To read this content please select one of the options below:

The effect of customer incivility on service employees’ customer orientation through double-mediation of surface acting and emotional exhaustion

Won-Moo Hur (School of Business Administration, Pukyong National University, Busan, South Korea)
Tae Won Moon (The College of Business Administration, Hongik University, Seoul, South Korea)
Su-Jin Han (The Business Administration Division, Hoseo University, Cheonan, South Korea)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 13 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine how customer incivility affects service employees’ emotional labor (i.e. surface acting) and the way surface acting augments their emotional exhaustion at work, and in turn, damages customer orientations of service employees.


Using a sample of 309 department store sales employees in South Korea, a two-stage mediation model is used in terms of structural equation modeling.


The results indicate that customer incivility is positively related to service employees’ use of surface acting; this, in turn, results in feelings of emotional exhaustion, which are negatively related to their customer orientation. That is, the findings of this study shows that the negative relationship between customer incivility and service employees’ customer orientation was fully and sequentially mediated by service employees’ surface acting and emotional exhaustion.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitation is the nature of the cross-sectional data the authors used in the analysis. It gives us reason to be very cautious in reaching conclusions concerning causal relationships among variables, since the authors did not capture longitudinal variation.

Practical implications

The research shows that customer incivility has a negative effect on service employees’ customer-oriented behaviors since experiences of customer incivility among emotionally exhausted employees via surface acting generates inadequate and unfair sense-making related to the treatment offered by customers, which increases the tendency of decreasing their effort and loyalty for customers to prevent further loss of emotional resources. Therefore, service organizations should devise appropriate strategies and implement systematic programs for reducing employee exposure to customer incivility, or preventing it altogether.


The current study broadens the conceptual work and empirical studies in customer incivility literature by representing a fundamental mechanism of why customer incivility negatively affects service employees’ customer orientation. The primary contribution of the study is to gain a deeper understanding of how customer incivility leads to lower employee customer-oriented behaviors through double mediating effects of surface acting and emotional exhaustion.



Hur, W.-M., Moon, T.W. and Han, S.-J. (2015), "The effect of customer incivility on service employees’ customer orientation through double-mediation of surface acting and emotional exhaustion", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 394-413.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles