By Jeremy Morris, Associate Editor, US Daily Review.
Employee customer orientation – a personal focus on satisfying customers’ needs – has been assumed to be most beneficial when frontline workers have ample time to interact with customers on a one-to-one basis. A recent study, based on meta-analytic data drawn from over 300 samples of almost 100,000 sales and service employees, suggests this is not necessarily the case.
The provocative findings, which appear in the May 2012 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing, are rooted in a novel view of employee customer orientation. For over 30 years, scholars have suggested that customer orientation is the performance of certain behaviors that contribute to customer satisfaction. In contrast, the study’s authors argue that customer orientation is a personal internal attribute that motivates employees to satisfy customers and ultimately determines their fit, performance, and tenure in frontline jobs.
Building on this alternative perspective, the authors find that customer orientation improves employees’ job outcomes by reducing stress and increasing engagement, particularly in job environments—such as fast food service, retail sales, financial services, and call centers—where short-lived, improvised interactions with numerous customers can quickly take a toll on employees’ well-being. They find that being customer-oriented doesn’t help as much in jobs like pharmaceutical sales and industrial services where workers have ample time to prepare for their one-on-one interactions with a relatively small number of customers on any given day. Contrary to common wisdom, these findings suggest that employing customer-oriented workers offers firms greater returns when frontline customer interactions are transactional rather than relational in nature.
The study’s findings are consistent with the authors’ thesis that customer orientation is not merely a set of behaviors that can be trained but instead is an individual attribute that influences workers’ on-the-job welfare, especially in fast-paced frontline environments. As the authors note in their concluding remarks (p. 37), the study results support a broadened perspective that recognizes customer orientation “leads to improved job outcomes, not simply because it is a better way to do business but because it confers employees with important psychological benefits as well.”
The study, titled “How and When Does Customer Orientation Influence Frontline Employee Job Outcomes? A Meta-Analytic Evaluation,” was co-authored by Alex Zablah (George Mason University), George Franke (University of Alabama), Tom Brown (Oklahoma State University) and Darrell Bartholomew (Rider University).