For University of Calgary associate professor Sandy Hershcovis, real events inspired her study into the impact of watching other customers act rudely.
“It actually comes somewhat from my own experiences, back in the day 25 years ago, I worked in retail myself and I had to deal with a few choice customers,” Hershcovis told CBC Calgary News at 6 on Thursday.
“One of the things that helped was fellow customers came up to me afterwards and sort of empathized, and said ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that happened.’ I sort of wondered, how do customers react when they witness fellow customers mistreat servers?”
So she set out to find the answers.
Hershcovis is the lead researcher of When Fellow Customers Behave Badly: Witness Reactions to Employee Mistreatment by Customers, just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
They hired an actor to play the rude customer and Hershcovis’ grad student played the server. Another researcher observed how other customers reacted.
“It was incivility, so people on their cell phone while talking to servers, people using sarcastic tones and those sorts of things, so it wasn’t really terrible stuff,” she said.
The results were interesting.
“Only 11 per cent of people intervened but after the customer left, 75 per cent of people said something supportive to the victim, to the server,” Hershcovis explained.
“We also found that customers tipped 83 per cent higher when they witnessed the mistreatment than when they witnessed a neutral interaction, so they were willing to financially compensate for the bad behaviour of fellow customers.”
Customer service evaluations were higher and the other customers used more please and thank yous too, she said.
But there’s a catch, Hershcovis cautions.
“When the server talked back, they lost all those benefits. When the server took matters into their own hands, customers no longer felt empathetic towards that server and they weren’t willing to tip more. The server does have to maintain that service-with-a-smile attitude in order to gain those hidden benefits from being mistreated.”
With files from CBC Calgary News at 6