Oxford University Research Finds Gaps In Today

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Oxford research shows the best salespeople read your mood

Study from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, looks at effects of being able to respond to non-verbal cues

Being able to read both face and body cues is the key to great service and customer satisfaction – but many companies don’t know how to recruit people with these skills or underestimate existing staff who have them, says NancyPuccinelli, Fellow in Consumer Marketing, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Marketing Management, “The value of knowing what customers really want: The impact of salesperson ability to read non-verbal cues of affect on service quality”, by Nancy M. Puccinelli, Susan A. Andrzejewski, Ereni Markos, Tracy Noga and Scott Motyka, contradicts much of today’s standard sales training.

Many companies insist that their sales staff engage customers in conversation, offer advice, and attempt to cross-sell or upsell. But customers are not always in the mood for this, even though most will try to deal with the salesperson courteously. If the salesperson can read the customer’s body language he can see beyond the polite smile and realise, for example, that he or she is in a tearing hurry and just wants to be served as quickly as possible. The study shows that salespeople who respond to non-verbal cues and correctly judge the mood of the customer are perceived by the customer to be offering excellent service.

But the researchers discovered in their experiments that this positive perception was not shared by observers of the interaction. In fact, observers of interactions in which a salesperson correctly interpreted and acted on the customer’s non-verbal cues saw the salesperson as delivering poor service.

“These findings have important implications for the evaluation of salespeople by managers,” said Dr Puccinelli. “Given that salespeople that are good at reading both face and body cues are rated highest by customers theywait on yet rated much lower by observers, managers may be undervaluing some of their most effective employees. We recommend that managers evaluate sales staff by interacting with them as customers.”

The researchers also suggest that this ability to read non-verbal cues should be among the top criteria for selecting employees who interact with customers in all kinds of organisations. They recommend that employers should use tools such as the PONS (Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity) test during the employee screening stage.

“Retailers that consider the positive impact of a salesperson’s ability to read customers’ moods can select and train salespeople more effectively to deliver quality service,” said Dr Puccinelli. “This can provide a distinctive opportunity to delight customers and achieve competitive advantage.”

About Saïd Business School
Established in 1996 the Saïd Business School is one of Europe’s youngest and most entrepreneurial business schools with a reputation for innovative business education. An integral part of Oxford University, the School embodies the academic rigour and forward thinking that has made Oxford a world leader in education and research. The School has an established reputation for research in a wide range of areas, including finance and accounting, organisational analysis, international management, strategy and operations management. The School is dedicated to developing a new generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs and conducting research not only into the nature of business, but the connections between business and the wider world. In the Financial Times European Business School ranking (Dec 2012) Saïd is ranked 12th. It is ranked 13th worldwide in the FT’s combined ranking of Executive Education programmes (May 2013) and 24th in the world in the FT ranking of MBA programmes (Jan 2013). The Oxford MSc in Financial Economics is ranked 6th in the world in the FT ranking of Masters in Finance programmes (June 2013). In the UK university league tables it is ranked first of all UK universities for undergraduate business and management in The Guardian (June 2013) and has ranked first in eight of the last nine years in The Times. For more information, see www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/

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