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Causes and Strategies for Aggressive Customers

Info: 5449 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Customer Satisfaction


Tourism and hotel industry is growing among other world industries due to its significant impacts on the social and economic development of a region or country (Avelini, 2003, p. 130). The tourism industry worldwide generated US $ 944 billion sales in 2008. In year 2008, international tourists’ arrivals reached 922 million and World Tourism Organization (WTO) forecasts that approximately 1.6 billion new arrivals of international tourists are expected worldwide in 2020. The tourism industry has fourth rank after fuels, chemicals and automotive products among other categories. These facts and figures shows that tourism industry is key industry in world’s economy because it gives employment both directly and indirectly and thousands of families are relying on the income of tourism industry (WTO 2009 Publications).

Clearly in the hotel industry, customer service is the backbone to customer satisfaction which is depends on the employees. In other words, in the tourism industry, hotels and other accommodation are one of the most important organizations for providing services. That is why Chebat and Kollias, (2000, p. 67) argued that, customer service employees are the key players in molding customer experiences as they finally manage the manners in which the service transaction delivered and employees provide tangible services in the form of delivering food, helping customer into their particular rooms and also give intangible services in the form of making visit again to the hotel.

Others also argued that Sperdin and Peters (2009, p. 171), customers want professional services and satisfying experiences with full of good performance. Because hotel industry shows that there is higher frequency of interaction with customers if we comparewith other service industries (Hoffman & Chung, 1999, p. 73).

More over according to Chen and Yu (2009, p. 8), service employees with knowledgeable and caring characteristics are able to influence the perceptions and thinking of the customers. Customer service has verbal and non-verbal behaviors between service provider and the customers (Clive Muir, 2008, p. 241).Effective customer service is attained through using these four areas: the services provided by service sector, the customer service employees hired by service companies, the customers served by service companies and the service managers hired by service companies; customer service could fail if there is any lack in one of these four areas (Layman, 2001, p. 80).

However, a unique but distressing feature during the service role is that service companies are expected to face aggressive behavior from customers. For this reason Baron,(1993, p. 142) identified three levels of aggression linked to service employees. In first level, withholding cooperation, spreading rumors and using offensive language behaviors are shown from customer side, in second level, intense arguments and verbal threats are shown. Lastly in third level, frequent displays of intense anger, physical fights and the use of weapons kinds of behaviors are shown from customers’ side. In this paper, we pay attention to the first and the second levels of aggression as they are very common in the service arena of the hospitality industry.

In addition, aggressive behavior could arise during service encounters especially when things are going wrong (Smith & Bolton, 2002, p. 5). When customers got angry, most of them behave aggressively, say something bad and try to hurt an individual (Bougie et al., 2003, p. 379). The study of organizational behavior and psychology give remarkable attention to the study of anger and it is also important for managers to know under what circumstances, customer got aggressive and is important for optimum resource allocation, staff development and training (Kennedy et al., 2010, p. 2). Several service companies realize that they always face the high level of stress due to customer aggression.

In explaining what the service employees can do towards aggression, Lemmink and Mattson, (1998, p. 506) developed research about friendly employee’s behavior with customer satisfaction. Their study showed that personal warmth by customer service employees leave positive impacts on aggressive customers. So it is argued that, service employees have significant impacts on aggressive customers to mold their aggressive, anger, noisy behavior into normal behavior and make loyal with the particular service company.

Then again, all the reviewed articles clearly show that the most important part of delivering superior services includes: how to deal with customers who are frustrated or angry and must know how to turn the situation. In spite of the growing trend of handling aggression, several tools can be used to resolve the situation in a way that will leave the customer satisfied: 1. Keep a positive attitude. 2. Encourage customers to vent their emotions. 3. Find out the facts. 4. Understand the customer’s feelings. 5. Suggest a way to solve the problem. 6. End on a positive note. Of course taking these proper steps, give motivation to managers and their employees to calm angry customers and turned their behavior into satisfied customers which encourage customers to continue doing business with the department and company (Levine & Debra, 1992, p.27).

