Superior customer service has long been recognised as a source of competitive advantage for service providers. This is never truer than when things go wrong. When customers complain or are disadvantaged is when superior customer service really has to work. If a company can’t manage a customer when something goes wrong they will rarely come back, and they tell everyone they know what happened.
We’ve undertaken research at Macquarie University that proves that the emotional intelligence (EI) of customers will determine how they respond when things go wrong with a service. Our research reveals that EI is a reliable predictor of how customers will deal with stressful circumstances. In fact, their EI will not only determine the strategies they deploy, but will help explain how some customers achieve successful service outcomes, while others do not.
The concept of EI is relatively new, but is described as the ability to perceive, access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, the ability to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and the ability to reflectively regulate emotions to cope with environmental demands and pressures.
In light of this, it is reasonable to speculate that individuals with a higher EI have a greater ability to regulate their own psychological state and as a result, are more in control of managing stressful or unpleasant events. They are also more likely to try to eliminate the source of stress of an unpleasant experience and are better able to keep emotions within manageable bounds.
This is largely because they have a much higher tolerance for stress. They are also better able to cope with emotions such as anger and disappointment. High EI customers can even find it in themselves to forgive service providers for a bad experience far easier than customers considered to have low emotional intelligence. High EI customers can also even remain a loyal shopper and go on to recommend your service to others despite the fact that their own experience was negative.
The findings should prompt all service providers to consider changing the way they train staff to deal with conflict resolution by recognising that customers don’t all need the same solution to a complaint. And while it is fair to suggest that actually detecting a customer’s level of EI during the service interaction may be difficult (if not impossible) that shouldn’t stop service providers from attempting to leverage the EI of their own employees.
Research shows that employees that have difficulty identifying and describing their own feelings may well have trouble managing not only their own, but also customers’ emotional states. This could in turn restrict their ability to deal with unhappy customers, and ultimately, could affect your company’s reputation.
Being sure you know who you’re hiring and what their emotional capabilities are, is part of the solution. But service providers could go one step further and deploy their high EI staff to the frontline to deal with all complaints.
Store managers might also consider setting up systems that enable aggrieved customers to be reassured that the situation will be appropriately handled as soon as issues arise.
Or, alternative measures to mitigate the negative effects of customers trying to solve the problem themselves could be considered, such as outlining user-friendly refund procedures, removing red tape for customers to seek redress or dedicating specialist staff to help customers through the service recovery process.
Service providers determined to go even further could introduce remote sensing techniques such as voice inflexion analysis, narrative prediction and rebuttal scripts that could be deployed across multiple customer channels to predict stress and emotional tension.
Whatever you decide, the research emphasises the pressing need for service managers to deal with the customer, not the service failure.
The report should serve as food for thought for any service provider.
About the research: The research undertaken by Professor Mark Gabbott from Macquarie University with Dr Yelena Tsarenko and Dr Mok Wai Ho of Monash University in Melbourne. It involved the analysis of 283 questionnaires answered by a database of men and women who had previously agreed to complete online surveys in exchange for points which can be redeemed for incentives.
They were asked to complete a survey designed on a scenario for a service failure, which described an initial service problem and a subsequent poor response by staff. Half the respondents had a degree, while 31.1% had completed secondary level education.
From the report ‘Emotional Intelligence as a moderator of coping strategies and service outcomes in circumstances of service failure’.
Professor Mark Gabbott is Executive Dean of Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics. His current research interests are in services marketing, knowledge management, customer relationship management, consumer behaviour and customer value. Mark has published four books, has also published research in a variety of academic journals and sits on the editorial boards of three international marketing journals.
Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in addition to strong academic research in the fields of accounting and finance, actuarial studies, business, economics and business law.