Customer service challenges in a South African casino : a participatory intervention.
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Background: In an era of global competition, customer service (CS) remains a key differentiating factor for organisations to gain a competitive advantage. Due to heighted emotions experienced by customers when winning and losing, customer mistreatment and difficulties associated with cross-cultural interactions, the casino environment remains a challenging context for the provision of excellent CS on the frontline. Literature is scarce regarding the development of interventions to improve CS within the South African casino industry. The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of CS challenges facing frontline staff within a South African casino, and develop, implement and evaluate a participatory intervention to address these challenges. The main objectives were to: 1) To identify challenges facing slots staff in providing excellent CS and generating solutions these challenges; 2) To equip slots hosts with observational skills to identify body language to pre-empt a customers’ need for assistance; 3) To equip slots hosts with skills on how to deal with difficult customers and communicate effectively when dealing with customers; 4) To improve the cultural awareness of slots hosts to enhance their ability to deal with diverse customers 5) To determine the effectiveness of the intervention in addressing CS challenges, motivate slot hosts to exceed customer expectations and provide recommendations to management for improving CS. Method: A case study using intervention research and a multi-phase mixed method design was used. Intervention research was conducted over three phases including a situation analysis, implementation of the intervention and process evaluation. For the qualitative aspect of the study, purposive sampling was used to conduct semi-structured interviews, focus groups and observations in the situation analysis to identify CS challenges facing frontline staff. These findings were thematically analysed and used to develop the CS intervention using Lewin’s Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze Change Management Model as a theoretical framework. The researcher used the participatory action research approach to both develop and facilitate the intervention. At the end of the intervention, a training evaluation questionnaire was implemented for the quantitative aspect of the research. Three indexes were developed based on face validity including learnings gained, perceptions of learning and evaluation of facilitation. In addition, T-tests and One Way ANOVA were used to analyse the quantitative data. In the process evaluation phase, a second round of semi-structured interviews, focus group and observations were conducted to determine the effect of the CS intervention. Results: The qualitative results showed that poor equipment, inadequate CS processes and high workloads were highlighted as key factors impeding service. In addition, the study found that frontline staff from disenfranchised groups responded to perceived discrimination from customers through disengagement, withdrawal or slowing down of service behaviours. These responses were interpreted as poor CS, but were found to be defensive behaviours to reduce expected discrimination. In line with emotion contagion theory, positive or negative interactions with customers were found to shift the mood states of frontline staff, which in turn affected subsequent service interactions. The quantitative results of the workshop evaluation questionnaire suggested increased skills efficacy from learners in terms of learnt CS techniques such as identifying body language leading to customer complaints, as well as being better equipped to deal with difficult customers and customers from different cultures. The intervention also motivated staff to provide better CS with a series of interventions being recommended in future for encouraging sustainable CS behaviours. Conclusion: The study established clear guidelines for management to develop, implement and evaluate a participatory intervention to address CS challenges within a casino context. The participatory approach of the intervention was found to beneficial for knowledge-sharing, allowing for co-creation of workshop content, providing a forum for open communication on CS issues and building ownership of CS issues amongst staff. Further research is recommended to better understand the dynamics and effects of cross-cultural interactions on the frontline, so as to develop tools and techniques to assist staff to respond constructively in such situations and improve frontline CS in the organisation.