In this regard, specific term emotional labor is used in service marketing and management literature, which is the interaction of employees and customers, it focuses on front line employee when they interact with public and it requires to produce an emotional state for another person (Pugliesi, 1999, p. 128,131).Hochschild, (1983, p. 7) defined emotional labor in her book The Managed Heart that “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display, emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value” (p. 7). This definition illustrates that emotional labor is the act of showing emotions in front of customers as a part of job.

According to Karatepe,(2011, p. 280)research regarding customer aggression and its detrimental impacts on employee outcomes in front line service jobs is sparse. For this reason Chu and Murrmann, (2006, p. 1181-82) argued, it has been seen that there is little empirical research concerning emotional labor in service marketing and management literatures.

In summary in consumer behavior dealing with aggressive customers is important to effectively manage aggression but this is not an easy task which means that customer while behaving aggressively; customer service employees need to mold the behavior of such customers through using emotional labor. In this regards, critical identification of aggressive customers and in response appropriate mechanism to mold their behavior should be put in place .This study will fill the gap by making some contribution on the existing literature through empirical and theoretical examinations.


After formulation the research problem, following research questions have been found:

* What are drivers of aggressive behavior?

* How to handle aggressive customers and how to mold their aggressive behavior from the side of customer service employees?


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the behavior and pattern of aggressive customer’s reaction in the Hotel industry in Sweden. To accomplish our purpose, we are going to study different features of consumer behavior and customer voice for the success of the industry. Detail analyses of the approaches and reactions taken by customer employees at the hotel industry will be explored.In this paper we want to make contribution on the existing service marketing management specifically emotional labor literature. Finally, the outcome of our research may bring important implications for business practices in the hospitality industry.

2. Theoretical Frame work

2.1 Understanding the Customer wants

The key to customer service is doing the right thing at the right time. According to Barcal, (2004, p. 10) here are the most important customer wants and needs which create positive customer perceptions about the customer service employees and the company that leads to better customer relationships. These customer wants are described below which customers expect to be done according to their wants.

Customers always want their problems to be solved. But sometimes, if service employees cannot solve the customer problems, they can create positive perceptions through addressing the other less customer wants. Customer expects that their wants, needs, expectations, feeling, and words should be acknowledged and understood. It means service employees should listen to the

customer. When customers feel understood and acknowledged it gives good impression to customers which lead to good customer relationships. Customers also want availability of possible choices and options that helps the customers to make the decisions. But when they feel helpless or powerless, they could exhibited frustrated, angry, and aggressive (Barcal, 2004, p. 10-11).

Customers also want “positive surprise”. It means that service employees must go beyond customer’s hopes and expectations, like offering discount or providing some extra benefits which are not available to them before. Positive surprises are most useful when dealing with angry or aggressive customers. Consistency, reliability, and predictability are also important customer wants. This explains that customers are expecting to be treated in a consistent way. After acting accordance to these wants, customers feel sense of security and confidence with service employees and with company as well. This kind of behavior leads to loyalty. Beside customer wants value against their time and money investment. When customers consider value, they also consider how they are treated by customer service employees. It is very hard for service employees to affect the value of prices of services or products but they can add value through helping the customer in other ways (Barcal, 2004, p. 11).

Reasonable simplicity is also an important customer want. It implies that service employees should make things easier instead of provision of complicatedservices; otherwise customers will be frustrated and aggressive. Speed and prompt service is the important want of customers which are expected from service employees. Customers want their problems be solved quickly and efficiently, as well as how fast they are being served. Confidentiality is an important aspect of customer service. Customers want some degree of privacy when talking with service employees and they feel uncomfortable if there is other staff or other customers around them. At the end, customers want the sense that they are important. Listening to and acknowledging customers demonstrate that they are important. The importance can be given through specific phrases and techniques through which they feel important. (Barcal, 2004, p. 11-12).

