The aim of this study is to explore the human or employee-related factors that shape customer satisfaction in the context of call centres. The literature review draws from a range of disperse disciplines including Service Quality, Human Resource Management and Marketing. The empirical study explores the different variables identified to obtain a nuanced analysis of the employee-related paths that lead to customer satisfaction in call centres. The study employs data from 109 call centres and utilises PLS for our exploratory purposes. Call centre managers should note that investing in HR practices will pay off in terms of improving the elusive phenomenon of customer satisfaction within call centres.
Introduction and aim of the study
The call centre industry is a peculiar service industry, in as much as it is almost entirely based on a voice-to-voice encounter between the employee and the customer, on opposite ends of the telephone line. In general, customers are less satisfied with the service they receive from call centres than from the more traditional brick n’ mortar, or face to face service encounters (Bennington et al., 2000; Makarem, 2009). Academic researchers attribute this dislike of call centres to various reasons, such as cultural acceptance of technology (Bennington et al., 2000), a general lack of experience in dealing with technology (Mittal et al., 1999) and the difficulties experienced by older consumers with technology (Makarem, 2009). In addition, people often feel irritated when dealing with automated answering machines (Prendergast and Marr, 1994), with rude employees, with long waiting times and overall poor service (Helms and Mayo, 2008). Ironically, although the concept of the call centre originated as a relationship marketing tool, it is widely accepted that customer satisfaction is not generally associated with call centre operations (Bennington et al., 2000; Makarem, 2009). In call centres, employees (call centre operators) are the main connection between the organization and the customer. Employees are often required to undertake many different tasks at the same time (Jasmand et al., 2012). They are expected to display ambidextrous behaviour, being able to accomplish managerial requirements such as: maintaining service quality, including attentiveness, perceptiveness, responsiveness and assurance (de Ruyter and Wetzels, 2000; Upal and Dhaka, 2008), satisfy customers (Sergeant and Frenkel, 2000), solve problems (Bharadwaj and Roggeveen, 2008), attend a large number of calls in a short time while ensuring first call resolution (Cheong et al., 2008; Feinberg et al., 2000; Piercy and Rich, 2009b, 2009a) and engage in additional activities, such as adaptive selling (Evanschitzky et al., 2012; Jasmand et al., 2012). All of this often takes place in a stressful environment, dealing with problematic customers (Poddar and Madupalli, 2012; Wegge, 2006) under the managerial pressure associated with the production line approach (Gilmore and Moreland, 2000; Gilmore, 2001) and a low-cost approach to HR practices (Wallace et al., 2000; Fernie and Metcalf, 1998; Taylor et al., 2002). This extremely challenging environment and loss of control over the task activity causes exhaustion and subsequently, employee turnover or absenteeism (Poddar and Madupalli, 2012).