Customer Service Improvement through Engagement: A Study of the Semi-skilled, Frontline Workforce in the Retail Industry in South Africa

Keywords: engagement, customer, semi-skilled, frontline, retail


In economically challenging times, business needs to focus on all elements of operation to improve profitability. Engagement has been identified as an emerging theme that is successful in increasing profitability by creating a workforce that is more dedicated and actively present. Within the service and retail industries, engagement levers can be used as a mechanism for enhancing levels of customer service, their primary communication channel with customers. The question of how to maximise engagement within this core frontline, often semi-skilled, workforce is therefore crucial, and it cannot necessarily be approached in the same way as a white-collar, highly educated workforce. A qualitative, inductive and exploratory approach was taken to understand what impacted on and influenced engagement in this setting. Nominal group interviews were held within a South African retail environment, and the responses of 54 participants were captured. Qualitative and quantitative metrics were extrapolated and analysed to add to the understanding of the topic. The key findings revealed that the role the customer played in generating staff engagement was a key lever in a frontline environment, a link not made by existing literature on engagement. The study proposes a Frontline Service Engagement model that provides insight into the complexities of engagement in an African context, and, compared to an international context, helps understand the difference in approach required. Through understanding the complexity of the influences that contribute to this new lever, a strategy to address engagement can be improved to equip managers to increase profitability even in difficult economic times.

Author Biographies

Daniella Lynch, University of Pretoria, Gordon Institute of Business Science

Human Resource Manager

Karl Hofmeyr, University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science
Professor of Leadership
Gavin Price, University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science
Professor of Organisational Behaviour