The effect of emotional provider support on angry versus anxious consumers
, Laurette Dubé
School of Business and Economics,Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue, Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3C5
Desautels Faculty of Management McGill University, 1001001 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1G5
This paper examines the trend in service firms to integrate an emotional dimension into provider responses to consumer emotions. Anempirical study showed that such a strategy is effective only if the consumer coping demonstrates an emotional engagement with the serviceepisode. Because both angry and anxious consumers cope primarily by planful problem solving (i.e., attempting to resolve the situation and attaintheir consumption goal), provider responses that offered solutions (instrumental support) were more effective than responses that offeredemotional support. Further, angry consumers were emotionally engaged with the situation while anxious consumers emotionally disengaged fromit. Consequently, provider response that included emotional support and instrumental support was the most effective for angry consumers, but there was no benefit to also including emotional support for anxious consumers.© 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Consumer emotions; Coping; Provider response strategies; Services
campaigns byHolidayInnandHiltonHotelsrespectively,theemployeetraining programs of United, Jet Blue, and SouthWest airlines, andCommerceBank'sbusinessmodel,allrequireserviceproviderstodemonstrate an emotional engagement (e.g., caring, compassion,humor) with consumers while delivering the core, instrumentalaspects of the service. While a large number of service firms havesubscribed to this approach, little research has examined theeffectiveness of such a service strategy, both in terms of themagnitude of its impact and its underlying mechanisms. This paper examines whether the practice of integrating emotionalengagement into instrumental service delivery truly optimizesconsumer satisfaction with the service.Two factors motivated this research. Firstly, while emotionalengagement by providers may be effective in affectivelycharged, long-term, intimate service encounters (e.g.,Arnould& Price,1993), its effectiveness is unclear in the transaction-oriented as opposed to relationship-oriented consumer-service provider interactions that characterize most commercial ser-vices. In fact, there is evidence that non-task-oriented interac-tions with consumers may detract from consumer evaluation of the service (McBane, 1995; Menon & Dubé, 2004, 2000;Suprenant & Solomon, 1987; Sutton & Rafaeli, 1990).Secondly, integrating an emotional dimension into service provider responses entails a cost to the provider and the servicefirm. Providers have to frequently engage in surface and deepacting which extracts considerable psychic toll (Grandey,Dickter, & Sin, 2004; Hochschild, 1983), and firms have toinvest in training and support programs to enable effectiveemotional engagement by service providers. It is prudent toexamine the effectiveness of integrating an emotional dimen-sion into provider responses prior to incurring such costs.This paper focuses on the effectiveness of integrating anemotional dimension into provider response to consumersexperiencingtwokeyconsumptionemotions:angerandanxiety.If consumers do indeed value emotional engagement, then theyare likely to value it particularly when they themselves areexperiencingspecificemotions.Further,negative emotionssuchas anger are highly contagious and responding to such emotions presents a special challenge to providers (Grandey et al., 2004;Menon & Dubé, 2000, 2004).We reason that the effectiveness of emotional engagement withconsumerswilldependontheconsumer'sspecificresponse(coping strategy) to the event that triggers anger or anxiety. Wederive hypotheses for differentiated coping responses to
Intern. J. of Research in Marketing 24 (2007) 268
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