Based on the arguments present above, all these customer wants need to be acknowledged by service employees, fulfilling customer wants make organizations attractive, otherwise leads to frustration/dissatisfaction which in some cases leads to aggressive behavior of customers.

2.2 Concept of aggressive behavior

Customer aggressive behavior is relatively new area due to which its attraction is increasing from last decades areas, including social sociology (unethical behavior, lying and unethical decision making), organization behavior (e.g: dysfunctional employees behavior, fraud) and literature on criminology, taxation and insurance fraud have already been researching on aggressive behaviors for last many decades Fisk et al., (2010, p. 5) but research on customer aggressive behavior is mostly inspired by Lovelock’s (1994) research work. As a result, it has been generally observed that aggression is common in businesses (fitness, 2000, p. 148). For this reason it is important to look at neighboring concepts linked to aggression that are developed and used by different scholars.

Regarding aggressive customers, popular terms include “Jay customers” (Lovelock, 2001, p. 73), “deviant consumer behavior” (Moschis& Cox, 1989, p. 732), “Aberrant consumer behavior” (Fullerton &Punj, 1993, p. 570), “consumer misbehavior” (Fullerton &Punj 1997a, p. 340), there are also less common terms including “problem customers” (Bitner el al., 1994, p.101), “dysfunctional customer behavior” (Harris &Reynelds, 2003, p. 145) and “inappropriate behavior” (Strutton et al., 1994, p. 253).

Of the popular terms, Christopher (1994), originated the term “Jay customers “and provided broad definition of the concept , Jay customers are defined as “ones who act in a thoughtless or abusive way, causing problems for the firm, its employees and other customers” (Lovelock, 2001, p. 73).These kind of customers ´misbehave´ bases for some kind of benefit and he also stated that these customers have following characteristics including labels thieves, breaking rules, the aggressive, criminals and dead beats (Lovelock, 1994, p.47).

In viewing other important less common terms connected to aggression behavior of customers Harris &Reynalds, (2003, p.145) defined dysfunctional customer behavior “Actions by customers who intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or conversely, act in a manner that, in some way, disrupts otherwise functional service encounters”. These norms are formed through customs, manners, rules and regulations, laws, and mores´ (Moschis& Cox, 1989, p. 732). In the service encounter context, norms are based on lodgers of role theory which states that humans behave dynamically but surely depending on their social identities and situations (Biddle, 1986, p. 68). In this context, customer behavior is considered to be deviant when it violates the accepted standards of exchange behavior (Fisk et al., 2009, p. 8).

In addition , “Aberrant” also describing the customer behavior” behavior in the exchange setting which violates the generally accepted norms of conduct in such situations and which is therefore held in disrepute by marketers and most customers” Fullerton and Punj (1993, p. 570). Moreover they also stress that deviant behavior by consumers is the representation of overall customer behavior rather than signifying psychologically or physiologically type of behavior. But in later studies, Fullerton and Punj (1997a; 1997b; 1997c; 2004a) exchange the term ‘aberrant’ with ‘customer misbehavior’. This term has been used widely within the customer misbehavior literature and various authors like Albers-Miller, 1999; Tonglet, 2002; and Freestone and Mitchell, 2004) have applied this term in their research works.

One can easily understand that it is hard to provide a single comprehensive definition of the concept aggressive customers. However aggression can be looked as a situation in which customer behave out of rules and regulations, norms and customs of the company.Beside their action goes to the extent disturbing the routine day to day activity of the customer service employee at those particular moments. This could be because customers have been treated unfairly and unhappy with overall service of the company or unpleasant environment.

2.3 Causes of Aggressive Behavior

Customers are playing significant role in organization. Due to the importance of customer, marketing and management researchers have keen to know the better understanding of the customer emotions especially the negative emotions which leads to customer aggression and created in customer – employee interactions (Smith & Bolton 2002, p.5). Furthermore, the interaction between employee and customer is routine work but when things go wrong with customer it shows negative emotions which normally leads to aggressive behavior. (Kennedy et al., 2010, p. 2).

