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Employee-Customer Dialogue Research


Wherever there is contact between a company employee and a current or prospective customer, there is the potential for injuring, and an opportunity for enhancing, the customer relationship.

Much of research that companies conduct to support customer-centricity and customer satisfaction initiatives has a quantitative orientation—customers typically complete surveys following their encounters with company employees.

While important, this quantitative approach often fails to ask relevant questions and to provide response categories to capture customers’ precise points-of-view.

A deeper qualitative examination of the employee-customer dialogue can help not only in refining the accuracy of customer satisfaction research efforts, but also in providing a fresh set of insights on both customers’ and employees’ experiences and perspectives.

Depending on the client’s situation and objectives, we tailor different methodological approaches to analyzing employee-customer interactions.

One approach involves conducting a sales representative ethnography.

Another approach involves an analysis of how call center employees interact with customers. Because these interactions are audiotaped typically for quality assurance purposes, the taped conversations allow our researchers to conduct a socio-linguistic and interactive analysis of their content.

As cultural/ psychological anthropologists, we have a distinctive expertise in the analytic skills that these projects demand. In our analysis of the encounters, we incorporate principles of symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, and conversation analysis—a socio-linguistic field that lies at the intersection of sociology and cultural anthropology.

In developing insights on key differences, analyzed interactions can be separated into different groups.

For example, a group of employee-customer encounters for which customers later provided high satisfaction ratings can be contrasted with those encounters in which customers provided much less favorable ratings.

Similarly, an examination of how top-performing employees interact with customers can be compared with how lower-performing employees’ interact with customers.

Beyond the analysis of the customer-employee interactions, we also commonly conduct additional qualitative and/or ethnographic research with both employees and customers.

Among employees, we may conduct ethnographic research in the workplace setting. Here we observe and interview the relevant employees as they complete their everyday workplace routines, including listening live as they engage in customer conversations.

Among other insights, this approach helps to identify employees’ perceptions of key barriers, challenges, and unmet needs as they attend to customer needs, as well as to determine those variables that positively and negatively affect employees’ motivations.

A phase of ethnographic or other qualitative research (in-depth & in-person or telephone in-depth interviews) may also be conducted with the customers to achieve a more detailed understanding of how they conceptualize an optimal customer-centric sales or service approach.