The role of emotions in service encounters
Over recent years, the service sector has grown at a dramatic rate, and with it has come significant challenges for the operators in this field. Not least of these has been the desire of these operators to create real competitive advantage by offering levels of service that call upon the servers in the interaction to engage in an emotional way with their customers, in addition to offering transactional efficiency and cost containment. The focus of this study is to examine the emotional dimension of the service experience from the perspective of the key stakeholders in the encounter, the customer, the service employee and the outlet manager. This study is carried out in the pub restaurant sector, with the brand leader in the full-service restaurant business. The research focuses on the role that emotions play in the performance outputs of outlet management in particular using the concept of emotional intelligence and the use of the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (Eqi) as a measurement instrument to explore the relationships between emotions and performance. The study then focuses on the server population who interact with the customers everyday, using measures of emotional intelligence and emotional labour to understand their relationship to the performance outputs of the servers, essentially the service quality offered to their customers. Finally the responses of the customer are measured from an emotional perspective, gathering their emotional response to a range of service cues. This customer data forms the basis of the relationships explored between server emotional competence and their delivery of service quality. The research reveals significant relationships between the emotional competencies of the managerial group and their business performance achievements in the areas of customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, employee turnover and outlet profit growth. It demonstrates relationships between the emotional make-up of service personnel and aspects of emotional labour. The study also demonstrates the level of emotional response of customers to a range of service stimulants and finally the research reveals the extent to which a range of interactive service stimulants can create positive emotional expression in customers. The study culminates in the presentation of two models that are designed to guide service organisations to developing and then maintaining an integrated approach to emotional service development in their own market sector. These models build on the findings in the research that demonstrate a high level of inter-relationship between the different components that contribute to the overall service experience. The study ultimately argues that to ignore or isolate the consideration of the emotions right across the service chain, from brand proposition through to recruitment, development and measurement of the overall service quality at best leaves the service organisation exposed to sub-optimising its service offering. Conversely the value of adopting a fully integrated approach to the development of the service organisation could lead to a level of loyalty from both employees and customers that would provide sustainable competitive advantage in the service market.