“If Only…”: Customer Counterfactual Thinking in Failed Recovery

Hai-Anh Tran, Yuliya Strizhakova*, Hongfei Liu, Ismail Golgeci

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper aims to examine counterfactual thinking as a key mediator of the effects of failed recovery (vs. failed delivery) on negative electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). The authors further investigate the effectiveness of using recovery co-creation in minimizing customers’ counterfactual thinking. Design/methodology/approach: This research includes textual analysis of online reviews (Study 1) and three scenario-based experiments (Studies 2, 3a and 3b). In addition to using item-response scales, the authors analyze negative online reviews and participants’ open-ended responses to capture their counterfactual thinking. Findings: Failed recovery (vs failed delivery) increases counterfactual thinking, which, in turn, increases negative eWOM. These mediating effects of counterfactual thinking are consistent across textual analyses and experimental studies, as well as across different measures of counterfactual thinking. Counterfactual thinking also impacts customer anger in experiments; however, anger alone does not explain the effects of failed recovery on negative eWOM. Counterfactual thinking can be minimized by co-created recovery, especially when it is used proactively. Practical implications: The findings demonstrate the detrimental effects of counterfactual thinking and offer managerial insights into co-creation as a strategy to minimize customers’ counterfactual thinking. The authors also highlight the importance and ways of tracking counterfactual thinking in digital outlets. Originality/value: The authors contribute to counterfactual thinking and service recovery research by demonstrating the effects of failed recovery on counterfactual thinking that, in turn, impacts negative eWOM and offering a novel way to measure its expression in online narratives. The authors provide guidance on how to use co-creation in the service recovery process to minimize counterfactual thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3221-3249
Number of pages29
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number12
Early online date6 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Emerald Publishing. This AAM is deposited under the CC BY-NC 4.0 licence. Any reuse is allowed in accordance with the terms outlined by the licence. To reuse the AAM for commercial purposes, permission should be sought by contacting permissions@emeraldinsight.com.


  • Co-creation
  • Compensation
  • Counterfactual thinking
  • Double deviation
  • Service recovery
  • Word-of-mouth (WOM)
  • eWOM


Dive into the research topics of '“If Only…”: Customer Counterfactual Thinking in Failed Recovery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this