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Tricks and tactics against threatening travellers
University of Borås, School of Business and IT.
2010 (English)Conference paper, (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Service provision sometimes involves dealing with deviant, threatening or even violent customers. The phenomenon of customer misbehavior is not unusual and it causes problems for the firm, its employees, and other customers. Troublesome customers are known to affect employees’ health, and work motivation adversely but might also give rise to different forms of coping tactics that are used to handle incidents that emerges. Previous research in this field has often been confined to the hospitality industry (e.g. restaurants, hotels and bars). The purpose of this paper is to provide an enriched understanding of staff tactics to handle violent and threatening customers during train journeys. The empirical context is relevant to study firstly due to the frequency of customer misbehavior incidents (over 50% of the staff reported to have been involved in such incidents in a recent union study). Secondly, the servicescape provided by the train environment is assumed to have a significant impact on behavior patterns since it constrains employees as well as customers in both time and space. This amplifies the demand for individual tactics in the immediate service encounter as well as the demand for managerial measures. An interview study inspired by critical incident technique was conducted with frontline employees that work onboard trains serving customers. Several instances of customer misbehavior were described by the respondents such as offensive and insulting comments, questioning, ticket frauds, drunkenness, disturbing and harassing other passengers, threats and even physical violence. These alarming incidents were met by the employees by using a range of individual developed strategies in order to avert or control threatening customers. Our study clearly demonstrates the importance of both the servicescape and the employees’ interactional abilities such as their physical expression and verbal skills. The employees’ body posture, placement, gestures and aesthetic appearance were effectively used to deal with deviant customers. These qualities also had a preventing and deterring effect as employees’ physical appearance such as tattoos or body size decreased the occurrence of misbehavior. Employee verbal skills were also important in order to deal with and prevent customer misbehavior. In this regard a numerous tactics were use such as letting the customer talk; acting calm; keeping a friendly tone; establish trust; presenting options and rules to the customer; avoid using sensitive words like control fee and fine; and even tricking the customer. A notable example of tricking was when an employee intentionally deceived a customer. In this case the customer had no ticket and no intention to pay for one, whereas the employee said that he would disregard it if the customer left the train at the next station. The employee then called the police that apprehended the customer at the station. In addition to individual physical appearance and skills, several tactics were also related to the physical environment and the employees’ physical location in relation to a deviant customer. Examples include keeping an appropriate physical distance to the customer; always facing the customer (not turn their back); and not blocking the way for a customer. The servicescape was also utilized in preventive tactics. Examples of such tactics were to plan ahead by keeping track of time and train stations in order to be able to evict deviant customers; inform police about the specific train door where the customer gets off; wait when opening the doors at the station so the police can get into position; scan the compartment for potential misbehavior. All together, although the physical surrounding is limiting customers’ as well as employees’ possibilities to act, the servicescape were also used effectively to deal with and even to prevent customer misbehavior. The study further shows how employees’ physical appearance, verbal skills are combined with the limitations and possibilities offered by the servicescape. Taken together, this contributes to previous research on misbehaving customers in services and in particular to the normative literature on how to handle “difficult” service customers. This literature has tended to focus on how to manage customer and staff behavior e.g. through routines, instructions and training schemes. Our study indicates that this might not be enough and that both physical appearance and the physical service setting might be crucial for what actually happens in the ‘moment of truth’. In order to create a safe work environment as well as a satisfying service experience for other customers, managers therefore need to take into consideration both soft and hard aspects of the service situation. The often informal tactics of experienced frontline employees can be used as valuable input in this process.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010.
Keyword [en]
customer misbehavior, service encounters, tactics, servicescape, Service encounters, service management
National Category
Business Administration
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hb:diva-6348Local ID: 2320/6525OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hb-6348DiVA: diva2:887035
Conference
19th Annual Frontiers in Service Conference 2010, Karlstad, 10-13 June, 2010
Available from: 2015-12-22 Created: 2015-12-22

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Citation style
  • apa
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