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The effects of temperature on service employees' customer orientation: an experimental approach

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Numerous studies have demonstrated how temperature can affect perceptual, cognitive and psychomotor performance (e.g. Hancock, P.A., Ross, J., and Szalma, J., 2007. A meta-analysis of performance response under thermal stressors. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 49 (5), 851–877). We extend this research to interpersonal aspects of performance, namely service employees' and salespeople's customer orientation. We combine ergonomics with recent research on social cognition linking physical with interpersonal warmth/coldness. In Experiment 1, a scenario study in the lab, we demonstrate that student participants in rooms with a low temperature showed more customer-oriented behaviour and gave higher customer discounts than participants in rooms with a high temperature – even in zones of thermal comfort. In Experiment 2, we show the existence of alternative possibilities to evoke positive temperature effects on customer orientation in a sample of 126 service and sales employees using a semantic priming procedure. Overall, our results confirm the existence of temperature effects on customer orientation. Furthermore, important implications for services, retail and other settings of interpersonal interactions are discussed.

Practitioner Summary: Temperature effects on performance have emerged as a vital research topic. Owing to services' increasing economic importance, we transferred this research to the construct of customer orientation, focusing on performance in service and retail settings. The demonstrated temperature effects are transferable to services, retail and other settings of interpersonal interactions.
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Keywords: customer orientation; helping behaviour; interpersonal performance; temperature

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology,Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany 2: Department of Psychology,University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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