Research Tracks

A publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor University

Baylor research finds customers may share the blame for bad service



Dr. Emily Hunter

Most people, when they encounter poor service while dining out, will chalk up the problem to inexperience or ineptitude on the part of their server.  A new Baylor study suggests, however, that when a waiter forgets an order or leaves a beverage unfilled, it may be not be an oversight at all.  An inattentive or hostile waiter may be exhibiting an intentional response to stress brought on by their job, according to research by Dr. Emily Hunter, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

“Customer service jobs have lots of emotional demands, but managers expect their employees to always have a good attitude,” said Hunter. “We know from prior research that those competing demands create emotional labor; this research shows that labor can cause employees to lash out at customers in response.”

While it has been well established that workers often react to stress by acting inappropriately, most prior research on the subject looked at employees’ behavior toward members of their own organization, not toward customers or other outsiders. Hunter says that studying customer-facing behavior and the motivations behind it is important to help improve management practices in a wide range of industries.

“This research is intended to help managers understand the pressures inherent in customer service so they can take steps to help their employees manage stress and prevent counterproductive behaviors,” Hunter said. “The service industry is a huge part of the economy, but most jobs have a customer service component of some kind, even if the ‘customer’ is another person in the same company.”

Hunter, along with a collaborator at the University of Houston, surveyed over 400 foodservice workers for the study, which was recently published in the journal Human Performance.

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