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Emotional empathy and front line employees: does it make sense to care about the customer?

Philip E. Varca (Department of Management and Marketing, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 20 February 2009




This paper aims to examine the relationship between empathy and role stress among front line employees (FLEs). The goal was to test the hypothesis that emotionally critical aspects of the service encounter are central to role conflict.


A total of 226 FLEs completed a survey that measured role conflict. The instrument also included measures of empathy – the degree to which FLEs engaged in emotional labor during service encounters.


FLEs who reported more time spent engaged in empathetic behavior or saw empathetic behavior as critical to service quality also reported significantly higher role conflict.

Practical implications

Unfortunately, these data suggest that emotionally identifying with the customer relates to stressful service encounters for FLEs. This presents challenges to FLEs who truly identify with customer complaints and to organizations that rely on positive customer experience as a strategic tool for marketing services.


Role conflict research historically identifies service encounters as stressful. The present findings add to the literature by focusing on the intrapersonal world of FLEs and examining how their empathetic behavior relates to that stress.



Varca, P.E. (2009), "Emotional empathy and front line employees: does it make sense to care about the customer?", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 51-56.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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