Shiv Sena’s Gaikwad and TDP’s Reddy, Airline Staff, Service Marketing, Surface Acting and Deep Acting

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.Image result for gaikwad air india


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.


Poor service, frontline staff, dichotomy of emotions and Munna Bhai MBBS


It is not uncommon for customers to grumble over poor service experience primarily caused by indifferent and sulking frontline staff. The irony of frontline staff is that they stack at the bottom of the hierarchy but from customer’s perspective they are crystallized essence of what an organization stands for. Through their close proximity with the customer, their interactions become a glass through which entire service  is looked at. They make the process by which service is delivered or enacted.

 HR Magazine (UK) reported that issues related to people like staff attitude and competence are responsible for the majority of (62%) problems eliciting complaint. A survey of customer service complaints on twitter ( categorized them into seven categories: slow service, rude service representative, money related (hidden charge, refusal to return), uncaring staff, clueless staff, quality, and language. Note that majority of these complaints are related to service staff.

The complaints and their causes are axiomatic. But it throws  an important question as to why frontline staff fails in its  duty to please and delight customers.  To customers the inside working of either the person or organization is not a concern. All they expect is a satisfactory service outcome.  Is it that people facing customers by design wage a silent war on organizations that they work by adopting customer bugging acts? Do these people have revengeful personality? Or is it that there exists a gap between their job requirements and compensation which makes their job inherently annoying?

In a recent conversation with one of my students, Ruchi  Solanki, the topic related to frontline staffers surfaced.  She revealed the pathetic conditions that these people have to work under and how poorly they are paid (long working hours, continuous standing, noise, short break, stringent supervision, poor wages).  These aspects can be called job hazards and one should be prepared to cope with them.  But what is more spirit killing aspect of their job borders on a larger existentialist concern.  Imagine a person who earns Rs 6000 after working for 30 days and toiling for more  than eight hours a day is confronted with  shoppers  ( giggly, happy, superior, rich, with an air) who splurge sums often exceeding their yearly salary. Dealing with poise and contentment is indeed a challenge for them. Envy after all is an emotion, and a very powerful one.  Getting the body to respond (smile, courteous, helpful, gracious) contrary to spirit is  indeed a tough challenge.  Frontliners  are forced into living a dichotomous existence, the broken spirit often subtly manifests and at that moment failure occurs.

I personally had spoken with many shops and showroom managers including Costa and Woodland about the blue attired door man/ guard. I inquired as to why these people cannot be given a stoo to sit onl  or made to stand inside the showroom in sweltering summer temperature.  They appeared to be completely oblivious of what I pointed out to them. They took refuge in the practice- this is how it has been happening.  These people are often given a script to welcome and express gratitude for the visit. As customer we get bugged that their behavior- cold and disinterested. Look closely for they stand throughout the day and have no place to sit for a moment. The dichotomy of human condition confronts them every single time a customer walks in or out after spending money that often far exceeds their monthly or yearly salary (depending upon the showroom).  

I am reminded of  a sequence in Munna  Bhai MBBS in  which a cranky sweeper  is shown to be getting bugged at people walking over mopped floor.  Munna  walks over the shining floor leaving marks and undoing his labor only to invite his wrath. But then he continues to  walk up to him to give a magical  hug. The entire objectified exchange becomes human and emotions come alive.  In no time tears trickle down his cheeks- as if for the first time he met a human being.  He forgets the poor conditions that he is in and punishing existence cast by social hierarchy – a moment of joy is created.

The frontline jobs are punishing, people manning them are lowest in organizational hierarchy, and they are poorly compensated and go unappreciated.  For them customers come one after the other like an assembly line but for a customer each visit is a unique.  Wearing customer friendly behaviors and attitude is tough. The issue is how to make their job joyful.  The creation of joy is not always about   money guzzling initiative, a lot can be achieved by taking a humanized approach to people who stand on the edge. 

Apology, Satisfaction, Recovery Mangement and Marketing Services

In services zero defects is difficult to achieve. Uncertainty is inherent to service creation and delivery. To a great extent customer-provider interface in the service factory is responsible for deviations to happen. Two days back I had to go without dinner because a local restaurant failed to execute my delivery order and I was left waiting into midnight. The restaurant did not bother to apologize for this failure. I have written off the service outlet in question for all times to come. Feeling of hurt comes naturally in any incident of violation. But it is also natural for violations to happen in social or business conduct. One of the most powerful strategies to recover from failures is to tender apology and say ‘sorry’. It is makes both great spiritual and business sense.

Geetika Jain in one of the Speaking Tree columns wrote an interesting piece on the importance of apology.  We express an apology by saying sorry. But a sincere apology is to be distinguished from superficial one.  A superficial apology may reflect how well groomed and polite a person is but it is not same as a true meaningful apology. Apologizing for our wrongdoings operate superficial and deeper levels. When an act of apologizing is diminished to only uttering a word ‘sorry’ without accompanying a  deeper sense of  realization,  it becomes superfluous. The pretence may help the harmed/violated but harm the pretender. A heartfelt apology is real, and it works wonders for both parties involved.

An apology, on the surface is an opportunity to get out of a difficult situation but it should not be seen in this way. A mere utterance of the word minus sincerity, repentance and atonement render it hollow and futile. ‘To err is human, to admit one’s error is super human’. Facing the victim and apologizing is an act of courage. People in harmony with their life say ‘sorry’ with an ease.  The positive and conscientious achieve peace with themselves only after making amends.

Saying ‘sorry’ does not involve monetary cost but gives back in a number of ways. The mistakes are diluted, tepid and estranged relations come back life. ‘Sorry’ can dissolve animosity, bitterness and resentment. This dissolution of rancor sets stage for resolution and achievement of harmony. ‘Sorry’ is a powerful mechanism not only to appear the victim but ourselves as well. Harming or offending someone deliberately or by mistake makes us guilty whether we admit it or not. This guilt can sit deep into our subconscious unleash misery by robbing peace and harmony.  We can become prisoners of guilt. ‘Sorry’ is therefore liberating and cathartic. Deep seated guilt can cause psychosomatic maladies. Saying sorry and admission of mistakes is sign of evolved human being.

Going down the path to admitting mistakes and apologizing is not easy. Only evolved people are able to do so. The true pristine self rushes to say ‘sorry’ but it is ego which obstructs. It is the ‘I’ rooted in age, social hierarchy, money and status that prevent us to be in our true sublime self. ‘Age and social status can also thwart this sublime act’. It is then no surprise that prayers in most religions comprise of apology for transgressions and repentance for mistakes.