Customer Service Psychology: An Introduction to Emotional Labor
Over the next day or so, we’re going to delve a bit more into the psychological aspects of customer service. Some of this stuff will apply to you and your staff, other concepts will apply to your customers, and other other concepts will show how customers and staff affect each other.
There are a few of reasons that we’re going to be giving you a better grounding in the psychology of staff-customer interactions:
- Understanding your customer will let you unleash all sorts of Jedi mind tricks against him or her;
- To better manage your staff; and
- To demonstrate how understanding customer service psychology can tangibly affect your bottom line.
Now that our introduction is finished, let’s dive in before all of this Italian sausage I ate catches up with me and I nod off at my keyboard and I have crazy dreams involving Muppets, like the time Bill Cosby ate a hoagie too close to bedtime on The Cosby Show even after his wife warned him not to. And yes, I realize how crazy long that previous sentence was. But enough of that; today’s topic is…
So yeah, today we’re going to start talking about emotional labor and how it figures into staff performance with regards to service. First, a quick introduction to labor in a more general sense. There are three main types of labor out there:
- cognitive labor,
- physical labor, and
- emotional labor.
A lot of attention has been paid to the first two. After all, you can get a relevant degree from college in whatever that proves you have the cognitive chops to perform well at a certain task. On the physical end of things, there are companies filled with burly dudes that specialize in moving pianos. But what about emotional labor?
The term “emotional labor” was coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, in her 1983 book titled The Managed heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Her definition for emotional labor was the “management of feeling to create a publicly facial and bodily display.”
In other words, acting one way in a work-related situation that is contrary to how you really feel. A couple of quick examples:
- Police offers having to be stone-faced when interacting with the public in an effort to set themselves apart so people won’t try to take advantage of their good nature.
- Wait staff having to smile, be happy and enthusiastic regardless of how they’re feeling at a particular time or regardless of how much they want to punch their patrons for being idiots.
Now front of house foodservice employees have a distinct honor; in labor terms, they’re pulling a hat trick: their jobs require cognitive, physical and emotional labor. Let’s break it down:
- Cognitive: making change, paying close attention to customers, keeping orders straight, remembering customer preferences
- Physical: most of their day is spent on their feet — either standing in one place or moving around, cleaning, carrying trays
- Emotional: smiling, empathizing, engaging in inane friendly conversation that they probably couldn’t care less about
So on top of working a long, physically grueling shift where they constantly have to mentally keep on their toes, they also have to be super nice to everyone that they come into contact with. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, to be honest, especially since most people completely overlook how draining and absolutely grinding the emotional component of their jobs can be.
Before wrapping this up, let’s quickly define display behavior, because it’s going to factor into tomorrow’s discussion about managing emotional labor.
Quite simply, display behavior, at least in a service-context, is organizationally appropriate behavior in a given situation. In other words, it’s how your staff acts in a given situation. Saying the right things at the right time, smiling, body language, posture, movement, etc.
Display behavior is a crucial aspect of restaurant customer service, and the goal is for it to be second nature so your staff doesn’t have to consciously think about it. Again, we’ll be talking a bit more about it tomorrow.