Changing Service Behaviours

Changing people’s behaviour is hard work. Organisations which attempt to change people’s behaviour usually do not achieve as much change as they would like. One of the reasons is that the process used does not enable change at a personal level.

Organisations typically rely on something like a vision statement and a charismatic leader and a “change management program” to change people’s behaviour. Any change management program is a linear project plan of events. It may include some process redesign, standards, key performance indicators and some training.

Whilst many of the components that are necessary to change people’s behaviour are included, many are not. This is because the program focuses on changing business outcomes without taking into account how people’s behaviour is changed.

A very useful behavioural change framework is provided by the “Theory of Planned Behaviour” developed by Ajzen (1985).

According to Ajzen, intention, as the precursor of human behaviour, is guided by three considerations: behavioural beliefs, normative beliefs and control beliefs. In their respective aggregates, behavioural beliefs produce a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the behaviour; normative beliefs result in subjective norms; and control beliefs gives rise to perceived behavioural controls. Actual control and intention form the basis of actual behaviour.

Behavioural beliefs and attitude

In the first of a series of four articles I will explore what is required to change people’s behaviour with regard to serving customers, as an example. This article explores behavioural beliefs and attitude. It will illustrate how it may be measured and what influence may be brought to bear on it in the workplace.

The degree to which the beliefs and attitudes of an individual determine their behaviour can be measured.

Individuals hold to their beliefs with different degrees of strength. One person might strongly believe that smoking will have a seriously detrimental effect on their health. Another person may only slightly believe it, or not believe it at all. The strength of each belief determines how prominent that belief is in affecting the individual’s behaviour.

Each individual also ascribes a different degree of desirability to the outcomes associated with their beliefs. One person may be very concerned about their health. Another person may not be concerned about their health at all.

A single individual might also hold contradictory beliefs that form a complex attitude to a behaviour. Let’s examine the example of a young rock star. He holds moderately to the belief that smoking is bad for his health. But he holds very strongly to the belief that smoking is great for his image. He rates his health as only a moderately desirable outcome. He rates his image as a very desirable outcome. So, whilst the young man cares moderately about his health, he cares more about his image, and so he smokes.

Our ability to measure these internal constructs is critical to our capacity to change them. To do so, we must be able to determine the strength of an individual’s beliefs, and the desirability of the outcomes associated with each belief.

We can then determine what attitudes are leading to the behaviour currently being exhibited by our staff.

Measuring the beliefs and attitudes of individuals is a three part process.

First, a qualitative study determines the advantageous and disadvantageous outcomes of particular behaviours. In our customer service example it may include:

  • Wearing a neat and tidy uniform (behaviour) creates a congenial atmosphere (advantage)
  • Greeting people warmly with a smile (behaviour) creates an atmosphere of concern for the customer (advantage)
  • Solving customers’ problems promptly (behaviour) creates an atmosphere of concern for the customer (advantage)
  • A congenial atmosphere (aggregated behaviour) makes work pleasant (advantage)
  • Wearing a neat and tidy uniform (behaviour) requires me spending time washing and ironing my uniform (disadvantage).

Second, from our list of advantageous and disadvantageous outcomes, a questionnaire determines the extent to which people believe the behaviour will lead to the advantageous or disadvantageous outcomes. For example:

  • Wearing a neat and tidy uniform creates a congenial atmosphere (agree/disagree?)
  • Wearing a neat and tidy uniform requires me to spend time washing and ironing my uniform (agree/disagree?).

Third, a questionnaire covering the same outcomes determines the desirability of those outcomes in people’s minds. For example:

  • Creating a congenial atmosphere is… (desirable/undesirable?)
  • Spending time washing and ironing my uniform is… (desirable/undesirable?).

Establishing the degree to which individuals believe in the advantageous and disadvantageous outcomes of certain behaviours, as well as the desirability of those outcomes provides a platform of understanding. It explains how the personal beliefs and attitudes of your staff are likely to affect their behaviour towards customers.

The platform allows us to take action to change the prevalent beliefs and attitudes in the workplace.

The first element of changing people’s attitudes towards the behavioural elements of customer service provision is recruitment. By establishing the existing beliefs and attitudes held by prospective employees we can seek to hire only those people whose beliefs and attitudes mirror those we desire in our employees. Thus, recruitment questioning that probes the intrinsic beliefs of individuals is necessary. We can use the questions that we developed as part of the analysis of the behavioural beliefs of our existing staff as a starting point.

To change people’s beliefs about the degree of impact of an element of customer service, for example, wearing a neat and tidy uniform, we must first raise the issue of the belief in their consciousness; human beings are only capable of holding a few beliefs in their consciousness at one time.

That means a campaign about the topic. The campaign components may include such elements as:

  • A standard in an easy to assimilate format such as right and wrong photos.
  • An awareness campaign about the standard including newsletter articles, quizzes and competitions for the best dressed/groomed individual, perhaps judged by customers.

To change the belief about the impact of a neat and tidy uniform we might also want to consider communicating the conclusions of studies about uniforms and their impact on congeniality as felt by customers.

To change the perception of the desirability of improving congeniality by wearing a neat and tidy uniform, we may consider:

  • A reward and recognition program that is judged by customers and rewards the provision of a congenial atmosphere.
  • An immediate feedback process that praises or criticises, dependant on the level of deviation from the uniform standard.
  • Coaching and counselling for people who consistently breach the standards despite appropriate immediate feedback.
  • An appraisal system that includes concern for the customer and congeniality as a key result area.

To be sure that the system works we may also consider our people in the relevant positions to:

  • Give feedback, coach and counsel.
  • Write standards.
  • Understand the standard.
  • Complete appraisals.

The success of most activities with a high intangible component such as delivering superior customer service are at least in part driven by beliefs and attitudes.

Measuring those beliefs and attitudes is a first step to designing plans to actually change people’s behaviour.


Related articles:

Changing service behaviours – my intention
Changing service behaviours – my control
Changing service behaviours – subjective norms