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.

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Victims on road, ‘It’s not my job’, ‘Going beyond the call of duty’, and Emotional buy-in

On Saturday (Jan 5, 2013) various news papers reported the callousness with which victims of Delhi rape were treated. As they lay injured on road exposed to the chill of December, badly brutalized, mentally wrecked, police personnel squabbled on jurisdiction instead of rushing to help them.

There are hundreds of fabled instances in service marketing that demonstrate how good organizations train people to  go beyond the call of duty to satisfy customers. These include how a FedEx employee climbed a barbed wire fence risking his own life to deliver a package containing blood to a patient and a UPS manager hired an entire plane and diverted two others to make a delivery. Disney cast members are trained to anticipate customer needs and respond to them immediately. A nine year old burn patient needed a cream. Since it was not available  nearby, a call was made to the supplier company. The customer service representative made it available knowing that it involved working on a holiday and breaking the rule of not entertaining an order of less than fifty cases.

Services involve intersection between customer (citizen) and provider (police).  These points of intersections tend to be human unlike a computerized robot welding a part on an assembly line. Automated manufacturing systems rely upon SOPs to preempt deviations (quality failures).  Rules and SOPs have made a way into service systems in a big way. For instance McDonald’s service  consists of a number of activity based SOPs like order taking and assembling a burger. SOPs are developed to achieve standardization but an over reliance upon them can have a dehumanizing effect. Consider how disgusting it is to deal with frontline people like human robots such as air- stewards and call center employees. The quest for efficiency pulls organizations into standardization mode but it may not be the most desirable way of dealing with situations that involve human interactions.

Service encounters involve an interplay between customer expectations and delivery by service personnel. Therefore the first starting point for developing quality systems  (SOPs) is to fully and accurately understand customer expectations. This involves a complex exercise into knowing and delivering. But in the given case (brutalized bleeding victims on the road) does it really need rocket science to discover and deliver what is expected? It is likely to make your heart pound and the impulse to help can’t be controlled. But the squabble over jurisdiction signifies how emotions are mediated by mind- when you need to feel you think. Some emotions are universal like happiness, sorrow, surprise, anger and disgust. We are surprised at the mechanical response of police and why they did not feel anger and sadness to go beyond the call of their duty to help the victim.

Exceptional situations call for extraordinary response.  Mostly crime creates exceptional situation for the victim but  for police or doctors it may just be an ordinary situation (‘we see this every day’) which gives rise to the concept of the job (the work you have to perform). This gives rise to important questions: does the repetition of dealing with crime (victims) make people insensitive (used to)? How does a rape or murder degenerate into a statistic and hence our attitude to dealing with the victim? How do emotions get mediated by reason?

Policing is a serious business that involves lives of people. Many service organizations look for ‘emotional buy in’ in selecting people for the job involving customers beyond qualifications (indicators of IQ). That is, how emotionally satisfying a job is for a person in term of its ‘meaningfulness’.  When a person opts for a job for ‘existence’ reasons (need based, salary, power, and progression) the work becomes an ‘imposition’ from the organization. The performance in such situations is unlikely to transcend the requirement barrier to avoid penalty. On the other hand if job offers meaning beyond the ‘existence’ considerations (I want to help people in need/ contribution beyond self) the performance is likely to transcend the minimum performance standards. This explains why lowly activities like sweeping floors or cleaning shoes become highly valuable and meaningful (higher order contribution) in a Gurudwara or a temple.

In certain jobs it is very important that ‘right’ kind of people are attracted. Policing is one of them. Policing is transformational, it provides opportunity to people to ‘make a difference’ in society. This discourse on ‘higher order’ contribution and ‘meaningfulness’ is unlikely to ring bell with all therefore it is important to revisit our recruitment system and ensure that people with right kind of mental makeup join the service.

Service Encounter, Retail Employees, Emotional Labor and December 12, 2011

Service encounter is a moment when a customer comes in contact with a frontline employee. This constitutes the heart and soul of a service exchange. Customer sees and judges the service organization through this lens. Accordingly it is here a service firm’s entire marketing and operational planning and their execution is tested. A good service encounter satisfies customer, wins his loyalty and commitment. Except for fully automated services, a service encounter is generally a social encounter because it involves people interaction. Two important aspects at this moment of truth from a customer’s perspective are: operational efficiency and interactional quality. Customers expect the service staff to provide efficient service in the friendly manner. Operations and engineering aspects that work from the ‘backend’ determine efficiency but the ‘frontline’ employee is directly responsible for human aspects of service delivery.
Service encounter assume social and psychological dimensions in a face to face situation. Customers expect to be treated with warmth, friendliness, dignity and courtesy. All these aspects relate to the ‘how’ dimension of service. The ‘how’ aspect assumes critical importance because often the ‘outcome’ aspect of service is viewed through this angle. Accordingly service marketers focus attention on managing these encounters from customer perspective. Accordingly scripts, manuals, and training modules are developed to equip and enable the frontline staff in customer interaction skills. Top management wants the frontline staff to ‘live up to customer service expectations’. But this is not as easy as it may appear.
Frontline people who meander on the service floor perform psychologically and physically demanding job. These are often lowly paid bottom of the rung employees who are treated more like cost rather investments. On the floor an employee is a constant who deals with perpetually flowing customers. Although firms aim to create homogeneity yet customers differ significantly in the way they interact with frontline staff. This is what makes frontline jobs both physically and psychologically challenging. Hallmark of a satisfying encounter is that when employee are polite, knowledgeable, prompt, helpful and friendly. But what happens when the customer is impolite, ignorant, unsure, demanding, unfriendly, difficult, aggressive, unreasonable and uncooperative. This results in dissatisfying, frustrating and demeaning encounters for the employees.
Most firms have training programs for their customer care employees but rarely do they do anything to train their customers. The frontline employee operate on the line of fire, they are the targets of abuse from unreasonable customers. They are supposed to ‘serve with a simile’ even when customers cross norms of civility. The frontline jobs are emotionally taxing and therefore cause emotional exhaustion and burn out. The service staff is expected to keep themselves detached from an emotionally challenging situation and display an expected emotional façade. Service staff is expected to remain calm and polite even when faced with an unreasonable and abusive customer. This is what emotional labor all about but this kind of labor is difficult.
The retail industry celebrated December 12, 2011 as Retail Employees’ Day. A campaign was launched by TRRAIN (Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India) with the tag line ‘Thank you bola kya?’. This campaign celebrated the real heroes of retail industry (ads featured real retail employees in customer service situations) who we regularly interact without paying any attention. It is often ignored that the person on the other side is also a human being who needs to be understood and appreciated. The key idea promoted in this campaign was to appreciate the people who serve in retail industry by simply saying a ‘thank you’.
Retail encounter is a two sided coin. It is high time that retail firms also think of devising some innovative interventions to train their target customers into becoming good customers. This can be done subtly without overtly offending their sense and sensibilities. This would go a long way in spinning the virtuous cycle of happy employees creating even happier customers.