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Customer is king (?): a qualitative study categorizing service workers’ role,customer types and (dysfunctional) customer behaviour in mutual encounters in German grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic

Riethmann, L.M. (2021) Customer is king (?): a qualitative study categorizing service workers’ role,customer types and (dysfunctional) customer behaviour in mutual encounters in German grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Abstract:Background: The COVID-19 pandemic provided a special challenge for service workers in German grocery stores as the newly developed health protective measures were not always desired and understood by the customers leading to challenging service worker-customer encounters. Objective: This thesis aims at providing a new theoretical perspective on service worker-customer encounters in a health emergency context enlightening service workers’ perception of themselves and of their customers, and at supporting grocery store managers in developing facilitating measures for future health emergencies. Theory: Reviewing scientific literature on service worker-customer encounters encouraged the formulation of four sub-research questions focussing on the role of the service workers in encounters before and during the pandemic, on various types of customers and on forms of dysfunctional customer behaviour. Method: 37 service workers working in ten branches of a grocery store chain in Central Germany were interviewed using the critical incident technique to exploratively collect descriptions of encounters with customers related to the pandemic. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and inductively coded. Results: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, service workers perceive themselves as being responsible for answering questions, proving a service and interacting friendly with customers. During the pandemic, they are controllers of protective measures, protectors of customers, medical aid providers and bull’s eyes of customers’ frustration. Different customer types each characterized by performing various forms of dysfunctional behaviour were revealed in three encounter themes. The theme appreciation reveals the appreciators. The theme health protective measures exposes uncomplicated conformists (2 forms), challenging conformists (2 forms), uncomplicated rule-breakers (2 forms) and challenging rule-breakers (5 forms). The theme hoarding includes non-hoarders (2 forms), irritating hoarders (2 forms) and challenging hoarders (3 forms). Discussion/Conclusion: The service workers’ role is more wide-ranging and challenging during a health pandemic compared to before. The various types of customers and forms of (dysfunctional) behaviour determine the complicity for service workers to deal with each of them. Grocery store managers must prepare service workers for their new tasks and challenges with customers.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies, 70 social sciences in general
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/85604
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