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Journal of
European Journal of Marketing,
Vol. 34 No. 3/4, 2000, pp. 384-398.
# MCB University Press, 0309-0566
An empirical investigation
of the impact of non-verbal
communication on
service evaluation
Mark Gabbott
Department of Business and Economics, Monash University,
Melbourne, Australia, and
Gillian Hogg
Department of Marketing, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Keywords Services marketing, Non-verbal communication, Perception, Consumer behaviour,
Customer satisfaction, Service quality
Abstract Considers the role of non-verbal communication in consumers' evaluation of service
encounters. Non-verbal communication has been extensively studied in the psychology and
psychotherapy disciplines and has been shown to have a central effect on participants' perceptions
of an event. As services are essentially interpersonal interactions it follows that non-verbal
communication will play a major part in service evaluation. Uses an experimental methodology
based on video scenarios to demonstrate the effect of this type of communication on consumers.
The results indicate significant differences in respondents' reactions to the scenario according to
the non-verbal behaviour of the service provider.
The implicit assumption in the quest for customer satisfaction and service
quality is that there is a link between positive evaluation and re-purchase
behaviour (Zeithaml et al., 1996). As a consequence, understanding how and
what aspects of the service product impact on customers' evaluation is a critical
first step. There are a number of service product attributes which have been
identified as contributing towards the customer's overall evaluation, these
include the service environment (see Bitner, 1990; Russell and Mehrabian,
1976), service employees (see Bowen and Lawler, 1992; Bowen et al.,, 1989), and
the impact of other customers (see Booms and Bitner, 1981; Hui and Bateson,
1991; Langeard et al., 1987). The attributes of the service product have been
grouped under headings such as process versus outcome dimensions, core
versus peripheral product dimensions and functional versus technical qualities,
(Gronroos, 1991; Iacobucci et al., 1994; Zeithaml, 1988). While these groupings
are not identical there are strong conceptual parallels between them since they
all allude to an evaluative relationship between howthe service is provided and
what the customer actually receives. The problem with discussing ``how'' the
service is delivered is that there are both soft and hard components of the
delivery process. While we can prescribe many ``hard'' aspects of the process,
including the sequence of events, the associated behaviours and even the words
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used, there are also many ``soft'' elements of the service encounter, which cannot
be prescribed and can dramatically alter the way that the customer perceives
the service.
The ``soft'' process elements are concentrated on the individual service
provider and the interpersonal or quasi-interpersonal exchange with the
customer. This aspect of the soft process presents the greatest challenges to
researchers as they embody the full range of inter-personal behaviour and also
tend to be highly heterogeneous. According to Klaus (1985), interpersonal
service encounters comprise both task and ``ceremonial'' elements, in which the
former relate to the economic exchange and the latter psychological
satisfaction. They are primarily social occasions which allow strangers to
interact and, as Czepiel (1990) points out, frequently the social nature of the
exchange appears to overshadow the economic. It is acknowledged within the
service quality literature that an important part of consumer satisfaction with
the service is related to aspects of this personal relationship. Indeed, three of
Zeithaml et al.'s (1990) five dimensions of service quality relate to interpersonal
aspects of exchange; empathy, assurance, and responsiveness.
At the heart of any evaluative process is the consumers' perception of the
service received. Underlying the evaluation of any human exchange is a
complex language of behaviours, which communicate meaning and provide a
message on which evaluations are based. This language is non-verbal and part
of everyday social behaviour and, therefore, also a component of every
interpersonal service encounter. In an attempt to understand the interpersonal
aspects of the exchange, the idea of services as drama has gained wide-scale
acceptance in the services marketing literature. Developed from the social
interactionist perspective by Grove and Fisk (1983), dramaturgy extends role
theory by placing it within a staged setting, the service encounter. The idea of
roles in marketing research is not new and has been reviewed by a number of
authors in terms of the cues that guide and direct individual behaviour in a
social setting (see, for example, Lutz and Kakkar, 1976; Solomon et al., 1985).
