Scripting Consumer Emotions in Extended Service Transactions: a Prerequisite For Successful Adaptation in Provider Performance

Kalyani Menon, McGill University
Laurette DubT, McGill University
ABSTRACT - This study builds on the prototypical approach to emotions (Fehr and Russell 1984; Shaver et al.1987) to empirically investigate consumers’ emotion experiences and their expectations of provider responses to these experiences in different extended service transactions (EST). Forty undergraduate subjects were asked to provide detailed descriptions of one of two sets of emotion experiences (delight, fear, frustration, shame; happiness, anxiety, anger, guilt) in the context of one of 4 EST (restaurants, banks, airlines, overnight hospital services). Open-ended questions specifically probed each element of the emotion experience identified by the prototypic approach: antecedents of each emotion, thoughts, actions, expressions, physiological changes during the episode and self-control mechanisms. Further, we also probed consumer expectations of provider response to their emotion expressions. Rich, differentiated emotion scripts detailing all aspects of each emotion experience were developed. These scripts reveal that consumers can provide details of their emotion experiences, and a distinct script defines each emotion experience. Theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Kalyani Menon and Laurette DubT (1999) ,"Scripting Consumer Emotions in Extended Service Transactions: a Prerequisite For Successful Adaptation in Provider Performance", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 18-24.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 18-24

SCRIPTING CONSUMER EMOTIONS IN EXTENDED SERVICE TRANSACTIONS: A PREREQUISITE FOR SUCCESSFUL ADAPTATION IN PROVIDER PERFORMANCE

Kalyani Menon, McGill University

Laurette DubT, McGill University

ABSTRACT -

This study builds on the prototypical approach to emotions (Fehr and Russell 1984; Shaver et al.1987) to empirically investigate consumers’ emotion experiences and their expectations of provider responses to these experiences in different extended service transactions (EST). Forty undergraduate subjects were asked to provide detailed descriptions of one of two sets of emotion experiences (delight, fear, frustration, shame; happiness, anxiety, anger, guilt) in the context of one of 4 EST (restaurants, banks, airlines, overnight hospital services). Open-ended questions specifically probed each element of the emotion experience identified by the prototypic approach: antecedents of each emotion, thoughts, actions, expressions, physiological changes during the episode and self-control mechanisms. Further, we also probed consumer expectations of provider response to their emotion expressions. Rich, differentiated emotion scripts detailing all aspects of each emotion experience were developed. These scripts reveal that consumers can provide details of their emotion experiences, and a distinct script defines each emotion experience. Theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.

This paper focuses on consumers’ emotion experiences in extended service transactions (EST). In such services (e.g., airlines, hotels, health-care), a single purchase comprises a series of discrete consumption experiences that occur in the firm’s facilities, and often involve interactions with service providers and other customers (Arnould and Price 1993; Deighton 1992; DubT and Morgan 1996).

Recent research linking consumer emotional experience to satisfaction with EST points to the key mediating role played by adaptation (or lack thereof) in provider performance to the expression of these emotions (e.g., Arnould and Price 1993; DubT, Jedidi, and Menon 1997; Price, Arnould, and Tierney 1995). For instance, DubT et al. found that certain negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, sadness, shame, guilt) were positively related to satisfaction with college dining services, and this relationship was mediated by the degree of adaptation in provider performance (i.e., more positive performance) in response to consumers’ emotions. This relationship disappeared when the effect of adapted provider performance was partialed out.

Such findings are not surprising since EST are purposeful interactions in which both consumers and providers have the opportunity and the motivation to make the transaction as mutually enjoyable and profitable as possible. Sadness, anxiety, or other similar negative emotions not only correspond to unpleasant inner states experienced during the service but are also accompanied by verbal and nonverbal expressions that may elicit responses from others (Kleck et al. 1976; Parkinson 1995). For instance, anxiety is expressed by a number of non-verbal cues such as mouth stretch, tense lips, brows raised and drawn together (see Harrigan and O’Connell 1996 for a review) that providers can perceive and respond to. There is a similar need to recognize and adapt to consumers’ positive emotions. Consider delight, a positive emotion that has been included in recent theorizing on consumer satisfaction. In the context of EST, the experience of delight is not just a highly intense and pleasant memory of a great consumption experience. It is part of the running stream of emotional experience that unfolds along the service process and can be modulated by provider interventions on an online basis. Richins (1997) has recently identified a number of other positive emotions to which this would apply.

