Faculty Spotlight: Prof. Hall’s Customer Service Research

Did you know that it takes only 120 seconds to predict customer satisfaction in technical support? Prof. Judith Hall teamed up with a freelance consultant, a manager at Deutsche Bank, and her own graduate student Jin Goh to study the quality of communication in technical support calls from company employees to their help desks.

Applying methods used in social psychology—particularly in studying physician-patient communication—Prof. Hall had listeners take on the role of the customer (caller) and make ratings of the technical support person’s communication, as well as rate their own satisfaction with the support person, after hearing only the first two minutes of the call. Since the calls averaged over nine minutes, this meant the listeners did not know whether or how the problem was solved; they only knew about the tech support person’s communication style.

The results were dramatic: After only two minutes, the new listeners could significantly guess the actual (original) caller’s satisfaction, and also the new listeners’ ratings of traits such as sympathetic and respectful had strong, significant correlations with the actual caller’s satisfaction. Furthermore, the more the tech support person used first person pronouns (I, me, myself), the higher the actual caller’s satisfaction was. This is some of the very first research on a topic that affects millions of people around the world every day, and that costs companies vast amounts of money. Hopefully, this kind of research will lead to improvements in the selection and training of tech support people.