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Toxic service encounters: The impact on employees

Customer service employee working at desk

Customer service staff have always had one main goal: customer satisfaction. However, the amount of harmful behaviour customer service employees are expected to endure to ensure this has become apparent. For example, in 2022, local businesses in Ottawa were severely affected by the “Freedom Convoy.” Businesses that weren’t forced to close experienced many disrespectful, or even violent, service encounters.

Now, Professor Ahmed Khalil Ben Ayed and Professor Magda Donia have received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant, to better understand the service experience from the perspective of the employee.

The employee perspective is essential in excellent customer service, as it presents customer service as an interaction between two people, rather than just focusing on the customer. Furthermore, negative experiences for employees take an emotional and psychological toll.

The researchers wish to develop a way to measure service encounter toxicity, evaluate the impact of toxic service encounters on employees’ well-being and provide guidelines to improve the customer service experience.

Negative customer interactions can lead employees to engage in behaviour that affects customer service quality, as they aren’t prepared to react to them, despite the resources businesses devote to excellent customer service.

According to Ben Ayed:

“To understand why service interactions fail, it is equally important to examine these encounters from both consumer and service provider viewpoints. Hence, we need to delve into the social nature of these interactions, including the emotional, psychological and behavioural factors that are at play.”

Research Impact

Ben Ayed and Donia aim to provide managers from a variety of Ahmed Khali Ben Ayeddisciplines with evidence-based guidance to improve customer service interaction, with policies to facilitate a healthier workplace. This could lead to increased employee satisfaction and decreased service failure.

The research could also add to the literature, and be applied to a wide range of fields, particularly those that focus on client-employee interaction and organizational behaviour. Further explorations may dive deeper, and allow for more understanding of the customer service experience.   

About the Author

Phoenix a rejoint l'équipe de Direction de la recherche de Telfer en 2021 grâce au régime travail-études. Elle est diplômée du baccalauréat spécialisé en enseignement des langues secondes et est présentement inscrite au programme de formation à l’enseignement (B.Éd.). Ses responsabilités comprennent la gestion et l'analyse de données, la rédaction d'articles, en plus d'autres tâches administratives.<br/><br/>Phoenix joined the Telfer Research Office in 2021 through the work-study program. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Second Language Teaching and is working toward a Bachelor of Education. Her responsibilities include data management and analytics, story writing, and other administrative tasks.

Profile Photo of Phoenix Hudson