Posts tagged ‘customer service psychology’

February 5, 2013

Be Kind. The Simple Answer to the Costly Epidemic of Workplace Rudeness

Be kind.

According to my children’s head teacher, these two words cover everything he requires of pupil behaviour.

That’s all well and good you might be thinking, but is it really relevant to our understanding of the complexities of adult workplace behaviour and performance?  Most definitely it is.  It turns out that this head teacher is wise beyond his institution and that being kind is far more than an easy standard for school children to understand.

In fact, years of research shows that being rude to our colleagues has immediate and long term detrimental effects on employee engagement, commitment and performance, quite apart from its negative impact on workplace relationships and job and life satisfaction.

An article in HBR’s online magazine summarises two American academics’ long term findings on the impact of rudeness at work.  Here are a few “highlights” of Christine Porath’s and Christine Pearson’s work.

  • Half of people surveyed in 2011 said they were on the receiving end of rudeness at least once a week.  This is twice as many people as said this in 1998.
  • Large numbers of us decrease our effort, our time at work and the quality of our performance as a result of being on the receiving end of rudeness at work (48%, 47% and 38% respectively of those experiencing incivility).
  • 12% of people who experience rudeness at work say they have left a job because of it.

 Rudeness filters through to customers – who walk away

Rudeness within a workforce has an impact on customers too.  Pearson and Porath’s surveys and experimental research with other colleagues indicates that:

  • 25% of people who experience rudeness at work say that they have taken their frustration out on customers
  • customers witnessing rudeness amongst employees are significantly less likely to want to use the company’s service in the future and most will generalize their feelings about the rudeness they witness to all employees of that organisation.

Add to this the costs of managing incidents of incivility and the negative impact on creativity, accuracy, performance and willingness to help others revealed by a number of researchers in the field, and I think we can all agree that rudeness at work is officially a Really Bad Thing.

How to encourage a good-mannered workplace

So what to do to turn back the rising tide of workplace incivility and unkindness?  How can customer service organisation encourage and increase the sum total of  courtesy and positive interactions in order to improve the experience of both workers and customers?

We all know that rudeness makes us feel bad and ignoring its power to affect our work is a case of putting our heads in the sand.   However, the good news is that evidence suggests it is easy to create a virtuous circle of niceness and positive feeling.  Work by Kim and Yoon in the service sector suggests that positive behavior initiated by employees towards customers leads to more positive behaviour in return and a positive mood in the employee as a result.

The neuro-economist Paul J Zak believes that civility is part of what he terms the Golden Rule – ie, you be nice to me and I will be nice to you  – and is rooted in our body chemistry.  Studies show that when someone is nice to us our brains release the hormone oxytocin which not only makes us feel good but leads us to be nicer to others.

Conversely, it is easy to see how vicious circles of rudeness bad feeling and unkindness can also be created.

So we should acknowledge the power of courtesy and kindness at work and make it an explicit value for the department or organisation.  Amongst other thing, Porath and Pearson suggest making sure that leaders understand the impact their own behaviour has on others behaviour and that they role model positive, courteous and appreciative behavior towards their staff.    This will start the virtuous circle of civility and the ripple effect will pass this on right down the line to customers and even further.

 Another suggestion by researchers in the field is to make civility an explicit part of the recruitment process which embeds courtesy and kindness into the psychological contract.   And at a more local level, department or team leaders can discuss and agree with their staff what behaviour is expected and what is unacceptable, along with possible rewards or sanctions down the line.

 Making a difference

Rudeness is often regarded as something that we just have to put up with from time to time and consistently rude people often get away with this type of corrosive behaviour without direct challenge.  Yet we now know that it has a huge impact on both employee and customer experience and ultimately on the performance and bottom line of the organisation.

 So I see my children’s head teacher’s emphasis on being kind as a lesson for grown ups too.  It really is worth making the effort to treat others with kindness because if every one of us is just a little bit more civil and little more kind, the virtuous circle and ripple effect will ensure that it takes on a life of its own.  And who knows, it might well make its way back round to you.

