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Positive Emotions are Contagious in Customer Service

Positive Emotions are Contagious in Customer ServiceWhen most people hear, “customer service,” a negative image often pops into mind. All of us can relay horrible customer service experiences when trying to deal with a business or organization.

But we also remember the really good customer service we experience. And there’s a way businesses can increase their positive interactions with customers, according to new research.

The study, using 276 sales employees’ work diaries to shed light on the sales experience from the employees’ perspective, found something rather interesting — the contagiousness of a positive mood works in both directions.

So not only are positive emotions from a staffer contagious to a customer, but that a satisfied customer also improves the salesperson’s mood.

In psychology, ‘affect’ is the experience of feeling or emotion. We often feel emotions in response to specific events, particularly social interactions.

Affective events theory (AET) suggests that a salesperson’s thoughts about how they rate their interaction with a customer (appraisal) will then help determine the emotions they feel. Until now, studies of how an individual’s positive emotion appraisals fluctuate in real life, or organizational settings, have been scarce.

Data from employees’ diary entries that outlined their daily interactions with customers, recorded 874 positive events over a five day period. Helping customers to solve their problem was most likely to trigger positive emotions.

The data and resulting model revealed that how employees configured event appraisals could be used to predict their emotions:

  • Problem solving events where the employee felt the outcome was a result of his/her own intention and personal mastery elicited satisfaction;
  • Recognition for service events with the appraisal configuration of self-agency and enhanced ego-identity led to pride;
  • Pleasant customer events with the appraisal configuration of other-agency and positive encounter generated happiness and relaxation;
  • Deal-making events where the employee felt the outcome was a result of his/her own intention and goal achievement elicited excitement and relief.

Differences in of various events by the same individual also helped to explain why some initially negative events may ultimately become a positive experience for an employee.

When employees believed they had the ability and authority to solve complex, and sometimes ambiguous, customer service needs, an initial negative feeling (usually emanating from the customer’s mood, or complexity of the problem), was shown to potentially lead to a positive affective state (i.e. relief, satisfaction and excitement).

Emotions were also shown to be contagious – so as well as a great sales interaction making for a happy customer, it was also demonstrated that customer happiness can ‘rub off’ on the sales staff serving them.

The study was conducted by Sandra Kiffin-Petersen and Geoffrey Soutar from University of Western Australiam, and Steven Murphy from Carlton University, Canada.

“The customer interaction may need to be recast in the context of a dynamic interplay between salespersons and customers, where the affective state of each may influence the other,” the authors of the study suggest.

Cognitive appraisal theory assumes that the interpretation of events creates the felt emotion, rather than the event itself. The person’s appraisal of the event is therefore, theoretically distinct from the event and the feelings that they have experienced.

How much a person feels personally responsible for the event feeds into appraisals that determine how good they feel.

“For employees in our sample, taking personal responsibility for the customer’s problem and using their skills and abilities allowed them to be more effective problem solvers,” says Sandra Kiffin-Peterson.

“Solving a customer’s problem may be a positive experience because it enhances an employee’s sense of competence and achievement, as well as their self-esteem.”

Organizational experts are increasingly accepting that positive affect has important implications for optimal health and well-being, with implications being shown for how organizations think about customer service and quality.

This research is now available in the journal, Human Relations.

Source: SAGE Publications

Positive Emotions are Contagious in Customer Service

Psych Central News Editor

The Psych Central News Editor is a member of the Psych Central staff with background in journalism and mental health reporting. This is a rotating position, but is filled with a qualified reporter with appropriate psychology and mental health news experience.

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2018). Positive Emotions are Contagious in Customer Service. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Sep 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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