Emotional Labor, employees and Customer Experience

by Colin Shaw on October 29, 2012
False smile

Have you ever been to a party when after the first hour you just want to go home? However you know you can’t as you don’t want to seem rude by leaving so early? I am sure we all have. A few weeks ago I was at a wedding where the person I sat next to just talked about themselves all night. I had to smile, nod my head and appear interested. I couldn’t wait to get away from them!

This is a classic example of Emotional labor. Emotional labor is when you have to display or pretend an emotion; the labor is when you do this for money! Consider the call centre rep who has to be nice to Customers all day, when all they want to do is shout at them, ‘Don’t be so unreasonable’! But we all know they can’t. Emotional labor is hard. It’s tiring. Pretending to be something you are not is hard work. If you are asking someone to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them, they struggle, feel awkward and this can cause stress and other consequences. Thus understanding an employee’s psychological makeup becomes key when building a great Customer Experience. This video explains the concept of emotional labor in a bit more depth.

So what should you do? Back when I was managing call centres I decided to put my theories to the test. At the time we were moving from a position where every person spoke to the customer and then processed the order to a ‘front office, back office’ way of working. One group would speak to the customer, another would process the orders. As I outlined above, we decided the experience we wanted to deliver and then put in place a psychometric test to help us select people who would be talking to the customer. We told people, that if they wanted a role in the front office, talking with Customers, they needed to pass this test. We said that they could take the test as many times as they wanted. We knew this couldn’t be learnt.

To our surprise over 50% of the people who were previously talking with customers chose to work in the back office or failed the test. In other words we had 50% of the wrong people talking to the customer prior to the changes! 50% wow!

Following this work, Customer satisfaction improved dramatically and so did employee engagement. Many of the people working in the customer facing roles didn’t want to do this and were happier working in the back office. The key message here is that Customer Experience and employee engagement are inextricably linked. If you are serious about improving your Customer Experience you must also address your employee emotional labor as well.

Emotional Labor, employees and Customer Experience, by Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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