Good luck.  And if it helps to get the ball rolling even just a little, I want to say that I really do appreciate you reading this blog today: thank you 🙂

References and further information

Porath, C., & Erez, A. (2009). Overlooked but not untouched: How rudeness reduces onlookers’ performance on routine and creative tasks Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109 (1), 29-44

Porath and Pearson, HBR Rudeness article : http://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility/ar/1

Kim E, and Yoon DJ (2012). Why Does Service With a Smile Make Employees Happy? A Social Interaction Model. The Journal of Applied Psychology 97(5) 758 – 775

C. Porath, D. MacInnis, V. S. Folkes. It’s Unfair: Why Customers Who Merely Observe an Uncivil Employee Abandon the CompanyJournal of Service Research, 2011

Flin, R, Rudeness at Work Causes Mistakes BMI British Medical Journal ,2010, July 7

August 10, 2012

No Really, These are Laughter Lines…..

Do we really need more reasons to convince us that increasing the average age of call centre employees would be a good thing?

Probably not.  But just in case you encounter someone who is still adamant that customer service is a young person’s game, here is a little more information from the world of academic psychology.

It turns out that older people have learnt the key to keeping cheerful: look the other way, and quickly.

Emotional resilience, old-style

We already understand that positive emotions enhance customer experience and are transferable.  And plenty of research suggests that older people show more positive emotions than younger people and can cheer themselves up quicker that younger people.  Now US psychologist Derek Isaacowitz has shown that this may well be because  they switch attention from negative stimuli to positive more quickly than younger people.

His studies using eye tracking show that older people tend to have more “positive looking patterns” than young people, and do most of it when they are in a bad mood.

Bouncebackability

Out of the lab, this suggests that older workers are more adept at turning their attention to positive information than younger people, helping them to remain positive and snap out of bad moods more quickly than their younger colleagues.

Clearly this an important resource for workers in front-line customer service positions where the emotions and complaints of customers can generate significant emotional labour requirements and be an emotional drain on service providers.  Older workers, who are more inclined to refocus on the positives, may well have better staying power in these positions and help to reinforce the emotional resilience of teams.

So, customer service recruiters: it’s time to throw out any remaining Victor Meldrew stereoptypes of grumpy old men and replace them with a more accurate picture of older people who have learned how to bounce back and hold on to a sunnier disposition.  It seems that those wrinkles really are laughter lines.

References

 D. M. Isaacowitz. Mood Regulation in Real Time: Age Differences in the Role of LookingCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, 2012; 21 (4): 237 DOI : 10.1177/0963721412448651

Derek M. Isaacowitz and Fredda Blanchard-Fields. Linking Process and Outcome in the Study of Emotion and AgingPerspectives on Psychological Science, January 2012 vol. 7 no. 1 3-17

Donna R. Addis, Christina M. Leclerc, Keely A. Muscatell, Elizabeth A. Kensinger. There are age-related changes in neural connectivity during the encoding of positive, but not negative, informationCortex, 2010; 46 (4): 425

 

March 20, 2012

The New Glass Ceiling: Are We Guilty of Holding Introverts Back?

There is a remarkable video of a talk that has recently been posted on the web by TED.com.   It’s about how introverts work and it is remarkable not just because this simple, 20 minute talk has notched up an incredible 1,270,000 views, despite only being posted a couple of weeks ago, but also because it is confidently delivered, against all her inclinations, by an avowed introvert.

As Susan Cain explains in her talk, public speaking is not a natural territory for introverts.  Very rarely will you see a conference stage or a boardroom paced by an introvert as they espouse their views on the matter in hand.  The people you see doing this are much more likely to be extroverts, who are significantly more comfortable than introverts with sharing the contents of their minds and hearts and far more inclined to engage in debate and discussion with others who agree or disagree.

Introverts, and that’s at least a considerable minority of the population (although estimations vary, with some arguing that it could include anything up to 50% of the population), just don’t tend to put themselves in these types of situations.  Reluctant to offer snap responses and preferring reflection and individual decision making to any common workplace practice such as arguing a case, negotiating an outcome or riding the wave of a discussion, introverts’ favourite spaces are far from the battlefields of meetings, public speaking or vigorous debate.