The dramaturgical approach depicts social behaviour as a theatrical
performance in which actors perform to certain roles to an audience. In this
perspective, the action (service encounter) takes place within a theatre
(servicescape) and the performance of the service requires actors, audience,
script, setting, rehearsal, appearances, and importantly, authenticity. What is
missing from the current dramaturgy literature, however, is the non-verbal
behaviour of the actors, which is a key element in any performance. Indeed
Bentley (1968) concludes that life and theatre contain all of the same elements,
and theatre, therefore, is merely a simulation of the basic components of social
interaction. A key part in the maintaining ``truth'' of the performance and the
illusion of the reality of the role lies in the non-verbal presentation of the actor
(Jones, 1996). This non-verbal content has two elements, body language as
illustrated by mime, and paralinguistics or the conveyance of meaning through
vocal tone, pitch etc., as illustrated by radio drama. The purpose of this paper is
to review the literature available from the psychology and anthropology
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literature on the impact of non-verbal behaviour on interpersonal interaction
and to apply this to the context of service encounters. Results are then
presented of a preliminary exploration of this issue using an experimental
methodology to compare consumers' responses to two scenarios differing only
on the basis of the non-verbal behaviour of the service provider.
Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication (NVC) takes place every time one person interacts
with another, it may be intentional or unintentional and is part of the rapid
stream of communication that passes between two interacting individuals. The
interpretation of this communication has been shown to have a central effect on
participants' perceptions of the event and has been extensively studied in the
psychology and psychotherapy disciplines (see, for example, Argyle, 1994;
Delmonte, 1991; Giles and Robinson, 1990; Vogelaar and Silverman, 1984,
Hargie et al., 1987). Despite the volume of research available, studies of non-
verbal behaviour in the marketing discipline have been relatively few.
Considering that personal interaction between purchaser and provider is
central to most service encounters and that NVC will always take place where
two individuals interact, it follows that this element of human communication
is critical to understanding howa service is perceived and evaluated
Although there are a number of definitions of NVC, in its broadest sense it is
communication that transcends the bare elements of the written or spoken
word. It encompasses a number of aspects of body language including facial
expression, eye contact, posture, gesture and inter-personal distance
(Mehrabian, 1972). To these can be added a number of factors associated with
the delivery of speech, for example stress, loudness and intonation. In
combination these components modify the semantic content of the exchange;
indeed Fromkin and Rodman (1983) suggest that up to 90 per cent of the
communicative process takes place non-verbally. Unlike the spoken word this
form of communication is not only constant, but is projected and received via a
large number of different channels. In summary non-verbal influence can be
categorised into four broad areas: proxemics, the use of personal space and
distance; kinesics, body postures and movements; oculesics, communicative
aspects of eye behaviour (gaze and movement); and vocalics or para-languistic
cues, such as vocal tone and intonation. The key to these behaviours is that
they convey meaning and thus have a direct effect on how the parties conduct
themselves during the exchange. The extent of their impact, however, depends
on accurate projection and interpretation by the parties involved.
NVC is in effect a series of cues that are encoded by the sender, either
consciously or unconsciously, and subsequently decoded by the receiver.
Communication and reception of these messages happens continuously at both
sides of the dyad forming a second level of conversation whose effectiveness is
ultimately dependent on the accurate coding and decoding of the signals. The
problem is that within this basic paradigm are a number of possibilities for a
breakdown in the discourse. At a simple level the NVC could be misunderstood;
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for example, lack of eye contact could be interpreted as disinterest rather than
embarrassment or distraction, and vice versa. At a more complex level the
breakdown can occur where verbal and non-verbal messages are not
synchronized, i.e. when two forms of communication contradict each other. As
NVC is generally considered to be more credible as it is less controllable, it is
this part of the exchange that will carry more weight in decoding underlying
meaning in this situation.
Factors affecting NVC
The characteristics of the individuals involved and their response to coding
and decoding signals govern the role of NVC in any exchange. Three specific
variables can be identified as impacting on the nature of NVC during the
exchange, gender: culture and personal traits.
