What is the missing link to delivering service excellence and raising customer satisfaction?

What influences a service employee to turn around a challenging service situation into a desirable outcome?

Are the challenging situations just isolated examples, or might there be some common elements, which, if identified, could provide important information to the service employees?

Let us examine the important concept of “self-efficacy”, which may offer some clues to the gaps.

Increasing self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is defined as a service employee’s belief in his ability to perform service-related tasks.

He behaves confidently when he judges himself capable of handling situations that would otherwise be intimidating.

The importance of self-efficacy lies in its ability to affect motivation and increase service employee performance.

Self-efficacy has a strong and positive relationship with service employee performance measures such as achievement, learning and adaptability.

As self-efficacy increases, service employees exert more effort, take initiatives and learn about their job, the organisation and themselves when faced with task-related obstacles.

Low self-efficacy leads to avoidance behaviour, thus resulting in low levels of performance.

Self-efficacy is defined by the extent to which employees feel confident about their job skills and abilities to organise and execute courses of actions within a given context to achieve the designated performances.

There is a psychological process involved: Before service employees select their choices and put in the effort, they will evaluate and integrate information about their perceived capabilities.

The processes and information cues involved in the formation of self-efficacy are classified as either internal (that is, individual) or external (that is, situational).

Four types of assessment processes appear to be involved in forming self-efficacy:

1. Assessment of personal resources and constraints

The service employee assesses the resources and constraints for performing the task. This examination requires the consideration of personal factors.

Job experience and education represent personal resources available to an employee.

Self-efficacy judgments can be affected by the extent of the employee’s self-knowledge of his skill level, desire, effort and anxiety.

A person who believes that he possesses the skills necessary to complete a particular task is more likely to take action than one who doubts his own abilities. The latter is not likely to even try even though he may know what to do.

Perceptions of strong self-efficacy are produced when a worker believes he possesses qualities required to successfully meet the demands of situations, whereas weak self-efficacy results when personal qualities are seen as liabilities.

2. Assessment of situational resources and constraints

Self-efficacy also depends on situational factors, which include the amount of available resources, such as material resources, time and staff necessary to complete the task.

If a particular task is interdependent on other functions in the organisation, it usually involves different methods for its execution. Thus, the appropriateness of the selected means should be ensured and clearly communicated.

Physical distractions — such as noise, interruptions and the amount of physiological and psychological danger present in the environment — affect self-efficacy.

3. Analysis of task requirements

The service employee assesses the service task requirements, which produces inferences about what it takes to perform them.

Due to the greater cognitive and behavioural demands imposed by complex tasks, service employees may feel that they are not capable of performing them successfully.

When the task descriptions are unclear, service employees may not be able to accurately assess the task demands or fully know what they have to do, and thus will lack the accurate information for regulating their effort.

This may lead to a reduced level of self-efficacy.

4. Attributional analysis of experience

This process involves the service employee’s judgments about his past performance.

If the task has been performed personally and frequently in the past, the service employee is likely to rely more heavily on his interpretation of the causes of previous service performance levels.

Self-efficacy should increase as employees perceive a greater personal control over how well they perform.

In contrast, self-efficacy decreases when employees feel that their performance is determined by circumstances beyond their control.

Service employee research shows that employees with high levels of self-efficacy have a positive effect on customers’ perceived service quality.

This is not surprising because these employees tend to put in more effort when they serve customers, thereby increasing customers’ perceptions of service quality.

It follows that if managers increase their service employees’ self-efficacy and job satisfaction, it will result in an increase in customers’ perceptions of service quality.

This is because the positive attitude and behaviour of service employees will enhance the customer’s overall service experience.