Research shows that service providers can be very accurate in assessing customer’s emotional states and adapting their service interventions accordingly (e.g., Martelli et al. 1987; Szymansky and Churchill 1990). However, this seems to be primarily the case for top-performers (Szymansky and Churchill 1990). To enable contact employees to assess and modulate consumer emotions on a more systematic basis, research is needed to provide an in-depth knowledge of cues that convey emotional experience, as well as information on how consuers expect the provider to react to these cues. Such experience-based information cannot be captured with the quantitative self-reports of emotions that are typically used in consumer research on emotions (DubT and Morgan 1996; Oliver 1993; Richins 1997). Important insights into the more experiential aspects of consumption emotions have been provided in industry-specific qualitative studies (Arnould and Price 1993; Price, Arnould, and Tierney 1995). However, to our knowledge, no attempt has yet been made to develop scripts of emotion experiences in EST in order to build a comprehensive repertory of emotion information that could be used systematically in service design, employee training and other aspects of operation management. This is the objective of the present study.

We build on the prototypical research of emotions (Fehr and Russell 1984; Fitness and Fletcher 1993; Shaver et al.1987) to empirically investigate consumers’ experiences of emotions and their expectations of provider responses in different EST. We first present a brief overview of the prototypic approach to emotion and then report a study in which consumers were asked to report scripts of different emotional experiences associated with EST.

PROTOTYPIC APPROACH TO EMOTIONS

The prototypic approach to the study of emotion posits that people develop generic mental representations of emotions in terms of a series of dimensions which are organized in scripts that play a significant role in defining the actual psychological experience of specific emotions, and in guiding social interactions. The contents of these emotion scripts vary across studies but that developed by Shaver et al. (1987) appears to be the most comprehensive. In their view, emotion scripts reveal a general structure composed of 3 content categories: a set of antecedents that include different dimensions of appraisal or interpretation of an event as favorable or unfavorable to the self, as well as situational factors; a set of experiential, physiological, cognitive, expressive and behavioral responses; and self-control procedures (specially for negative emotions) such as, in the case of fear, comforting oneself or acting unafraid. A last content category needs to be added in applying the prototypic approach to the purposeful and interactive context of EST, specifically customer expectations of the provider’s response to their emotions. Qualitative research suggests that such adaptation can take the form of technical changes in the service, or increasing interpersonal interaction with the consumer (Arnould and Price 1993, Hochschild 1983; Price, Arnould, and Tierney 1995). In the next section, we report a study designed to provide a first validation of comprehensive emotion scripts within EST.

METHOD

Sample and procedure

Forty undergraduate students (16 male, 19 female, 5 did not indicate their gender on the questionnaire; mean age=21.5) at a Canadian university generated 120 service episodes, each associated with one of  8 emotions: [The attribution-based structure of negative emotions has been empirically supported in a number of studies in diverse industries (e.g., Dube and Maute 1996; Folkes, Koletsky, and Graham 1987; Oliver 1993).] happiness, delight (positive); anger, frustration (other-attributed); anxiety, fear (situation-attributed); shame, guilt (self-attributed), and related to one of 4 service transactions (restaurants, airlines, overnight hospital services, banks) (see Table 1). This set of emotions was chosen to capture the diversity of consumption emotions (Richins 1997).

Respondents first chose the EST with which they would be the most comfortable in describing their emotion experiences. They were randomly assigned to one of two sets of emotions (delight, fear, frustration, shame; happiness, anxiety, anger, guilt) and were asked to describe 4 emotion experinces associated with the chosen service. For each emotion, respondents were instructed to recall and report the actual experience in as much detail as possible. Following Shaver et al (1987), a sequence of open-ended questions specifically probed the causes of each emotion, and thoughts, actions, expressions, and physiological changes during the episode. Respondents also indicated what they did to act upon this emotion and their expectations of provider response to their emotion expressions.

