2011-10-25

The cost of employee and manager incivility

Drake Editorial Team

We all know that customer service is a vital component of competitive differentiation and essential for a sustainable competitive advantage. Tom Peters (you remember him?) used to say that to provide turned on service you need turned on employees.  Fact is that life has become increasingly stressful and competitive for the majority of people. We can all tell stories of rude behaviours by frontline service people, or by colleagues and managers in the workplace.

In this posting I am borrowing from research published and referred to in the Journal of Service Research. This study looked into rude behaviours, lacking personal or business etiquette, categorized altogether as  “incivility”. Incivility is defined as all forms of insensitive, disrespectful, or rude behaviours that display a lack of regard directed at another person.  I am pointing at the impact of
incivility occurring internally (within the work place) and externally (observable cy customers).



The internal impact
Here  are some easy to recognize examples: Someone completely ignored your email. You went to make a copy but someone had left the machine jammed with 8.5 x 11. You overheard someone talking about you behind your back - or maybe you heard them taking credit for your work. You went to the break room to get a cup of coffee only to find an empty pot. You were in a meeting and a co-worker started criticizing you personally in front of the whole group.

Within the workplace, a substantial percentage of employees see themselves as targets of such rudeness, and in previous research many employees report being frequent witnesses to incivility between other employees . Indeed, even outside the workplace, incivility seems to be growing, as revealed by concern about uncivil behavior in public forums (as with Internet blogs and uncivil actions directed
at eminent persons in public arenas).

Past research also confirms that incivility between employees has damaging effects.  Employee-employee incivility lowers the morale of other employees, decreases productivity, and increases turnover.

 So, if this is tolerated or promoted, this is not exactly the highway to having a turned on cadre of employees that will provide turned on service.


The external impact
Beyond its internal human resource impact, incivility between employees also may harm the firm externally, from a services marketing standpoint.

Here are some easy to recognize examples: Customers observe a boss belittling a subordinate. A salesperson makes a sarcastic remark about a fellow employee. A customer service representative uses a derogatory term to describe another employee.

When customers witness this, their evaluation of the firm’s other employees and the firm itself is likely to suffer. It may make customers reluctant to do business with the company again, or worse, desire to get back at the company for its poor treatment of employees.

More than a third of consumers say they experience rude customer service at least once a month, according to the above mentioned study. Being on the receiving end of this incivil behavior makes those customers angry and less interested in doing business with the company in the future. To make matters worse, more than half of those who experience rudeness tell their friends and co-workers about the incident (58% and 55%, respectively).



What to do about incivility?
To decrease employee incivility, the researchers recommend that organizations should invest in training programs focusing on civility.

  • Civility is best enhanced by building competencies in skills such as listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, dealing with difficult people, and stress management.
  • Organizations might train managers in coaching so that they can mitigate the detrimental effects of incivility. Managers should learn how to observe others’ behaviors, how to listen for signals that help is needed, how to give and receive feedback, and how to recognize the impact of their own behavior.



I would like to add to that that you can only manage it if you measure it. So including this in internal and external measurements might make for an interesting discovery.


About the author: Eric Fraterman is a Customer Focus Consultant with a wide and deep experience in more than twenty industries and six countries over 25 years. He helps organizations create a customer focus advantage for gaining and retaining business through exceptional customer service and experience.

He can be reached at eric@customerfocusconsult.com .Website: www.customerfocusconsultLinkedIn profile http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=513415&trk=tab_pro

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