How small service failures drive customer defection: Introducing the concept of microfailures

Sean Sands, Colin Campbell, Lois Shedd, Carla Ferraro, Alexis Mavrommatis

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Service that falls below customer expectations is framed as a service failure. While many researchers have investigated service failures, they have tended to focus on large service failures. This is likely because large failures are more noticeable by firms and more likely to prompt customer complaints than small failures. However, we argue that smaller service failures can cause as much damage as larger failures, and in some cases even more. We introduce the concept of service microfailures, which we define as instances when a customer's expectations go unmet in some small way. While minor in isolation, repeated service microfailures that go unnoticed and unrecovered can compound in effect and drive customer defection. For this reason, we propose that service microfailures are a potentially much larger managerial problem than they may appear on the surface. In this article, we conceptualize microfailures as a distinct form of service failure and outline the mechanism through which they cause damage. We then develop a multifaceted approach through which managers can detect, repair, and prevent service microfailures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-584
Number of pages12
JournalBusiness Horizons
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Customer defection
  • Customer relations
  • Microfailures
  • Reputation management
  • Service failure
  • Service recovery


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