When people have the right mix of attitude, subjective norm and perceived behavioural control, their intention of changing service behaviours will be strong.

Their intention is only constrained by their actual level of control.

In this final of a series of four articles using Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour, I will explore what is required to change people’s behaviour with regard to serving customers, as an example. This article explores intentions and the limitations of actual behavioural control. It illustrates what influence may be brought to bear on it in the workplace to maximise the actual behavioural control.

Actual behavioural control in a corporate environment is equivalent to empowerment. There are four requirements for people to feel empowered.

Two requirements for people to feel empowered form part of what determines the subjective norm towards the desired behaviour. They are:

  1. Having the authority to perform the behaviour.
  2. Having that authority communicated to you unambiguously in written form, such as policies and performance measures and congruently in verbal and non-verbal cues.

Two form the core of actual behavioural control. They are:

  1. Possessing the right skills and knowledge.
  2. Having readily available data necessary to make any decisions required as part of the desired behaviour

Changing service behaviours scenario

In our serving customers example, let us consider the following scenario.

The scene is an hotel front desk. The desired behaviour we want is for attendants at the front desk to resolve customer complaints without referral to a supervisor except in specific situations outside the hotel’s control.

We have established through our coaching, counselling and appraisal systems that resolving problems quickly and independently is a good thing (attitude towards the behaviour) to do. Our reward and recognition scheme focuses, at least in part, on successful independent resolution of problems and complaints.

Our attendant’s peers, friends and family (subjective norm) think that being able to act independently to resolve customer complaints is good too and that we should take on the responsibility.

Our attendants have great confidence (perceived behavioural control) that they can resolve issues independently. They believe they have the right levels of skill and knowledge to resolve almost any issue as they have attended training specifically aimed at improving their rapport building, conflict resolution and decision making skills.

From the above scenario it would seem almost axiomatic that our attendant’s intention towards resolving customer complaints would be very positive and would result in our desired behaviour.

What, however, would be the consequence on the translation from intention to the desired behaviour of the following:

  • The authority limit for any decision is $20
  • The effectiveness of the training was not evaluated and whilst the attendants have remembered some of the knowledge they have not learnt sufficient to be skilled at conflict resolution
  • The training was not followed up to reinforce the skills acquired in the training
  • A new supervisor is hired who does not have the same view on empowering people as the other supervisors and receives no training and coaching to have the same view and practices
  • A new attendant is hired with an attitude towards taking responsibility that is poor and they are not counselled on their attitude

Limiting authority limits the attendant’s actual control over the resolution of problems. The best hotels in the world with the best customer service have no limit on the dollar value of resolving problems.

Attending training is not enough to create an actual level of control. Much training is ineffective through poor design.

The level of knowledge retained from training drops to around 12% within six weeks of undertaking training if there is no follow up or use of the training. Unless this is an hotel with a lot of complaints, it is likely an individual attendant may have only a few interactions of each type, within six weeks where the skills learnt during the training are exercised. Follow up training and coaching, if applied, can help memory retention to exceed 80%.

New supervisors or attendants with different attitudes, subjective norms and perceived control to what is required to have a positive intention, reduce the consistency in approach and perceived values. Unless recruitment and induction are strong components of the design of the intervention to create the desired behaviour long term, the desired behaviour will be short lived.

Empowerment, recruitment, induction and ongoing competency development of individuals, supervisors and managers are all necessary components to translate intentions to change behaviour to actual changed behaviour.


Related articles:

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