One of the most important determinants of NVC communication is gender. Put
simply, men and women encode and interpret communication cues differently
(Eisenberg and Lennon, 1983). Men speaking to men will use different NVC
from men speaking to women, and women have been demonstrated to be more
trusting and open with other women. Women generally smile more (and frown
less), approach closer than men, fidget less and make more eye contact,
especially when listening. Males have a higher level of touch avoidance than
women and women respond more positively to (appropriate) touch as they
perceive it to be friendly (Argyle, 1994). These differences are important to
service providers, especially when considering the establishment of empathy or
Cultural norms and learned behaviours play an extremely large part in NVC
and there is evidence to show that people can read more accurately the non-
verbal behaviour of others who are culturally, linguistically and racially similar
(Wolfgang, 1984). It is evident that some behaviours are universal while others
are not; for example, Keating et al. (1981) found that smiling was interpreted as
happiness in all of the cultures studied. However, in studies to establish
``display rules'', i.e. when emotional expressions should be used, wide variations
were detected between cultures. For example, the Japanese display rule is that
negative emotions should not be shown; thus the smile is used as a ``mask'' for
negative emotions, such as embarrassment or reserve (Ramsey, 1984). While it
is possible for anthropologists to trace and identify the reasons for these
differences, for services managers it is more important to recognise that such
differences exist, and can potentially change the perception of the encounter.
Awareness of the potential for cultural misinterpretation is important,
therefore, especially in services that require a high degree of empathy, such as
counselling or medical care.
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Personal characteristics
Because NVC is an inter-personal behaviour there are a number of personal
characteristics which will impact on its encoding and the decoding of others'
communication. All social behaviour is governed by rules (Argyle, 1983) and as
individuals we learn and adapt these rules throughout the course of our lives
according to experience. Linked to this are the personal traits that influence the
way that individuals interact with the situation (Argyle, 1994). This concept has
two dimensions, communication competence and communication apprehension
(see Boorom et al., 1998). Communication competence refers to the ability to follow
and make sense of conversations, the degree of interaction involvement and the
amount of turn taking and yielding, which determines the effectiveness of the
interaction for each party. Communication apprehensiveness, by contrast, is
defined as ``an individual's level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or
anticipated communication with another person or persons'' (McCroskey, 1984,
p. 14). This type of apprehension varies on a continuum from a trait, which is a
generalised unease about communication situations, to a state of fear in a specific
communication situation. Individuals with communication apprehension have poor
cognitive processing during interactions and have been found to differ on three
behavioural characteristics: attentiveness, perceptiveness, and responsiveness.
This implies that certain people will be less able to receive both verbal and non-
verbal information, to interpret and assign meaning to what they observe and to
formulate their own messages effectively. In understanding service evaluation,
therefore, it is necessary to take account of the way that individuals react in service
The final personal trait is the way that the receiver perceives the
attractiveness of the sender (DeShields et al., 1996; Marlowe et al., 1996).
Studies in persuasion research have demonstrated that the impact of a
communication is directly affected by how the receiver decodes the
attractiveness of the spokesperson. Attractiveness in this context goes beyond
the simple physical appearance of the individual and incorporates similarity,
familiarity and liking. There is empirical evidence to show that persons who
are perceived as being attractive get more donations when soliciting for
charitable organisations, are treated more cordially as salespersons by buyers
and are assumed to be more likeable (Reingen and Kernan, 1994). What is not
clear from this research is how this notion of attractiveness influences
consumer satisfaction with a particular service offering. Landy and Signall
(1974) demonstrated that the effect of attractiveness did not over-ride features
of the product as an evaluative criterion. Similarly Joseph (1982) reported that,
when a spokesperson was perceived to be an ``expert'', physical attractiveness
had no effect on preferences; however, when the person was not seen as an
expert, attractiveness was an issue. A generalized state of attractiveness is
associated with the perceived ability to perform certain tasks (Webster and
Driskell, 1983) and, on this basis, customers who perceive the service provider
to be attractive are more likely to assess the service positively.
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Based on the above discussion, non-verbal communication is clearly an
important consideration for service marketers. Not only can it enhance service
delivery, but it can also destroy erstwhile well designed and researched delivery
systems. It follows therefore that customers' responses to service delivery,
perceived service quality or satisfaction, are dependent on their interpretation of
various non-verbal signals during the encounter and their decoding of the
meaning associated with them. In an effort to explore this further, this research
attempts to assess whether differences in non-verbal behaviour alone can affect
satisfaction and perceived service quality in a specific service context.
Specifically, in this research we:
examine the effect of non-verbal behaviour on subjects' perceptions of a
service event;
assess subjects' responses to different aspects of the service delivery;
investigate the impact of culture, gender and personal characteristics on
the overall evaluation.