More importantly, they just don’t do their best thinking there. They struggle and usually fail to achieve their true potential in these environments, in stark opposition to extraverts who rely on external inputs and communication to stimulate their creativity, develop their ideas and help form their opinions.

So what then is introverted Susan Cain doing on stage commanding both a live and a huge global online audience? 

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January 27, 2012

Listen Carefully: You Might Make Someone Smile

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

                                    Stephen R Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

It goes without saying that listening to customers is central to successful and sustainable business.   The new focus on the “voice of the customer” requires organisations to use all sorts of methods to hear what customers are saying about them and their services and products.  A myriad of new technology offers to help capture these conversations and issues from call centres, social media, email correspondence and anywhere that customers are talking.

Current technology is semantics-led: it captures words and phrases used by customers and categorises them for analysis.  How many people are talking about delivery failure for example, could indicate that a company needs to investigate whether there are service improvements that should be made. But in the previous post I argue that the easiets place to start hearing the customers’ voice is from the people employed to be in contact with them. http://bit.ly/yvxFdV The sensitivity and sophistication of these data collection and analysis units is second to none.  However, these listening capabilities have the portential to be used in an even more sophisticated and engaging way, though it is not perhaps as easy as it looks.

It is entirely correct that organisations  should be making efforts to listen to customers.

But it’s a different thing entirely to say that customers need to be listened to.

It is more than data collection: it’s an emotional experience.  When we are listened to, someone else stays quiet and attentive and demonstrates through their occasional linguistic contributions that they have heard us, understood us and empathised with us.

The real listener brings no agenda.  They don’t say “I know, I know”. 

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January 20, 2012

Yoo-hoo, Over Here, It’s the Voice of the Customer: Do You Compute?

In a recent article in HRmagazine.co.uk, Helen Murray laments the plight of call centre agents who have to listen to the same old customer complaints over and over again.

Too true.

Then she goes on to argue that this is because many companies don’t have the processes or solutions to appreciate the customer’s perspective.

Not true.

Many of the points that Helen Murray makes are valid and pertinent to a consideration of how to improve customer service. Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” will reveal invaluable information about how to improve strategy, service and products. Good organisations will use the means at their disposal to gather information from a wide range of sources including social media, call centre calls, forums, and digital and traditional correspondence. Many organisations are not doing this and are missing out on opportunities to learn and advance from a better understanding of what they are doing right and wrong in the eyes of their customers.

But there we part company.

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November 24, 2011

Anatomy of a Service Failure. How to Lose an Online Customer in 3 Easy Steps

Like a great many working parents, I do as much shopping as I can online.  It saves time and effort and reduces my carbon footprint.  Ok, I admit the last point is a happy coincidence and poor relation to the first two motivations, but I am working on it.

The point is that I and people like me are core customers of all the retailers who sell their wares in what everyone knows is a highly competitive marketplace.  However, I seem to have made the basic school-girl error of thinking that retailers understand that and more importantly that this makes me valuable to them and so every once in a while I am brought down to earth with an eye-opening bump. 

A bump that shocks me out of the inertia effect or “loyalty” so depended upon by banks, utility providers and others to keep us unthinkingly buying our services from the same organisations, despite increasing costs and the quiet downward creep of interest rates and value.  A bump which means I vow never to buy from that company again.  Service failure and no more chance of recovery.

For all the PR huff and puff about providing online ordering and delivery to make life easier and cheaper for us “valued” customers, the reality on the ground is rather different.  And it is pretty easy to lose a customer forever.  A recent experience with a big-name value retailer reminded me that there are 3 simple steps to making sure you don’t get another chance with the customer.

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October 27, 2011

Want To Know Who Ate All The Biscuits? It’s Obvious! It’s That Nice Person who is Always Helping Others

Fascinating research on the link between personality and a sweet tooth has been making the news recently.

A team of psychologists from the US have carried out a set of experiments which clearly suggest a link between a liking for sweet food and a “sweet nature”.

