Rude Behavior Costs Companies

Approximately one-third of consumers surveyed reported they’re treated rudely by an employee on an average of once a month and that these and other episodes of uncivil worker behavior make them less likely to patronize those businesses.

Customers rarely report such behavior to employee supervisors, and management systems are so poor they don’t deal with this problem (good systems will – Trader Joe’s or Crutchfield, for example) ensuring a relentless cycle of poor employee behavior that leaves consumers angry and frustrated and saps businesses of customer loyalty, return business and profits, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. Having tried many times to report failures in their systems to organizations I can say I am either treated with we have no way to accept your feedback or obvious disinterest.

Even, long after Brian Joiner told me he stopped wasting his time for most companies as they obviously had no interest in improving systems to avoid customer hardship I keep banging my head against a wall. It is very rarely that I don’t get complete disinterest. About the best is “you are so right, this is a problem I have to deal with all the time, I have told ‘them’ about the problem but nothing ever happens, I’ll pass on your comment.” It is no surprise people don’t bother to point out problems.

A majority of the respondents went home and told friends and family members about the incident (and connected customers often speak out online to large audiences about bad customer service). Managers are unable to address the issue with employees if the managers don’t have a grasp on what is going on at the gemba. The study found that witnessing employee incivility makes customers angry. Customers are less likely to repurchase from the firm and express less interest in learning about the firm’s new services. For managers who are made aware of the offending behavior, their own harsh treatment of the employee can also prompt negative reactions from consumers.

Related: Customer Service is ImportantUnited Breaks GuitarsFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management

“Regardless of the perpetrator or the reason, witnessing incivility scalds customer relationships and depletes the bottom line,” report the co-authors, Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Management Christine Porath and USC Professors of Business Administration and Marketing Debbie MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes.

The best response is a simple apology, which researchers found was a just and proper response from both the employee and the supervisor. Of course, you should also address any other issue the customer has. Once you mistreat people they often are much more sensitive to things that they would have accepted otherwise. So I believe you would be wise to apologize and ask if there is anything you can help them with. Leave them with a positive, rather than just apologizing for the negative. It would be best to avoid the problems in the first place. Training programs that foster employee civility in order to prevent harmful outbursts may well be wise.

From the abstract of the paper:

It occurs in many industries. Moreover, witnessing such behavior makes customers angry and creates desires to get back at the uncivil perpetrator and the firm. These effects occur even when a manager’s uncivil comment is aimed at correcting a subordinate’s job-related offense and even when it is delivered offstage, outside of the customer servicescape. Finally, we demonstrate that these effects are driven by customers’ concerns about deontic injustice from incivility (reaction to a wrongful misconduct that violates fairness standards). These results contribute to the literature on workplace incivility and customer reactions to service encounters as well as the burgeoning literature on customer anger and revenge. We suggest that organizations invest in training programs focusing on employee civility. Managers should receive training in coaching to mitigate against the detrimental effects of incivility.

It is sad to see professors publishing in closed access ways (the journal this was published in does not allow access without an exorbitant fee and time wasted to pay, greatly reducing the likelihood those managers that could take action based on the research ever will read it). I was able to find an online version of the research via USC, maybe USC has decided to require access through their web site to research they do even if the publishers website retains barriers to access. If so, that is a good step.

My father was a professor, what he saw as his mission was to encourage the adoption of better methods in society. Obviously that is not done when you hide research behind barriers. Even in 1986 the institution he setup with George Box made their reports available as much as possible (at that time you had to pay the cost of reproduction and mail to mail the physical report to you). Now all the reports are available for free on the internet. Authors of the reports include: George Box, William Hunter, Dr. Deming, Peter Scholtes, Brian Joiner and Kaoru Ishikawa. It isn’t acceptable for professors or universities that want to move society forward act in such as backward manner as hiding research behind paywalls (or similar barriers). If the University is not interested in seeing research applied then hiding research seems like a logical decision.

Related: MIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly Articles – Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog posts on open access

6 thoughts on “Rude Behavior Costs Companies

  1. There of course is not one single cause for this outcome. But I do believe there are a couple major levers that we can pull.

    First, hire for civility; not just in customer service jobs, but across the organization. I was sitting with a person in Starbucks and he was snapping at a mother 2 tables over who’s infant son was loud. He never heard from me again.

    Second, treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated. That will reflect in their attitudes towards the customers.

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  3. I think in business schools first of all students must study Organizational behaviour deeper and conclude that people are social creatures and salaries aren’t the only source to motivate employees.

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