Several researchers have investigated the causes of aggressive customer behavior. There are various causes due to which aggressive behavior among customers is created.

The traditional way of looking at aggression in service arena shows that customers misbehave up on service for example Deffenbacked et al.,(2001 p.718) described in such a way that aggressive behavior created due to the poor service provision from service employees and customers consider that they have been treated unfairly.

At the general level, some other also looked at aggression from social psychology point of view, across service settings, customers experience fair or unfair situation of services for this reason experiences could be classified in to different categories of justices (i.e distributive, procedural and interactional justice)(Clemmer, E. C. 1993, p. 197). As a result Kennedy et al., (2010, p. 1) highlighted that customer is directly related to the perceived source of violation which includes (distributive, procedural and interactions justice). It means that anger on a company or organization is related to the violations of distributive justice but anger on an employee is related to the violations of both procedural (response time) and interactional justice. Secondly, they pinpointed that attributes of sins of omission (things could and should have been done by the employee) and low levels of interactional justice (treatment received) fully mediate anger that targets the employee.

From another point of view Kennedy et al., (2010, p. 2) stated that , aggression also occur when required behavior violates an acceptable standard of behavior in the particular manner where the customer does not feel valued, respected or not treated with dignity during interaction with employees. In support of this idea,Mc Call-Kennedy and Spark (2003, p. 255) exploratory work showed that customer compare how they have been treated and how they should be treated during service failure and recovery attempts. Moreover when customer believe that they should be treated in acceptable standard but the service provide could not manage to do it , then at the end customers show negative emotions in term of aggressive behavior.

Fullerton &Punj (1993, p. 571) model suggests that there are two main important factors on which aggressive behavior is based on and can be seen in line with cause of aggression

* Customer traits

* Customer disposition

Both of these characteristics include psychological, demographic and social/group influences due to which aggressive behavior occurs where psychological characteristics represent traits of personality, attitudes and moral development traits (Katz, 1988, p. 177).

Fullerton &Punj(1993, p. 571), also identifies wide range of demographic factors that affect aggressive behavior; these factors include age, sex, education and economic status.

In contrast, a social influence contains a variety of group-level issues such as socialization, norm formation, and peer pressure (Moshcis& Cox 1989, p. 732). However, this model also describes that there are also contextual factors due to which aggressive behavior occurs, these factors include the physical environment, the types of products/services offered and as well as the public image of the firm and most importantly, Fullerton and Punj (1993) said that aggressive behavior is more dependent on the interaction characteristics between customer service employees and customers.

Therefore, at this stage it can be conclude that customer aggression emanates from provision of poor services; customer experiences of unfair situation in service setups and at the time the customer feel not valued, respected or treated properly. Customers would express their aggression in different ways. However, the most common type of aggression in service arena is supposed to be through verbal.

2.4 Verbal aggression

As argued by Hutton R (2003, p. 2), verbal aggression is anger expressed vocally. It is a common behavior as it is rather easy expression of anger only words and sounds are involved. By looking at how problematic verbal aggression is, one should make a distinction between verbal aggression to oneself and to others. “Cursing at oneself, for example, is a possible reaction to one’s own behavior when this behavior is considered negative and attributed to oneself”. While for an outsider this verbal aggression may still be interpreted as unfriendly and as an indication that the verbally aggressive person is easily irritated or bad tempered. (Smith, D et al 2004, p. 537).

Customer verbal aggression, which refers to customers’ verbal communications of anger that violate employees’ social norms (Grandey et al., 2004 and Boyd, 2002; Grandey et al., 2007; Harris and Reynolds, 2003 cited in Karatape et al 2008 pp 713-714 ) such as swearing, yelling, threats, condescending remarks, and sarcasm.

Hence, it would be reasonable to think that these types of aggression are followed by possible consequences which affect the employees and the organization as well as the customer. In this paper, we sought to emphasis on behaviors this type of aggressive behavior thatoccurs frequently, instead of extreme or rare situations.

