STEPPING INTO THE CUSTOMER'S SHOES: PERSPECTIVE TAKING IN A CALL CENTRE
Axtell, C., Holman, P., and Totterdell, P., Sheffield University, UK and Parker, S., University of New South Wales, Australia
Perspective taking has long been considered a precondition for prosocial behavior and thus, is likely to be influential in jobs where helping others is important. It is particularly valuable to examine perspective taking within the service industry as understanding customer needs, expectations and desires is thought to be a prerequisite for effective customer service. 357 customer service agents in a UK call centre were therefore surveyed on the antecedents and outcomes of perspective taking. Perspective taking was conceptualized as the active effort of putting oneself in another person's shoes (role taking) and the immediate manifestations of that effort (positive attributions and empathy). Findings using Structural Equation Modelling showed that empathy and role taking were associated with extra helping behavior towards customers (a self-rated measure validated by managers' ratings of helping for a sub-sample of employees). Predictors of perspective taking included: higher ownership of tasks outside the core job; greater integrated understanding of the organization; and lower preference for exchange relationships. These factors were in turn predicted by job autonomy. Reciprocity of the customers (the extent to which they are pleasant and appreciative) also played a role, having a positive relationship with perspective taking. Further evidence suggested that the predictors were related to helping via the perspective taking variables. These findings suggest that enriching jobs and encouraging employees to adopt a broader outlook on their work can promote perspective taking, which in turn can enhance helping behavior, and therefore customer service.