Unexpected Benefits of Service Improvement at the Customer- Employee Interface: A Field Experiment in the Healthcare Industry

Tracey Dagger, University of Queensland
Peter Danaher, Melbourne Business School
Jill C. Sweeney, University of Western Australia
Janet McColl-Kennedy, University of Queensland

This study examines whether customer service training of frontline staff not only improves interpersonal quality perceptions but also improves evaluations of other more difficult-to- evaluate attributes. We term this a “selective halo” effect. A field experiment (n=772) is used to examine this effect in a health care environment. Findings indicate that customer ratings of interpersonal quality are significantly higher for frontline staff receiving customer service training than for the control group. Moreover, the ratings of some attributes not manipulated in the experiment were also significantly higher than for the control group, namely, atmosphere, operational processes, technical expertise, and outcome perceptions. This supports our selective halo effect and indicates that there are unexpected benefits resulting from improving the interpersonal quality of frontline staff. Namely, that perceptions of difficult-to-evaluate attributes also increase, thereby enhancing the overall service experience. Perceptions of easy-to-evaluate attributes did not improve as a result of customer service training.