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Emotional Intelligence as a predictor of job satisfaction and performance among customer service providers

Nicole Hartley

Since its modern day conception in 1990 (Mayer and Salovey 1997), Emotional Intelligence (EI) has enjoyed increasing popularity within the business world, with many organisations exploring the contribution of EI to customer service excellence through enhanced human resources management (Mayer, Salovey and Caruso 2002; Guy and Newman 2004; Kernbach and Schutte 2005). The continued expansion of service industries has resulted in a shift towards the provision of high quality customer service as the number one source of competitive advantage (Leidner 1993; Fuller and Smith 1991; Dulewicz and Higgs 2000; Korczynski 2002). In relation to the enhancement of behavioural outcomes in customer service, EI has been identified as a potentially important construct, given that customer service providers are required to be both receptive and adaptive to consumer demands in order to facilitate service interactions which create value for the consumer (Cherniss and Adler 2000; Cook and MacCaulay 2002; Korczynski 2002; Bardzil and Slaski 2003).

Research in the field of EI is at the infancy stage and as such, there is a need for further empirical research which assesses the predictive ability of EI on life, and, and moreso on organisational success (Douglas, Frink and Ferris 2004; Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts 2004). As such, this research aimed to empirically establish the predictive power of EI in service organisational settings by examining the relationships between a customer service provider's level of EI and their associated job performance and job satisfaction. In order to delineate between customer service contexts the research assessed six key characteristics of customer service interactions. The inclusion of these customer service interaction strength dimensions allowed for the classification of service interactions to identify variance of EI on workplace outcomes across different service settings. With the inclusion of the customer service interaction strength dimensions this research is identified as the first such study to empirically measure the predictive power of EI for job satisfaction and job performance in a broad cross-section of interactive customer service roles.

The research utilised a quantitative data approach in the form of scaled survey items to measure the key constructs. Despite the growing body of literature espousing the value of EI to enhanced workplace outcomes, the statistical analysis of the predictive power of EI revealed that this construct may not be as pertinent as other factors, in particular, customer service experience, in enhancing customer service provider satisfaction and performance. This premise was supported by the statistical significance influence of customer service experience, gender and personality and personal values (intrinsic interpersonal characteristics) identified, in addition to that of EI, in predicting customer service provider job satisfaction and job performance. These findings suggest that measures such as EI should be used in conjunction with other sources of information and psychometric tests in the selection and recruitment of customer service providers.

Although, the results of the research did not revealed strong support for EI's predictive capability, the significant associations between EI and the workplace outcomes adds to the current body of knowledge offering empirical support for the investigation of EI in workplace environments. Furthermore, the findings linking customer service experience to EI offered empirical support for the developmental theory of EI as a learnt ability. Such that, while individuals may gain emotional knowledge through the course of everyday life, it is the application and enhancement of these skills through experience or training and development in customer service roles which increases a customer service provider's EI ability level.

Further, although the customer service interaction dimensions did not appear to significantly moderate the influence of a customer service provider's EI on their levels of job satisfaction and job performance. The research does identify a sub-set of these factors that offered additional insight into the prediction of such workplace outcomes for customer service providers demonstrating specific personal characteristics. Furthermore, the study highlighted a number of personal and environmental characteristics which provide insight into the types of customer service contexts which contribute to customer service employee satisfaction and enhanced job performance.

Overall this research makes a unique contribution to the conceptualisation and measurement of EI as a form of intelligence. These findings will serve to expand the theoretical debate on EI as a predictor of workplace success, identifying the unifying effect of EI with other characteristics which collectively work to enhance customer service provision across service contexts. At a practical level, the findings contribute significantly to human resource practices, namely the recruitment and training and development of satisfied and high performing employees in service organisations.


Professor Charles Areni and Dr Leanne Cutcher