One of the critical aspects in marketing and managing service products is customer provider interaction. This is also referred to as moment of truth. This in a bullfighting situation is the moment when the matador makes the kill. In human interactions, it is also the moment when one’s character, courage or skill is put to test. When two or more people come in a face to face to situation like a cursory exchange of glance between two car drivers at an intersection or between a doctor and patient, certain outcomes are produced. These encounters do not produce a sum by way of simple addition, rather they unleash chain reactions as it happens in chemistry. A chemical reaction that is produced by interaction of two molecules is often more powerful and impactful. Therefore, human interactions in social situations are more about chemistry than mathematics.
Jan Carlzon of SAS used this concept of MOT in his airline’s context and stressed on its importance because any customer contact, however remote, is an opportunity to form impressions. The impressions are outcomes of encounters and these must be managed because in services customers don’t take home some tangible entity but they carry intangible impressions. In case of goods, the happening of MOT begins when a consumer sets his or her sight on a product which is followed by interactions during product purchase and use and ends with feedback, if any. A Forbes article reported that Google came up with its own concept of MOT which was called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) to refer to interactions (website searches, reading reviews etc) that happen even before buying is done. The things did not stop here and later in 2014, Less Than Zero Moment of Truth was proposed by Eventricity Ltd to signify a situation when something happens in a customer’s life and a product search is started.
The service jobs like those of doctors, teachers, policemen, actors, air hosts and restaurant staff are tough. They require a special type of labor- emotional labor, a concept introduced by Hochschild (The Managed Heart). The service jobs are not always nice rather often they are nasty. Imagine the stress that airline staff face when they fly into a country whose people are culturally impoverished and wear their crudity and rusticity on their shoulders. Same also holds true for Uber cab drivers for whom some passengers are nothing less than nightmare. The economic challenge that looms on their heads is how to ‘act’ in such a manner that customers take home good impressions. This requires them to hide what they internally feel and ‘act’ in sync with the provided script.
Services are often psychological battlegrounds where employee success depends on the ability to suppress genuine feeling and exhibiting behaviors and emotions that are not in sync with internal emotional state. This breeds dissonance at the workplace. The boundary spanning roles are stressful for employees for they have to keep their emotions in check.
Now consider the two recent cases involving Shiv Sena MP Gaikwad and Diwaker Reddy of TDP (Shiv Sena MP hits Air India employee with slippers on plane at New Delhi airport; Another Gaikwad! TDP MP pushes, shoves & abuses Indigo Staff and gets banned by all airlines). Now imagine the stress these people would have been subjected to when a customer violates all norms of decency. What options do people have in these kinds of demanding situations?
Two types of emotional labor can be distinguished: deep acting and surface acting. An employee on the surface may wear a cool and decent façade or fake emotion for the sake of adherence to organizational rules. This happens all the time when frontline staff shows synthetic smiles and courtesy. Imagine how difficult and stressful it must have been for airline staff to be calm and composed when Shiv Sena MP acted like a goon not as MP. Deep acting on the other hand refers to a situation when an employee genuinely tries to feel the emotion that he or she is expected to show in performance of a service role. Deep acting is about internalization of emotions which removes plasticity and lends genuineness. It requires deeper engagement with heart and soul and cultivation of oneness with the expected role. People have an uncanny ability to discriminate between natural and synthetic. What touches the heart is remembered and forges deeper connections. Not all service organizations invest in frontline staff in order to transform them into people capable of genuine performance. They are quite opposite to logic and are placed at the bottom of organizational pyramid and are given lowest importance.
Viewed from the MPs perspective what do these episodes mean? When media covers these incidents they must remember that remote encounters take place and press chemistry into action. These moments of truth accumulate and create a lump of disgust, frustration and abomination towards specific individuals. This is the reason why even stalwarts are defeated in elections. If they can’t change their core and continue to be crooks, at least they can master the art of surface acting.