Data coding

Each protocol was first divided into independent pieces of information and assigned to one of the following content categories (see Shaver et al. 1987): antecedents of the episode, experiential, physiological, expressive, behavioral, cognitive and self-control elements of the experience, as well as consumer expectations of the provider associated with that emotion. This list was then structured into emotion scripts separately for each type of service transaction. Since differences among services were few and of little significance due in part to the small sample of the study, emotions scripts were derived by pooling features across respondents and across types of EST.

RESULTS

In this first study on emotion scripts in EST we chose a qualitative, descriptive approach that preserved all features listed by respondents, favoring richness over quantification. Each script is graphically presented and we describe its contribution to our understanding of consumption emotions.

Positive Emotions

Happiness (figure 1) occurred primarily when providers were friendly, attentive and ensured smooth service. It also happened following an immediate, proactive response by the provider to a hitch in the service (e.g., offering to replace dish and provide complementary dessert because consumer did not like the taste of an ordered dish).

Respondents felt relaxed and content within the service, in addition to feeling friendly and happy in response to the providers’ friendliness. They displayed their happiness by smiling, laughing and gesticulating. Surprisingly, one respondent, on being upgraded to business class on a flight, reported trying to control a happy expression so that he could maintain his dignity and show that he "belongs" to that class. Such selfcontrol mechanisms are usually associated with negative emotions (Shaver et al. 1987). Expectations were that provider will reciprocate smiles and friendly behavior, and continue the good service.

Happiness and delight (figure 1) differ in their causal antecedents. While happiness invariably occurred due to the provider’s actions, delight occurred when consumers’ experienced some unexpected gain (in 55.55% of reported episodes). Such unexpected gains may be due to provider (e.g., discovering after a good meal that the restaurant wouldn’t charge any tax) or non-provider related events (e.g., delight on a flight when a sudden clearing of the clouds afforded a perfect view of the Rocky mountains). Other causes of delight were similar to the causes of happiness friendly, attentive staff and a successful service transaction. Again, similar to the happiness experience, respondents felt relaxed, comfortable and wanted to reciprocate the provider’s friendliness. Some of the more intense feelings were of "being overwhelmed with joy" and of "feeling upgraded" (i.e., superior service made economy class travel feel like first class travel). Delight was expressed by smiling at providers and other consumers in the service setting and by laughs. While happiness did not elicit much behavior, a delighted respondent was talkative, made positive exclamations (e.g., Wow!, Yeah!), rewarded he provider (e.g., giving bigger tips), showed appreciation and gratitude to the provider, and was physically more active. Positive thoughts about the provider (e.g., "what nice staff") and thoughts about returning to the service setting (e.g., "I’ll come back") were also reported. As in the case of happiness, a number of respondents (50% of those reported) expected providers to reciprocate their smiles and friendly behavior, and 27.78% expected provider to continue the good job. Unlike happiness, however, 22.22% of the respondents indicated they had no expectations of the provider.

Situation-attributed negative emotions

All episodes of anxiety (figure 2) in services were caused by uncertain events with the potential to cause something negative (e.g., uncertainty about food preparation at a restaurant that may trigger food allergies; long queues at bank that may delay consumer for another appointment). Importantly, respondents did not attribute responsibility for the uncertainty to the provider. Anxiety was displayed by nervous signs (e.g., fidgeting, trembling). They also reported various affiliative behaviors such as seeking assurance (e.g., asking restaurant waiter if he was sure the food was untainted by any allergy causing item) and information (e.g., asking waiter how much longer the meal would take) from the provider, as well as seeking support from other consumers (e.g., verbally and nonverbally seeking comfort from other passengers during a turbulent flight). Thoughts revolved around calculating the chance of things actually going wrong. Reported self-control measures were of assuring other consumers in the service that "there is no need to worry". Providers were expected to offer informational and emotional (e.g., reassure) support, as well as ensure the negative event would not occur (e.g., waiter was expected to re-check order to ensure no nuts in the food).

