Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Business Administration

Major Professor

Alex Zablah

Committee Members

Kelly Hewett, Daniel Flint, T. Russell Crook


This dissertation examines customer responses to frontline employee (FLE) behaviors during customer-FLE encounters. Customer interaction strategy, when properly leveraged, plays an integral role in helping to elicit desired customer responses, such as satisfaction and repeat patronage. This dissertation, and its findings, are thus intended to help managers craft customer interaction strategies that evoke customer responses which benefit the firm and create more meaningful interactions between customers and employees. Two essays explore phenomena in which FLE behaviors shape critical outcomes for customers and the firm. In the first essay, I explore instances of FLEs deviating from the manager-prescribed script when interacting with customers, and thus exhibiting behaviors (e.g., complaining to customers) that run counter to firm objectives. A series of experiments in the laboratory and field reveal that customers perceive script deviations as key indicators of authenticity and therefore evaluate such behaviors more favorably. The second essay explores the emerging practice of checkout charity, in which customers are solicited to donate at point-of-purchase transactions. Across a qualitative exploratory study and a series of experiments, I demonstrate that when employees solicit customers for donations at retail checkouts, it heightens feelings of anxiety and leads to a host of detrimental interaction outcomes that are conditioned by FLE attributes and the type of interaction interface. Theoretical and managerial implications of the research are discussed.

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