2.5 Consequences of Aggression

Customer dissatisfaction response following a service failure accompanied by s specific emotion like anger , disappointment, regret and worry influences consumer behavioral intension such as complaining, switching, spreading negative word of mouth and doing nothing (Mattila ,S and Ro ,H 2007 p. 90). Earlier research done focusing on the aggressive component of the relationship between customer and service employees have also identified that the extreme stress of aggression by customers results in service worker burnout from the side of service employees (Zure&Yagil, 2005, p. 83).This frequent hostility from customers creates non conducive working environment that customer service employees may want to avoid whenever possible (Grandey et al., 2004, p. 6).

Moreover Yagil (2008, p. 146-147) supported this view by stating that regular contact to negative behavior customers results can be viewed from three different points i.e: negative emotional reaction, negative attitude towards work and physical harm on the employees. In explaining the consequences of aggressive customers up on the service setting understanding conceptual distinctions that has been provided by this scholar are very important: These concepts are also described below

  1. Emotional reaction customers having threatening and rude behavior affect mood of the employees and reaction of intimidation, feeling of anger and depression. Beside some others also feel high degree of stress due to customer aggression on the service providers.
  2. Work related attitudes and behaviors: employees’ lower job satisfaction accompanied by decreased organization commitment is potential consequence of customer aggression
  3. Physical harm: aggressive customer in some situation may goes to the extent of causing physical harm to employees. This happens to be the less frequent consequence of aggression in the in most service rendering organization.

In general.by the same token customers aggression affects the organization due to the prevailing customer misbehavior in effect such behavior decreases employees commitment, loyalty and performance level towards their work.

2.6 Customer Service Employees

2.6.1 Myth of Good Customer Service for Customer Service Employees

“The Customer is always right” It’s a great slogan provided by H. Gordon Selfridge. But according to Barcal), 2004, p. 8), it is wrong and misleading. He said that customer is not always right because customers always demands unreasonable requests and expectations. It is very important for the customer service employees that they do not perform their day today activities under this assumption. Instead customer service employees should consider following two phrases.

  • The customer always deserves to be treated as if he or she is important and his or her opinions need, and wants are important to listen.
  • Of course, customer deserves to receive maximum effort from customer service employees who are serving him or her.

Service companies not only need to focus on what they are providing to the customers but also how to provide products or services effectively which is the realistic excellent customer service (Barcal, 2004, p. 9).

2.6.2 Importance of Customer Service employees

“People are your most important asset,” is wrong. The right people are your most important asset. (Jim Collins, 2001, p. 171).This is to show the importance of having diligent, motivated and service oriented employees in organization.

According to Liverlock&Wirtz (2007, p.311), the most important demanding jobs are the front line positions in service firms. Employees are expected to be fast and efficient to do operational tasks, as well as become courteous and helpful in dealing with customers. In this context, the front line employees are the key input to deliver service excellence and become source competitive advantage especially in the hotel industry.

2.6.3 Relationship between Service Employees Behavior and Customer Satisfaction

Many studies have tried to examine the relationship of service attitudes of employees with customer satisfaction in hotel industry. Trumble (2004, p.1) argued that according to norms of culture, smiling is a “mask exchanged out of politeness”. Researchers found different effects of smiles in business studies.

According to Kattara et al., (1999, p. 321) human interaction is salient factor for determining customer satisfaction. When the customers are satisfied, they may be forgiving other problems. Hospitality industry majorly depends on the customers’ responses and the positive customer experiences. In hotel sector, superior services are dependent on employees and employees are the foundation of competitive advantage. They stated that actions of customer service employees are the foundation of service quality and customer satisfaction in hotel sector. Because customer service employees increase hotel image, actual and perceived service quality. They also found that hotel managers should focus on employee development through allocating resources.

