Is Courtesy Enough? 'Solidarity' in Call Center Interactions
University of Sydney - Centre of English Teaching
University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - Nanyang Business School
Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University
April 28, 2008
Ross School of Business Paper No. 1103
Polite self-presentation is expected of call center agents even through they must convey complex and unfavorable information speedily via the telephone. This study identified and evaluated the use of response strategies that are strongly associated with courtesy. Data were drawn from 587 stressful calls in a corpus of 3000 calls recorded at a large Singaporean insurance company call center. We adopted a grounded theory methodology together with a rich triangulation of qualitative (linguistic and rhetorical) and quantitative (scalar and correlational) methods. Tools for coding response strategies (independent variables)and courtesy (dependent variables) were developed via analyses of calls, interviews with call center agents and management, and a series of evaluations involving blind coding and subsequent consensus. We identified four categories of response strategies that are tightly related to each other and to courtesy: shows solidarity, anticipates needs, shows attentiveness, and asks for direction. Correlations and analysis of their enactment in stressful calls led us to propose solidarity expression - responses that engage the caller in search of meaning to work on the task as a team. We argue that solidarity expression challenges traditional views of politeness and is less about the presentation of self and more about enabling collaboration with the other.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 50
Keywords: Call centers, customer service, politeness, courtesy, solidarity
JEL Classification: L86, M29
Date posted: May 6, 2008 ; Last revised: May 20, 2008
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