Why did that happen: understanding the impact of witnessing employee-customer directed helping behavior

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The involvement of other customers in a retail store or service setting has always been a unique component of the service experience. Interestingly, a missing component of the literature is an understanding of how the service experience changes for the customer who witnesses an encounter between another customer and an employee of the retail store or service establishment, particularly with regards to positive service encounters that are witnessed. In this dissertation, understanding these customer bystanders, those customers who witness an external event in which they are not the primary actor, was an important step in understanding the true ramifications of a service encounter or a service strategy on customers. In order to better understand how witnessed external events influence customer bystanders, two studies were conducted. The first study used a critical incident technique survey to explore the types of employee-customer interactions customer bystanders witness. The results of study one indicated that employee customer-directed helping behavior was the major positive witnessed type of event and serves as the primary focal employee-customer interaction for this dissertation. The second study in this dissertation, a scenario-based experimental survey, examined the evaluative judgments, emotions, and behavioral intentions of customer bystanders when witnessing an employee engaged in helping another customer when this action has no direct impact on the customer bystander his or herself. The employee customer-directed helping behavior was evaluated through customer bystanders' perceived views of the effort given by an employee in helping the other customer. The findings from study two provide firms with insights into the potential pros and cons of employee helping behavior and the impact of the overall service environment on customer bystanders by showing that customer bystanders are influenced by witnessed perceived employee effort. Theoretically, the findings provide researchers with information about the psychological evaluations, emotional reactions, and behavioral intentions of customer bystanders to witnessing different employee effort levels with regards to helping other customers, and the findings extend understanding of the impact of the overall service or retail environment on evaluations by customers.

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