One aspect that seems to differ between the scripts of anxiety and of fear (figure 2) is the unexpected nature of the eliciting event. In 85.71% of the service episodes, fear stemmed from an unexpected threat of physical (e.g., turbulence in air; holdup in bank) or financial (e.g., bank account empty) harm. Another difference between anxiety and fear was the potential for harm, which was greater in fearful situations than in anxious situations. Causal antecedents were often uncontrollable factors (e.g., weather). Fearful respondents experienced uncertainty, nervousness and tension, and tried to be aware of the threatening circumstances. Fear was accompanied by an accelerated heart beat, sweating, frozen body, pale face and clenched jaws. As in the case of anxiety, they approached providers for help and information (e.g., asking airline steward if it was safe to fly during a storm). However, the number of such behaviors reported were fewer in the case of fear (37.5% of reported behaviors) than in the case of anxiety (58.3% of reported behaviors). Unlike anxiety, however, respondents undertook self-protective measures such as carefully attending to the source of threat, trying to physically protect themselves (e.g., "during a bumpy flight fastened seat belt extra tight and held on to the arms of my seat"), and thinking of what they should do in the situation. They were also speechless and jumpy. Selfcontrol measures reported were that of "trying to stay calm", and focussing on non-threat related things. Providers were overwhelmingly expected to provide emotional support (71.43% of the reported expectations), and informational support. Unlike anxiety, however, very few (7.15%) respondents expected provider to solve the problem.

TABLE 1

FREQUENCIES OF EMOTION EPISODES WITHIN EACH SERVICE SETTING

FIGURE 1

POSITIVE EMOTIONS

FIGURE 2

SITUATION-ATTRIBUTED NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Other-attributed negative emotions

Anger (figure 3) was initiated by provider caused inprocess problems with both the core service (e.g., wrong food order, financial mismanagement by bank) and with the service encounter (e.g., rude behaviour, delayed service because of inattentive proider). Such problems prevent the consumer from deriving maximum benefit from the service. Respondents reported being impatient, grumpy, shocked, frustrated, disrespected and wanting to give vent to their feelings by yelling. The face was tense, red and relatively immobile. Anger was conveyed by frowning at the provider and gesticulating to highlight the provider’s culpability. Unlike the approach tendencies during anxiety/fear, anger provoked aggression and rudeness to the provider (70% of reported behaviors). Thoughts dwelt on the unfairness of the situation and on the providers’ culpability and refusal to take responsibility (e.g.,"It’s their fault, why act as though its mine") The self-control component of anger was evident by reports of counting till 10 before reacting to provider. All respondents expected the provider to apologize and to correct the situation.

Frustration (figure 3) was initiated by the actions of others (providers and/or other consumers) in the service environment that prevented the fulfillment of respondents’ needs (e.g., inadequate sitting space on a flight due to an inconsiderate copassenger; being served small portions in an over priced restaurant). While anger was caused by a clear case of service failure initiated by the provider, no clear attribution of blame occurred in the case of frustration (61% of the reported antecedents). Respondents felt rejected, impatient, non-comprehending, and with some anger festering within them. They had a red, non-smiling face, cold shaking hands, a disbelieving look, and an annoyed voice. Behaviors accompanying frustration ranged from complaining, being rude or passively antagonistic to provider (e.g.,"stared at waiter"), leaving the service as soon as possible, to selfdirected behaviors (e.g., "cursed to myself"; "kicked my luggage"). Interestingly, in contrast to anxious and fearful consumers who approached the provider for help, and angry consumers who were aggressive, frustrated consumers approached the provider to complain about the problem. Thoughts dwelt on the poor quality of the service and the provider. A self-control method used was to view the problem in a more positive way (e.g., "these things happen"). Frustrated consumers overwhelmingly (70.58% of those reported) expected the provider to do something about the negative situation (i.e., "solve the problem"), others expected the provider to apologize, to "absorb my frustration", to provide information, and to accept responsibility for the situation.