Research design
In order to address some of the practical and ethical problems in conducting
research into behaviours that are essentially subliminal and frequently
unconscious, the research employed an experimental approach. The apparent
rarity of experiments in management research would suggest that the
application of this method in management research is problematic. The chief
limitation of the experimental method is that the relevant behaviour is not
observed in its everyday setting and the artificiality of the observation is likely
to affect the way in which the participants respond to stimuli. For some this
limitation is a devastating critique of the method and one which invalidates the
use of the true experiment in social science research. However, the advantages
of the experimental method are in allowing the researcher to isolate a particular
phenomenon (the independent variable under investigation), and examine its
effects by controlling the influence of extraneous variables. The internal
validity of the experiment is based on the fact that similar subjects experience
the same stimuli, with a minimum of distortion, in a manner which is both
ethically and practically feasible (Campbell and Stanley, 1963). The attraction
for social scientists is that the method allows for an unusually powerful
isolation of causal relationships. As Voss et al. (1998) point out, most attempts
to manipulate service performance have relied on written scenarios,
occasionally supported with visual cues. Bateson and Hui (1992), however,
provided empirical evidence that videotapes offer an ecologically valid method
to simulate service exchanges in an experimental setting. In this study it was
important to be able to manipulate the non-verbal characteristics of the service
scenario as the independent variable. In order to achieve this manipulation two
service scenarios were prepared, based on a common service setting. A
professional actress was employed to prepare and act out the check-in
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experience at a hotel reception. The camera was positioned to give only the
customer's perspective, i.e. the camera is the customer (see also Voss et al.,
The common components of the scenario were:
(1) The setting: reception style desk at waist height, with computer screen
and keyboard, anonymous single colour background.
(2) The receptionist: aged 30, female, dressed in dark suit with light blouse,
standing behind the reception desk, face to the camera.
(3) The script: a one-sided service encounter (customer silent) including
welcome, registration, card imprint, handing-over of keys and a general
enquiry about hotel facilities.
(4) The props: reception desk, computer keyboard and hidden terminal
screen and flowers situated to the right.
(5) Time: each video lasted a total of two minutes and 17 seconds.
Before filming, the actress was briefed about the nature of the non-verbal
messages to be conveyed and rehearsed the sequences which varied according
to behaviours previously identified from the literature (Argyle, 1994; Giles and
Robinson, 1990; Mehrabian, 1972). Specifically, these included the use of altered
posture (kinesics), eye contact (oculesics), smiling and nodding, vocal tone and
intonation (para-linguistics). Owing to the limitations of the experimental
method using video exposure it was not possible to simulate haptics (the effect
of touch). The only approximation for this was the difference between the
receptionist handing the customer a room key and laying it on the desk. After
several ``takes'' all the video scenarios were piloted independently with small
groups to assess both the validity of the service situation and their reaction to
the NVC characteristics of the scenarios. Two scenarios were selected as the
experimental instruments.
A questionnaire was then developed which asked the participants to
evaluate the service scenario. The questionnaire was divided into three parts.
In the first part, respondents were asked to rate aspects of the service, the
service organisation and the service employee using amended service
dimensions of PZB, responsiveness, assurance, tangibles and empathy (RATE)
as the basis of their evaluation. These dimensions were adopted as they
provide a framework for service evaluation that recognises the multifaceted
nature of service evaluation. While there has been widescale criticism of the
SERVQUAL scale using these dimensions developed by Zeithaml et al. (see, for
example, Buttle, 1996), the need for any form of service evaluation to take
account of the multifaceted nature of service dimensions and the complex
nature of the service encounter has been recognised by a number of authors
(see, for example, Iacobucci et al., 1994). In order to account for variation in
personal characteristics of customers, the second section of the questionnaire
included an adapted version of the Communication Apprehension and
Involvement scales developed by McCroskey (1984). In the final section
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respondents were asked for information regarding gender, culture, age and
experience of checking into hotels. None of the questions specifically asked
about the non-verbal behaviour of the provider, rather they focused on the
response to the service provided.
