Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Work Climate and Customer Satisfaction: The Role of Trust in the Retail Context

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Work Climate and Customer Satisfaction: The Role of Trust in the Retail Context

Article excerpt


We propose that a trust climate will help the employee-customer interface in the retail context. Specifically, we argue that a work climate that is based on trust induces the exercise of discretion by retail managers and discretionary behavior by front-line staff. Managerial and staff discretion is necessary for retail stores to become locally responsive, as store responsiveness is linked to customer satisfaction. Our propositions are derived from interpersonal trust and social exchange theories. The use of a trust climate to analyse the antecedents of customer satisfaction offers another theoretical perspective to study the interface dynamics between employees and customers and thus this paper contributes to 'linkage research.'

Keywords: trust climate; relational exchanges; customer satisfaction; store responsiveness; organisational citizenship behavior; managerial discretion.

How employees behave will impact whether customers will feel satisfied in the consumption process. This is especially important in the retail context in which front-line staff members have frequent interactions with customers. Most companies understand the importance of employee behavior but their responses in dealing with this challenge can be drastically different. The Ritz-Carlton's motto of personalised service is 'We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman' (Metters, King-Metters, Pullman, & Walton 2006: 209). Nordstrom's first rule in serving guests is 'Use your good judgement in all situations. There will be no additional rules' (Pfeffer 1994: 42). The investigation into the interface between employees and customers is known as 'linkage research' (Wiley 1996). Studies of the employee-customer interface offer fruitful information to retail firms through which they can 'find ways to effectively manage their customer- contact employees to help ensure their attitudes and behaviors are conducive to the delivery of quality service' (Hartline & Ferrell 1996: 52).

Previous studies on service climate have shown that employees working under such a context tend to exhibit more service behaviors, which helps to improve customer satisfaction (eg Liao & Chuang 2004; Hui, Chiu, Yu, Cheung & Tse 2007). For example, a recent empirical study by Schneider, Ehrhart, Mayer, Saltz and Niles-Jolly (2005) suggested that a work climate with a strong service orientation did induce more service-focused behaviors among employees, which resulted in greater customer satisfaction. Their basic premise is that the work climate affects how employees feel in the workplace. The behavior of employees then influences how customers feel during the service encounter.

Work climate is a set of shared perceptions among members of an organisation regarding its policies, procedures, and practices (Schneider 1990). Work climate shapes employee behaviors by influencing what employees consider as important in their environment (Salancik & Pfeffer 1978). If there is a service climate, employees will then regard service to be 'expected, desired, and rewarded' in their workplace (Liao & Chuang 2004: 45) and thus engage in service behavior. In the service quality framework of Parasurman, Zeitham and Berry (1988), service quality is made up of tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. If employee behavior enhances these dimensions, customers are more satisfied. The work by Schneider and his colleagues (Schneider & Bowen 1985; Schneider, White & Paul 1998) offered indirect evidence that employee behaviors that are related to these service dimensions should be conducive to customer satisfaction.

Our study follows the same approach of previous climate research but takes a different theoretical route to explain service behavior. In addition to service climate, we argue that a work climate based on trust can also lead to customer satisfaction. The additional impact on customer satisfaction is achieved by emphasising the importance of self and discretion in the workplace and by encouraging cooperation among co-workers. …

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