Chun Min Chu (2007, p. 1083) determined four factors of customer service employee’s behavior in his study with perspective to customer service employees’ behavior and customer satisfaction in hospitality industry:

  • Friendliness
  • Empathic feeling
  • Enthusiastic service
  • Problem solving

He concluded that service companies must give more attention to front line employees with proper training and emotional support which is necessary for them to cope with the increasing demands of customer service

2.6.4 Service personnel; source of competitive advantage

According to Liverlock&Wirtz (2007, p.311) from a customer´s perspective, the encounter with service staff is the most important aspect of the service industry. From a firm´s perspective, the service levels and how the service delivered is important source for creating competitive advantage through front line service personnel. Service employees are important with respect to customer and firm perspective because front line staff is:

  • Is a core part of the product:Service employees are the most visible element of the service during delivering service and significantly responsible for quality of service.
  • Is the service firm: From the customer’s perspective, a front line employee is the service firm.
  • Is the brand:The service which provided by front line employees are the core part of the brand.

2.6.5 Characteristics of customer service employees

According to Liverlock&Wirtz (2007, p.313) following are the important characteristics of customer service employees; Boundary Spanning

In every service company, customer service employees are boundary spanning. It means that they link the inside of the service organization to the outside world. In boundary spanning, customer contact employees focus on operational and marketing goals. Service employees perform triple roles, creating service quality, improving productivity, and making sales. This multiplicity of roles in service jobs creates role conflicts among service employees which must be identified by management of the organization to improve their performance.

Sources of Conflict

Service employees have three main causes in role stress: person/role, organization/client, and inter-client conflicts which can affect their performance towards customer satisfaction.

Person/Role Conflict

Service employees have conflicts between their job requirements and their own personality, self-perception, and beliefs. For example, service job require smiling with customers even with rude customers and they must show friendly behavior with rude customers. These factors create personal conflicts between service employees and management.

Organization/Client Conflict

Service employees face the dilemma in many cases when they should follow the company´s rules or follow to satisfy the customer demands. This conflict is called two bosses dilemma. This dilemma arises due to exceptions in customer demands a sit violates the organizational rules. So in this case customer service employee’s faces conflicting customer needs and requests, as well as organizational rules, procedures and requirements.

Inter client conflict

This conflict is stressful and unpleasant because it is difficult to satisfy both sides; customer and organization. When service employees trying to satisfy the both sides during service delivery process, inter client conflict creates.

2.8 Emotional labor

Emotional labor means that service organization are expecting to show emotions in front of customers. Customer service employees are expected to be cheerful and sincere with customers. Emotional labor occurs when there is a discrepancy between front line staff, way of behavior and the emotions that management requires them to show in front of customers. The main aspect in emotional labor is that services firms must know about the ongoing emotional stress among their employees and train employees how to deal with such stress and to cope with pressure arise from customers(Pugliesi, 1999, p. 126).

More overemotional labor is the controlling of service employees behavior to show the suitable emotions (Chu, 2002. p. 1). Emotional labor is only used for workplaces but also uses every aspect of person’s life. But we will discuss emotional labor according to service industry context. Emotional labor is relatively new term described byGuy, M. E. and Newman, (2004, p.289) that, “Emotional labor applies to both men’s and women’s work, but is the ‘softer’ emotions, those required in relational tasks, such as caring and nurturing, that disappear most often from job description, performance evaluations, and salary calculations”. It means that a person changes behaviors (emotions, verbal cues, body language) according to the suitable situation.

According to Hochschild 1983, there are two types of emotional acting:

* Surface acting

* Deep acting

* Surface Acting

In surface acting people do acting and show emotions without feeling and realizing that emotion. This type of emotional labor is mostly used in workplace. Surface emotional labor involves changing the negative emotions such as anger, sadness, aggression into happier emotions such as happiness, care, excitement etc.

* Deep acting

While in deep acting, there are two different emotional actions are involved. In first emotional action, person show actual emotions what they feel. The second emotional action is true method acting, in which person use past emotional experiences to encourage real emotion which is not felt before (Hochschil

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