Do you work in customer services? If you do, it is better to express your positive interpersonal feelings naturally. Suppressing the benevolent interpersonal emotions of employees for customers has a negative impact on customer satisfaction, as indicated for the first time in a new study conducted by Prof. Dana Yagil of the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa. The study was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. “Suppression of positive interpersonal emotions is contrary to natural behavior in social interactions,” said the researcher.
Expressing positive interpersonal emotions and suppressing negative emotions are normative behaviors in social settings. However, according to Prof. Yagil, it is just the opposite among service employees who work in call centers, marketing and sales, and so on: The employee is expected to suppress normal positive emotions, as these take up valuable work time and reduce service uniformity. Furthermore, employees are taught in training programs how to express false and uniform positive emotions such as fake smiling, or nodding in agreement. In her current study, Prof. Yagil examined if suppressing emotions comes at a “price”.
This study was divided into two tests, and included 246 participants of various ages employed in customer services. In Study 1, three groups of participants were given a number of scenarios that stimulate different emotions — benevolent, malevolent and neutral — for the customer. They were then asked to write down what they would say to the customer, after being asked to not express the emotions they had felt, but instead to provide the most appropriate and neutral response possible. Study 2 included pairs of service providers and customers — and examined the links between withholding benevolent and malevolent emotions by service employees and customer satisfaction.
The results of the two studies showed that the suppression of positive interpersonal emotions creates greater discomfort and inauthenticity among employees than the suppression of negative emotions does. Moreover, it was found that the suppression of positive emotions was negatively related to customer satisfaction, mediated by the sense of employee inauthenticity. In other words, suppressing positive emotions increased the sense of employee inauthenticity, which in turn increased customer dissatisfaction. In contrast, the suppression of negative emotions was actually linked to positive customer satisfaction.
As such, Professor Yagil proposes that service organizations find ways to enable their frontline employees to express positive interpersonal emotions in a natural way and in congruence with the social norms for expressing emotions: “A step of that kind would benefit customers, employees and the organization in which they work,” she says. “People providing services in the capacity of their work with daily interactions with customers sometimes develop feelings for them. The expectation from these employees to suppress natural emotions, positive and negative alike, is a mistake. The expression of natural positive emotions is well received by the other party and is likely to contribute to customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.”