In accordance with the ``true'' experimental method (see Gill and Johnson,
1991) it was necessary to identify two comparable groups to whom the video
scenarios could be exposed and to control for as many extraneous variables as
possible. Two large student classes were each shown one version of the video at
the same time in April 1998. They were not informed that the experiment
concerned non-verbal behaviour. Once they had watched the video they were
then given the questionnaire to complete. A total of 377 questionnaires were
entered into the analysis, 203 relating to the positive scenario and 174 relating to
the negative scenario. From the piloting of the videos it was evident that the
paralinguistic cues were frequently perceived to be more powerful than the body
language, i.e. that vocal tone and intonation may over-ride the aspects of body
language such as stance, eye contact and facial expression. As a result the
experiment was repeated with four smaller groups, two of which heard the sound
track (either positive or negative) but did not see the picture and two of which
viewed the tape without sound. No significant differences were observed
between the mean scores of these groups and the main experimental group.
Given this result and the strong inter-relationship between tone of voice and
body language, we conclude that it is feasible to analyse the effect of NVC on
customer evaluation as an overall effect, rather than a series of individual effects.
Perceptions of service delivery
The first research objective was to examine the effect of non-verbal behaviour
on subjects' perceptions of a service event. Each subject was asked to rate their
responses to 17 service dimensions portrayed on the video they were shown
rated on a 1 to 5 Likert scale. The difference in responses to the two service
scenarios was tested using an independent samples T-test, the results of which
are shown in Table I. The results of the T-test indicate there is a significant
difference between respondents' assessment of the service they saw in the
video, which differed only on the non-verbal behaviour of the service provider
portrayed. On this basis we can conclude that the NVC influences customer
evaluation of the whole service experience and is therefore highly relevant in
understanding service quality perceptions and evaluation. Asked if they would
be satisfied with the service provided, 78 per cent of those who saw the positive
scenario agreed that they would be either satisfied or very satisfied, with only 2
per cent indicating dissatisfaction. In comparison only 1 per cent of those who
saw the negative scenario indicated that they would be satisfied with the
service and 86 per cent said they would be dissatisfied. Similarly, when asked
about their overall impression of the hotel 68.8 per cent of the positive
respondents had a favourable impression compared to only 0.6 per cent of the
negative group.
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Service dimensions
The second research question addressed the subjects responses to different
aspects of the service. The questionnaire included four of the five dimensions of
service quality proposed by ZPB. The reliability dimension was not included in
the questionnaire, as, in terms of the experience portrayed on the video, it was
not possible for the respondents to assess the service outcome. The sentences
were grouped according to their membership of the four dimensions. A
MANOVA procedure was used to determine whether there were differences
between the groups across the RATER variable sets. The items were entered
into a series of four MANOVA procedures using treatment scenario as the
independent variable. The results are shown in Table II.
MANOVAis a multivariate technique that compares groups according to their
reactions over a series of variables. In this case, it was used to determine whether
there was an overall effect across the range of RATE variables according to the
scenario seen. As the MANOVA analysis provides significant main effects for
each of the RATE dimensions, we can conclude that non-verbal communication
of the service provider changed the respondents' perceptions of the service on
each of the four dimensions included. When analysing the between, subjects
effects it was apparent that the only two variables which were not significantly
affected by the non-verbal communication of the provider were the perception of
how busy she was and whether she was perceived to be appropriately dressed.
The extension of the result is that evaluation seems concentrated on personal
service aspects and not tangibles or the service environment.
t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Appropriateness of dress 0.699 375 0.485
Willingness to help overall 27.746 375 0.000
Interested in customers 27.216 375 0.000
Appeared efficient 12.486 324 0.000
Was knowledgeable 12.320 340 0.000
Was polite and courteous 34.398 357 0.000
Appeared busy 1.456 334 0.146
Seemed friendly 34.208 374 0.000
Think was attractive 8.508 343 0.000
Appear trustworthy 16.749 363 0.000
Impression reliable 17.934 355 0.000
Like the receptionist 22.865 374 0.000
Attend promptly 18.375 373 0.000
Willing to help particular customer 27.865 366 0.000
Good at her job 21.364 357 0.000
Overall satisfied with service 32.084 373 0.000
Impression favourable 26.273 374 0.000
Note: Confirmatory discriminant analysis was able to correctly classify 97 per cent of
cases based on analysis by scenario. Both the test results and the discriminant
analysis suggest a high degree of difference between the responses from the
exposure groups
Table I.
Independent samples
An empirical
Individual characteristics
The final research objective was to investigate the impact of culture, gender
and personal characteristics on the overall evaluation of the service observed.
