Customer Incivility from Frequent Customers in the Context of Service Relationships: Critically Exploring Service Employees’ Coping Tactics

Nolla Haidar

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Customer incivility constitutes a significant area in human resources management, organisational behaviour and also in the marketing literature. A plethora of studies suggest that customer incivility is widespread among service organisations and renders the atmosphere of the workplace as harmful and detrimental to employees’ psychological and physical well-being, due to the abusive environment surrounding them. Although these studies are significant and provide substantial information about incivility, and its devastating impact on frontline employees during service encounters, there is still minimal focus on critically understanding customer incivility specifically during service relationships, within the restaurant industry. In the little research that does exist in the sector, frontliners are predominantly seen by scholars as the victims of the customers. Based on a qualitative study comprising an ethnographic methodology, data is gathered by participant-observation, informal interviews, content analysis, virtual ethnography and also from 12 interviewees (11 male and 1 female service employees) working at a Lebanese “authentic” restaurant, named here Be-Beirut, located in North West London. I argue that customers in this case study are frequent customers; thus, incivility takes a different form as compared to already studied restaurants.

The empirical evidence indicates that many customers act uncivil and their actions are stimulated by either the management through its marketing activities, or by employees due to establishing service relationships with frequent customers. Employees cope with these incivilities in different ways, which could be either individual or collective. The coping tactics of employees are strongly shaped by the organisational power of both the target and the instigator. Those in power were able to impose their construction of incivility on those of less power. Therefore, this thesis broadens our understanding about the tough and stressful work environment that employees suffer from due to their exposure to customer incivility. The data shows that employees are vulnerable and are exposed to incivility due to the toxic management which is positioning them in a weaker power position relative to customers. Managerial and practical implications are discussed. 
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Moore, Fiona, Supervisor
  • Ashley, Louise, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • Customer incivility
  • Ethnography
  • coping strategies
  • service relationships
  • Frontline employees
  • restaurant
  • Authenticity
  • frequent customer
  • Incivility antecdents
  • qualitative research
  • HRM
  • marketing

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