Visitors to Singapore can be under no illusion that this is one of the most efficient service-based economies in the world. The Singapore Government’s investment into the service sector has helped ensure that the very highest standards of efficiency and customer service are encountered at every stage of the tourist’s journey.
But as Singapore continues its transition from a manufacturing to a service-based economy (the service sector now accounts for 16% of Singapore’s annual GDP), many businesses are beginning to encounter the familiar challenges associated with the rapid growth in service provision.
Predominant among these is the typical high turnover of staff experienced by the service industry. From service-based SME’s to global international call centers, the demands placed on service staff can be so stressful that some companies are reporting figures as high as 100% staff turnover rates in a single year.
A key factor underlying this problem appears to be the inability of staff to deal with the stress imposed by negative customer interactions. But should companies risk investing in additional training if, at the end of the day, the knowledge base moves elsewhere? A recent study from the field of neuroscience suggests that the solution may lie in better understanding of how the human brain deals with complex social interactions.
In a recent study which combined online and lab-based experiment and involving over 1600 people from four different countries, neuroscientists found that the act of delivering good quality customer service not only benefits the receiver, but intriguingly, also delivers measurable positive health benefits for the individual providing that service.
During the study, volunteers were connected up to medical equipment that recorded their heart and breathing rates as well as their skin sweat levels. The scientists also measured participants’ subconscious emotional responses using specially designed computer tests while they were exposed to footage of people delivering or receiving different standards of customer service.
The results revealed that receiving and delivering excellent customer service caused a chain reaction of positive responses in both the provider and receiver’s bodies, increasing their heart rates and perspiration levels as excitement and exhilaration increased, and decreasing breathing rates as anxiety and stress levels were reduced.
But perhaps more fascinating was that providing great service was found to be both physiologically and emotionally more pleasurable than receiving it. Evolution has hard-wired us to be highly attuned to positive social interactions and as such, it seems we experience greater gratification being of service to others than the other way around, thus ensuring vital social cohesion.
So how can companies leverage these insights in a bid to reduce staff turnover rates? Cognitive behavior theory indicates that by bringing benefits to one’s consciousness, behavior change often follows.
Teaching employees about the positive emotional benefits that they too will experience when delivering positive customer service immediately addresses the perennial “what’s in it for me?” issue that naturally arises when people are required to deal with difficult social interactions that are not of their own making.
Defensive behavior in response to a complainant serves only to fuel further negative interactions which can have a snowball effect on one’s mood and subsequent social interactions throughout the day, causing stress and ultimately depression and anger.
On the other hand, it is far more difficult for a customer to continue to adopt an aggressive stance if the service provider on the other end of the telephone, or in-store, does not mirror their behavior. If you want happy sales staff, brain science suggests that making people aware of the feedback loop associated with positive social interactions, will go a long way to resolving the problem of high staff turnover.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Gemma Calvert is Professor of Marketing at Nanyang Business School, and Director for Research & Development at the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight, NTU Singapore. A pioneer of neuromarketing, she helps companies to break into Asian emerging markets through deeper understanding of Asian consumers.