Owing to the difficulties in operationalising culture in this context respondents
were asked to state their nationality. These were then coded into two cultural
groups; Western (including US, Australasian and European respondents)
Pacific Eastern (including Asian, Chinese, Japanese). While this may be
considered to be an arbitrary classification, it reflects the cultural affinity zones
suggested by Usunier (1996) and the composition of the group. Clearly
nationality may not be a good indicator of culture, but the characteristics of the
sample, resident only temporarily and retaining original nationality, made this
an acceptable proxy. Using culture as a covariate, it was observed that there is
a significant difference in response to four of the RATER variables. Further
analysis demonstrated that the Eastern cultural group consistently rated the
service provider as more interested in the customer, busier and friendlier than
the Western group. By contrast, the Western group consistently viewed the
service provider as more reliable regardless of the scenario observed. A similar
analysis using gender as a covariate indicated that there were no significant
differences as to how men and women perceived the service observed (chi
square =7.016, 4df, p = 0.135).
The personal characteristics were stated in relation to communication
competence divided into communication apprehensiveness and communication
involvement (see Boorom et al., 1998). The sample was divided into high,
mediumand lowcommunication competence by summing response scores to the
df F Sig.
Responsiveness 4;372 211.3* 0.000
Willing 1;375 769.8 0.000
Busy 1;375 2.1 0.140
Promptly 1;375 326.9 0.000
Efficiently 1;375 161.9 0.000
Assurance 4;372 140.9* 0.000
Knowledgeable 1;375 155.7 0.000
Trustworthy 1;375 281.4 0.000
Reliable 1;375 325.7 0.000
Competent 1;375 461.1 0.000
Tangibles 2;374 37.5* 0.000
Appropriate dress 1;375 0.4 0.485
Attractive 1;375 74.1 0.000
Empathy 4;372 387.0* 0.000
Interested 1;375 740.7 0.000
Polite 1;375 1,195.2 0.000
Friendly 1;375 1,134.6 0.000
Willing to help 1;375 741.6 0.000
Note: * Value for Hotelling's t approximate F
Table II.
Results of four
independent MANOVA
using amended
RATER items as
dependent and
exposure scenario as
independent variables
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scale items. Competence was then used as the fixed factor in a MANOVA in
order to investigate whether there was any difference in the degree of response to
the scenarios, i.e. whether communication competency produced exaggerated
response. The results of this analysis, however, provided no evidence that
communication competent individuals were more sensitive to the impact of non-
verbal behaviour within each scenario (communication involvement F =0.864, df
= 30:718, p = 0.677) or that communication apprehensive individuals were less
sensitive to the impact of non-verbal communication (communication
apprehensiveness F = 0.898, df = 30:720, p = 0.625). While this result apparently
contradicts previous work on the effects of communication competence on
interpersonal interaction, this study was conducted using video images, which
were observed rather than experienced, and this may in turn affect individual
responses to the communication. This may be considered to be a limitation of the
method employed in this study rather than as a significant result.
The final consideration under individual differences is the effect of degree of
perceived attractiveness of the sender on overall responses to the service
communication. Although a significant association was observed between
perceived attractiveness of the provider and satisfaction with the service (Chi
square = 80.86, 8df, p = 0.000) examination of directional measures suggested
that individuals who were satisfied with the service they had observed were
more likely to consider the provider attractive. This is in contradiction of other
research on sender attractiveness that suggested that satisfaction with the
service was more likely to be dependent on provider attractiveness.
Conclusions and implications
This consideration of the role of non-verbal behaviour in service situations raises
a number of important managerial implications which go beyond the mere
recognition of this phenomenon as an important component in customer service
evaluation. Before this examination we can summarise the results of this study
under the objectives highlighted above. First, we have evidence that the non-
verbal communication in a service encounter dramatically impacts on the
customer's evaluation of the service event. Second, that this impact is both
overall and in relation to specific components. Finally, that there are some
differences between customer groups in how they react to non-verbal behaviour.
