When customers exhibit verbal aggression, employees pay cognitive costs

J Appl Psychol. 2012 Sep;97(5):931-50. doi: 10.1037/a0028559. Epub 2012 May 14.


In 4 experimental studies, we show that customer verbal aggression impaired the cognitive performance of the targets of this aggression. In Study 1, customers' verbal aggression reduced recall of customers' requests. Study 2 extended these findings by showing that customer verbal aggression impaired recognition memory and working memory among employees of a cellular communication provider. In Study 3, the ability to take another's perspective attenuated the negative effects of customer verbal aggression on participants' cognitive performance. Study 4 linked customer verbal aggression to quality of task performance, showing a particularly negative influence of aggressive requests delivered by high-status customers. Together, these studies suggest that the effects of even minor aggression from customers can strongly affect the immediate cognitive performance of customer service employees and reduce their task performance. The implications for research on aggression and for the practice of customer service are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Cognition*
  • Commerce
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Verbal Behavior*
  • Young Adult