, the mixed-method approach can be implemented through constructing two surveys, with open-ended questions and close-ended questions. (Creswell, 2003). Taking the perspective of examining the relationship between the factors, which Murphy covered in the review, the quantitative part, can be implemented as follows:

  • Designing a survey of questions based on which the participants will rate these factors based on their importance in determining their complaint behavior.
  • Choosing a sample of participants. Considering that such group of students as international students and their results will be important for the research, a random stratified selection would be important for the research, so that the data gathered would be representative. Additionally, the emphasis on the distinction between domestic and international students can be seen through investigating the influence of the culture as a factor on complaint behavior.
  • The analysis of the data.

It is important for Murphy that the new research will be tested for validity and reliability. In that regard, the validity of the findings can be considered specifically important, where previous researches could not reflect measured values. In that regard, the present study should be addressed toward the internal validity, i.e. considering all of the factors that might influence the outcome of the study and which were not included initially. An example could be given in case, the there were confounding variables affecting the students’ complaint behavior such as the time frame in which the complaints were collected, where the time frame chosen was during the exams period. In that regard, if such factor was not included in the study, there might be a threat to its validity.

Questions and Answers

The management problem can be defined as the inability the validate the feedback response of the students, based on a low participation, in order to assess the quality of the educational services provided and accordingly react. The marketing research problem can be defined as the identification of the causes of two participation and response, and its relation to the acquired results. The research might have two questions an exploratory question, i.e. what are the factors that influence the complaint behavior, and how a causal question, i.e. which factor/s positively influences the complaining behavior.

The research design should be formulated as a mixed approach design, where the qualitative part would identify and describe the variables that influence a particular pattern and phenomenon, and a quantitative part which will investigate the correlation of the variables with such behavior.

The results of the previous research would be used to set the theoretical framework, where the results of the findings used in the qualitative part of the study can be used to frame the problem, and subsequently the results can be compared and contrasted to the study being conducted. (Creswell, 2003).

A survey can be considered as a suitable option to collect the primary data from respondents, where in addition to its flexibility, the method of the survey is cheaper and more responsive in terms of speed of data collection.

The sampling frame in the case study is represented by the all the students of the university. The sampling elements in the study are the set of elements considered in the selection, which in the case study would be the domestic students and the international students. (Trochim, 2006b). The sampling strategy in that regard would be stratified random selection.

The researcher should make several decisions prior to constructing the survey, which includes the list of questions to ask, the form of the questions, the wording, and the ordering of the questions. (Armstrong and Kotler, 2007) In the case study it would be open-ended questions for the qualitative part of the survey, while, in the quantitative part, a closed-question survey with an importance scale can be seen as suitable in the presented situation.


The recommendations apply to the study can be seen through the possible limitations of the study, where the identification of the factors and the way they are related does not necessarily imply the causal effect of complaints’ low response. Nevertheless, the study can be used to test the results of the previous and the following researches, to eliminate the threat to the reliability. Accordingly, the managerial decisions that could be considered would be in the elimination of the most influential factors. For example, in case that the study revealed that the most influential factor is the responsiveness of the provider, i.e. the institution, the possible interventions can be seen through the publication of the results of the studies and the actions taken, in order for the students to feel that their response is properly addressed.


ARMSTRONG, G. & KOTLER, P. (2007) Marketing: an introduction, Pearson Education Australia.

CRESWELL, J. W. (2003) Research design : qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches, Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

LAMB, C. W., HAIR, J. F. & MCDANIEL, C. D. (2005) Essentials of marketing, Mason, Ohio, Thomson/South-Western.

TROCHIM, W. M. K. (2006a) Probability Sampling. Social Research Methods. 2009. Web.

TROCHIM, W. M. K. (2006b) Sampling Terminology. Social Research Methods. 2009. Web.

WRENN, B., LOUDON, D. L. & STEVENS, R. E. (2002) Marketing research; text and cases, Routledge.

Find out your order's cost