In themselves, these results are consistent with the literature in psychology but
the implications for managers and academics are considerable. In the first
instance NVC may explain inconsistency between survey satisfaction results and
customer repurchase. It may be possible for employees to comply with
management guidelines on service delivery standards, scripts etc. but without
the correct body language or paralinguistic cues customers are either dissatisfied
or fail to develop the empathy with the provider which leads to repurchase
behaviour. Put simply, it is more than good service systems that lead to service
satisfaction but interpersonal behaviours that transcend current service
satisfaction research. There are, however, a number of other interpersonal factors
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that were not addressed in this research that may provide additional insights; in
particular the issue of perceived status and the possible tensions that it causes
between service provider and customers could be investigated.
Although some managers may believe that non-verbal aspects of the
exchange are beyond their control, it is evident that managers of services need to
recognise and accept that NVC will inevitably take place and that it has a
significant effect on both the customer's and the employee's perceptions of the
service. On the basis that the core exchange paradigm occurs between people,
and specifically in the service context between a customer and a service provider,
it follows that the selection and training of service employees is of paramount
importance. A number of techniques are available in the staff recruitment phase
to identify individuals who have well developed NVC skills. For instance, the use
of simulated customer contact scenarios, personality testing for service
inclination and extemporisation exercises in selection. It is also apparent that
even making employees aware of non-verbal behaviour can be considered a
significant advantage and this area should be included in any training needs
assessment. Although many of the skills referred to in this paper are evidently
personal, there are a range of basic skills that can be imparted through staff
training. Argyle (1994), for instance, refers to the efficacy of social skills training
in improving both the coding and decoding of non-verbal signals and these social
skills can be extrapolated into the service context to provide a training agenda.
The context in which the service takes place clearly affects the primary
communication exchange. A number of environmental factors have been
identified above that can facilitate effective communication, for instance the
physical environment can be designed to facilitate appropriate NVC. The key
word here is appropriate; depending on the type of service, different non-verbal
signals may be appropriate. Professional services providers may wish to
communicate authority and distance, while personal service providers may be
more concerned with the development of warmth and personal closeness. The
environmental props associated with this management of appropriateness may
include desks to signify distance, closed versus open office designs, standing
versus sitting positions, the use of service tangibles, or the ability to touch the
other party. Associated with environmental design is service process design.
There are instances where the process will emphasise the importance of non-
verbal behaviour. Asituation where the employee and the customer are waiting
for some third party or remote process to take place can add to the service
experience where signals are positive, such as eye contact, smiling: equally it
can detract from the service experience by emphasising an uneasy or extended
period with no activity.
The important role that NVC plays in the service encounter and its impact on
customer assessments of the service mean that it must be incorporated into any
standard setting, bench-marking or quality assessment exercises. While this type
of communication is implicit in most of the service quality and satisfaction
measures used by managers, there are considerable advantages in making it
explicit. For instance, ratings of individual employees may be made in the
Journal of
consumer's mind entirely on the outcome of decoding NVC rather than on
elements of the service product. Similarly an unsatisfactory service product may
be masked by particularly effective NVC on the part of the employee. As
elements of this evaluation are subconscious, simply asking customers about
NVC is inappropriate and therefore more subtle techniques are required. For
example the use of expert mystery shoppers to evaluate the non-verbal elements
of the service may provide better information than surveys (Wilson, 1998).
Clearly the NVC research in marketing is relatively scarce and it will be
necessary to apply and extend the contributions frompsychology, psychotherapy
and anthropology to the pursuit of applicable marketing research. The evidence
so far from these literatures is that NVC is an extremely complex phenomenon
and will require considerable examination of applied research methodologies.
The empirical methods adopted must be mindful of the complexity of behaviour
and its inter-relatedness with the environment and overt verbal communication.
A number of methodologies are already available, but these have yet to be tested
in commercial environments and therefore there is considerable scope for
replication and extension. Experimental methods in particular have been under-
utilised within the marketing discipline and in this context they appear to be one
of the few techniques to have produced meaningful results. Unfortunately by
their very nature they are unable to replicate conditions in which NVC actually
takes place, but in the absence of other ethically appropriate methods they are a
valuable source of information. Further developments of this methodology may
be able to isolate particular non-verbal behaviours as being of more significance
than others or more closely linked to specific aspects of evaluation. In this
research we were only able to isolate body language for para-linguistic cues but
there are clearly a number of aspects within these broad categories that could
have varying influences. It is also clear that further research in this area may
have to move beyond the use of video as a research tool as it has obvious
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