As compared to those who don’t like sweet things to eat, people who do like sweet things score more highly on the trait agreeableness which covers aspects of personality such as friendliness, warmth and cooperativeness.  What is more, these people are more likely to offer help to others in need than those who prefer other tastes.

Apparently the link is also evident to others. When asked to evaluate someone’s personality, if we are told they like sweet foods then we are more likely to say that they are friendly, warm and cooperative than if we think they like savoury foods. The link between cooperation and sweet foods doesn’t stop there. In a further experiment, Dr Brian Meier and his colleagues investigated whether eating something sweet – regardless of preferences – actually influences how agreeable we feel.  Amazingly, people who ate a piece of chocolate were more likely to help others and to see themselves as more friendly than people who ate something savoury.

So this is great news for chocoholics, who probably already knew to be suspicious of anyone who says they don’t like chocolate.  And obviously, for those of us who can polish off a family pack of Maltesers/M&Ms/chocolate digestives in under 30 seconds, this is vindicating evidence at last that we are simply demonstrating and enhancing our innate loveliness…

Leaving this self-congratulation aside however, the research also highlights a fundamental human tendency to ascribe certain characteristics to people on the basis of other, apparently unrelated evidence.  Here, the research reveals that there may be real links between the ascribed characteristics and the observed one, but there are many other intuitive links made in the course of our social interactions which are as yet untested, but which create influential and often self-fulfilling models of other people’s personality. 

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October 13, 2011

Nothing New Under the Human Nature Sun: Why we Already Know How to “Win Friends and Influence People In the Digital Age”

Dale Carnegie’s classic 1936 best-seller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has had a social media era update.

Taking all the tried and tested methods of Carnegie’s ground-breaking guide to successful personal influence, this new version from the company that bears his name seeks to explore how the age of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin have changed the nature of successful business and other social relationships.

It’s fair to say that, so far, the critics don’t like it.  The New York Times described it as “radically hapless”, suggests it has been composed using “refrigerator magnets stamped with corporate lingo” and expresses relief that we can all pretend the book has never been published, since the original version is thankfully still available in all good bookshops. 

As you would expect from a good literary critic, there is much emphasis on use of language and its failure to engage.  However, there is also passing mention of something much more pertinent to customer service professionals and customers – whether this book tells us something new about our relationships in our vastly different world of digital communication and social media.

What is fascinating is that the answer is no.  But not because it fails to get to grips with what is important or doesn’t offer ways in which we can navigate ourselves to happy and productive relationships using all the new technology we now have. The answer is no simply because Dale Carnegie’s advice of 75 years ago is still as valid and fresh as it was when a letter or a personal call were really the only ways to communicate. 

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July 29, 2011

I Don’t Want It, Need It or Like It, But Now You’ve Put it Like That, I’ll Buy One

Or to be more specific, I don’t want it, need it or like it but because:

  1. I like you;
  2. you have already given me something;    
  3. lots of people I know have already bought it; and,
  4. I have already said that I think something about it is good….

 …I am going to buy it.

But why?  Why would I decide to buy something on the basis of these reasons since they don’t seem connected to the value or use I might get from the product?  

The answer seems to be, unfortunately, because I am human.

Of course, we all like to think of ourselves as rational decision makers.  If asked about how we come to our decisions to buy a specific thing, the reasons we will offer are most likely to be about an understanding of our needs and how the specific features of the product or service will meet those needs. 

 We largely believe that when we make a decision to buy, we base our choice on a rational and informed evaluation of the product, often in considered comparison to the alternatives we could have chosen.  Happily, that tends to mean that we come away from purchases pleased with our selection. 

However, evidence suggests that in reality there are other reasons, less rational and less acknowledged, which explain our purchasing decisions and whilst they are not always obvious to us, large organisations are selling us things in full knowledge of what they are. 

The 4 reasons listed at the beginning of this article are included in the 6 “weapons of influence” described by psychology Professor Robert Cialdini in his best-selling book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”.  But they are almost certainly not those we would list if asked, for example, why we signed up on the doorstep to be a regular donor to a worthy international charity (more about this later). 

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