Changing service behaviours

Chnaging service behaviours means that people have to believe the change is a good thing to do. Secondly, they have to believe their friends and family will support them. Thirdly, they have to believe they have the necessary level of control to enact the change.

In this third 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 control beliefs. It illustrates how it may be measured and what influence may be brought to bear on it in the workplace.

Perceived behavioural control refers to people’s perceptions of their ability to perform a given behaviour. It is determined by a combination of two elements:

  1. Their beliefs about the presence of factors which facilitate or impede their performance of a behaviour.
  2. Their perceptions about the power of each factor.

If we believe that there are factors outside our control which make it difficult for us to adopt a behaviour well, it has a negative influence on our intention. For example, if a person believes that they have no authority to make decisions on their own, they will not act independently. The belief may exist, even though department procedures give them authority, because of a superior’s insistence on double checking everything they do.

If our belief in a particular control factor is very powerful, it will have a greater impact than one which has less power. For example, we may believe we have little authority from our superior. However, we have a much more powerful belief that the department boss, our superior’s superior, demands we act independently. In this case we may think and act independently within our authority and learn to just deal with the consequences from our boss.

Measuring perceived behavioural control is a three part process.

Use focus groups or one-on-one qualitative interviews to determine commonly held beliefs about factors which impact the level of control.

For example, in a situation where you want people to react to difficult customers by being assertive, not passive or aggressive, one might ask the following questions:

  • What factors or circumstances with difficult customers make you angry?
  • What factors or circumstances make it difficult for you to control your anger?
  • What factors or circumstances with difficult customers make you want to say “yes” to whatever they want or apologise for whatever they say?
  • What factors or circumstances make it difficult for you to calmly say what is on your mind?

Construct a questionnaire using a seven point Likert scale that assesses the strength of the control beliefs.

For example:

  • Difficult customers do not believe what you tell them (likely/unlikely).
  • Difficult customers are very insistent (likely/unlikely).
  • We have enough authority to solve most customer’s problems (likely/unlikely).

Construct a questionnaire using a seven point Likert scale to assess the power of the factors which influence the behaviour.

For example:

  • When my honesty is questioned I am less likely/more likely to get angry.
  • Insistent customers are less likely/more likely to make me feel uncomfortable about saying no to a clearly unreasonable request.
  • When I feel we do not have enough authority to accept a difficult customer’s request I am more likely/less likely to blame someone else rather than solve the customer’s problem.

Many elements are worthy of consideration to change the perceived control beliefs of people. Some that come to mind include:

  1. Communicate clearly what authority people have. Communicate verbally, by your body language and by your actions. Communicate the same level of authority as is written in the policy manual.For example, do not continually question minute detail of someone who has authority to design, expend budget and deliver on large projects. Set them some key performance indicators and milestones and allow them to get on with the job.

    If the detail is extremely important put a review or audit system in place. Have a performance indicator for passing the review or audit by a target date and at a target cost.

  2. Train your people to communicate assertively, with high levels of congruence between what they say, how they say it (tone and pace) and their body language. People who are properly assertive in their communications perceive they have, and do have, more control over most situations.
  3. Train people to manage their emotions. Test their emotional intelligence and build a plan with them to improve upon their weaknesses.

    This is particularly important in both internal and external relationships where we can expect customers to have different expectations about what is good service. Unmet expectations are a prime source of what appear to be difficult customer

  4. Train people to identify problems, not symptoms. People often feel they have no control because they limit their thinking to the symptoms of an unidentified cause. If they could eliminate the cause they need not have any control over the symptom. For example, recruiting five people with experience and good rapport building skills in hundred-member banquets and events team with an average age of twenty reduces poor decision making due to inexperience.
  5. Reward people who take control. For example, congratulate a restaurant manager who overstepped their written authority by offering a free meal to resolve a customer complaint in a positive manner for taking the initiative. Discuss why they had not escalated the complaint as a secondary issue. Make it easier for them to recognise when to escalate and to actually escalate.
  6. Use data as often as possible to determine the real power of a control belief. If the power is real, then try to engineer the factor out of the process. If the power is not real, then educate people to understand so.

    For example, people in the hospitality industry often believe that customers resent being up-sold or cross-sold to. A survey, particularly of customers of integrated resorts and four and five star hotels will show this is not the case. Use the data to debunk the belief. Reinforce the new belief using a measured trial period of up-selling and cross-selling.

Control beliefs are often the conscious and unconscious crutches that people use to not perform a particular behaviour. They believe the behaviour is a good thing to do and the people want them to do it, but that they can’t do it.

Measuring, understanding and taking action to change control beliefs is like bursting the dam wall of behaviour once the attitudes and normative beliefs are aligned to the desired behaviour.

It is a dam wall, however, that is often shored up in organisations by excessive controls, too little training and inappropriate reward and recognition systems.


Related articles:

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