Self-attributed negative emotions

Guilt(figure 4) was caused by respondents’ actions in the service which either embarrassed them (e.g., caught smoking in an airplane toilet), inconvenienced the provider (e.g., increasing their work load), or deceived the provider (e.g., knowingly paying less for a meal because provider miscalculated amount). When such events occurred, they felt uneasy, sorry and wanted to disappear from sight. There was a tendency to apologize, explain and try and compensate the provider. They avoided eye contact with the provider, minimized hand movements and tried to leave the service environment at the earliest. This is in direct contrast to happy/delighted respondents who liked to linger in the service and interact with the provider. Thoughts dwelt on what the provider will think of them and their service experience. Some tried to find a solution to the problem. Expectations were that provider reassure them (e.g., "put me at ease", "say that it’s okay") and a few respondents had no expectations from the provider.

FIGURE 3

OTHER-ATTRIBUTED NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

FIGURE 4

SELF-ATTRIBUTED NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Shame(figure 4) had the same antecedents as guilt such as embarrassing behavior by self in the service (e.g., not knowing proper table etiquette at a French restaurant), deceiving the provider (e.g., knowingly accepting an extra $50 from a bank teller) and inconveniencing the provider (e.g., mistakenly pressing the call button on a plane). Respondents panicked, felt inadequate and embarrassed. Shamewas displayed by drooping shoulders, blushing, nervous laughter or a long face. As in the case of guilt, they avoided eye contact with provider, limited their movements, apologized and tried to compensate the provider. Thoughts dwelt on what the provider will think and feel, of ways to have prevented the situation and of ways to compensate the provider. They tried to ensure such events don’t occur in the future. Differences between shame and guilt arose in the context of expectations. Specifically, shame induced expectations that providers would ignore them, would solve the problem and would be "generous and kind".

DISCUSSION

The results of this first, small-scale study on emotion scripts in EST show that consumers can provide detailed reports of the antecedents and the diverse components of a number of emotion experiences, as well as what they do (self control procedures) and what they expect others (specifically the provider) to do to modulate the emotions. Differentiated scripts were elaborated for each emotion, preserving both the common and singular features generated by the respondents. Such knowledge is valuable when designing the service experience or developing innovative interaction and recovery strategies. For example, by combining a knowledge of situations that may elicit fear with an ability to decode the set of expressive cues used by consumers in the event of fear (e.g., jumpiness, watchfulness) providers can be proactive and respond appropriately to fearful consumers’ emotional and informational needs without being explicitly asked to do so. Similarly, in the case of other emotions, accurate identification of emotion experiences within the context of the EST will enable providers to tailor specific responses to create the pattern of in-process emotional experience most conducive to post-purchase satisfaction and loyalty. Since the consumption of many EST has significant experiential and emotional components, it will be profitable to integrate knowledge of emotion scripts into provider training and quality control programs. This study also shows that consumers have expectations of how contact employees should react to their emotional experiences. This suggests that there may be significant benefits in terms of satisfaction and loyalty for service firms that can measure and communicate such expectations to providers.

The results of this small-scale qualitative study have to be interpreted with caution due to the sample size and the use of a student sample. This may have prevented the emergence of differences in emotion scripts across EST. Further, the use of students may have led to an over-representation of restaurants when compared to other EST included in the study. Given the exploratory nature of this study, data coding was done by one researcher and used past research by Shaver et al. (1989) as a benchmark while creating the coding categories. While this is a limitation that future research should consider, the fact that emotion scripts that emerged in these EST closely follow scripts found by prototypical research in a number of other settings points to the reliability and validity of these findings. Future research should also provide more quantitative information on the internal structure of these scripts by using typicality ratings of features within each component as being representative of each emotion experience. Despite these limitations, the results of this study go towards building a body of knowledge about consumers’ experiences as they evolve along the service and ways in which providers can modulate this dynamic.

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