The Consequence of Customer Verbal Aggression: The Moderating Roles of Person-Organization Fit

The Consequence of Customer Verbal Aggression: The Moderating Roles of Person-Organization Fit

Ching-Wen Yeh (China University of Science and Technology, Nankang, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCRMM.2016070102


This study integrated research on stimulus–organism–response and COR theory to examine whether customer verbal aggression lead to employee service sabotage through emotional dissonance and whether person-organization fit moderate the relationship between customer verbal aggression and emotional dissonance. To achieve this goal, this study surveyed flight attendants employed by six airlines in Taiwan. Out of 1000 questionnaires distributed, 504 valid questionnaires were returned, yielding a valid response rate of 50.4 percent. The research results demonstrate that emotional dissonance partially mediates the relationship between the customer verbal aggression and service sabotage. Additionally, person-organization fit negatively moderates the relationship between customer verbal aggression and emotional dissonance. Based on these results, suggestions regarding service management are presented as a reference for airlines.
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Customer verbal aggression describes verbal communications of anger by customers that violate the social norms of employees (Grandey et al., 2004), such as swearing, yelling, threats, condescending remarks, and sarcasm (Boyd, 2002; Grandey et al., 2007; Harris and Reynolds, 2003). Such behavior is a widespread problem. For example, frequent interactions with abusive customers are reported by flight attendants and other airline employees (Boyd, 2002). Moreover, 74 percent of flight attendants and railway employees have reported experiencing verbal abuse (e.g. sarcasm, condescending remarks, and swearing) from passengers at least once a month (Boyd, 2002). According to the literature, negative experiences by customers can have multiple negative outcomes for service workers, including high levels of employee negative emotions (Rupp et al., 2008), and employee service sabotage (Wang et al., 2011; Chi et al., 2013). Thus, how to deal with verbal aggression by customers effectively is a critical question for both researchers and practitioners.

Although prior studies have addressed how employee behaviors affect customer satisfaction and loyalty and/or how customer-employee relationships could be improved (Liao and Chuang, 2004, 2007; Schneider et al., 2005), few studies have been conducted from the employee perspective of the relationship between customers behavior and employees emotional response (Li and Zhou, 2013). Aggressive customer behavior is stressful for employees and is associated with negative emotional consequences such as burnout (Grandey, Dickter, & Sin, 2004). Such symptoms are, in turn, likely to have adverse effects on employee work attitudes and behavior. Pearson & Porath (2004) call for more research on how mistreatment by customers may lead to negative employee behaviors directed toward them—such as employee sabotage of customers—a counterproductive work behavior whereby an employee intentionally harms the legitimate interests of a customer. Such sabotage behavior has been argued and shown to be harmful to customer relationships (e.g., Bitner, Booms, & Tetrault, 1990; Pearson & Porath, 2004). Therefore, this study explored the impact of customer verbal aggression on employee emotions and sabotage behaviors from an HR management perspective.

To date, few studies have examined the variables that prevent or buffer the effects of customer aggression. A literature review reveals three broad moderating variables: situational, organizational and personal. Situational factors include social support, fairness perceptions, etc. that is likely to influence the antecedent outcome relationship (Leather et al., 1998; Skarlicki et al., 1997). Organizational support, training, or organizational norms and procedures are the organizational factors that help prevent or discourage aggressive behavior (Kelly et al., 1996, Leather et al., 1998). Finally, personal factors include traits, characteristics and emotional intelligence of both the both the perpetrator and victim. Certain personality characteristics such as negative affectivity (Aquino et al., 2006; Skarlicki et al., 1997) and previous traumatic events (Douglas & Martinko, 2001) may heighten individual reactions to adverse events. The employee may then be predisposed to experiencing (being victimized) or displaying anger (become a perpetrator). Hu (2013) further proposed that high emotional intelligence buffers the positive influence of problem customer perceptions on emotional labor tax but negatively affects positive service behaviors.

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