When the encounter with the police is stress-free, courtesy and delivery speed are important in service evaluation. When the individual is under stress, the most important service attribute is helpfulness.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Encounters with the Police

Police services are a public service that, like many other public services (e.g. health care, education), are under pressure for greater efficiency and better performance.

Nowadays, satisfaction with public services receives special attention because of pressure from citizens and interest groups, and privatization trends that enhance organizational efficiency, quality, and productivity.

There is an agreement in the public services literature that assessing satisfaction with public services is a valuable source of information that can help evaluate performance and guide deployment of strained resources.

However, since most studies of satisfaction with police services come from the public administration literature, few examine how police services are evaluated by the consumers vis-à-vis the attributes of the service.

Our study offers insights from not only the services literature but also from the consumer behavior literature, which taken together provide a better understanding of consumer responses to police services.

High levels of stress

Since police services are usually sought during emergencies or when problems arise or to ensure against unwanted outcomes, they are typically accompanied by high levels of stress.

These feelings of anxiety and stress that the consumers bring to the service encounter may affect their evaluations.

Our study shows that stress influences the type and number of attributes consumers use to evaluate the encounter with the police and even whether they talk positively about the police.

When the encounter is stress-free, courtesy and delivery speed are important in service evaluation, but when the individual is under stress, the most important service attribute is helpfulness. These findings have three implications for the police services.

Training police officers

Since stress determines the differential importance of service attributes, it can be the basis for training police officers.

Helpfulness in resolving the consumers’ situation is more important for satisfaction when consumers are stressed while courtesy and speediness of service delivery are more important when consumers are not stressed.

Police officers could be trained to understand the state the consumer is in and reinforce specific service features accordingly.

Responding appropriately to consumer emotions in aversive situations is important for improving consumer satisfaction and building goodwill.

Helping consumers cope with stress

Consumers are more likely to evaluate police services based on feelings and emotions experienced during the service rather than outcomes of the service, therefore, helping consumers cope with the stress related with police services is more relevant for satisfaction than the outcomes of the service itself.

Police services can increase customer satisfaction by finding mechanisms that help consumers cope with the anxiety and stress generated before or during the encounter.

Results from our study show courtesy and speed of service delivery to be relevant for satisfaction in the neutral state and helpfulness in the stressed state.  Thus managing these attributes become prominent in coping and reducing the stress accompanying an encounter with the police.

Not all customers are the same

The study shows that even though the level of satisfaction in the stressed state is lower than that in the neutral one, the post-consumption reactions in terms of word of mouth referral are stronger.

This highlights significant differences across customer segments in the links of the satisfaction-loyalty-word of mouth behavior chain, which can be a new typology for segmentation.

In order to generate a stronger loyalty and word of mouth, the police must take into account the stress the customer experiences because the stress has a strong, positive, and beneficial impact on loyalty and word of mouth behavior (as demonstrated by the results of our study).


Based on the article Singh, Sangeeta and Lola C. Duque (2012): "Moderating Role of Stress in Evaluating Negative Services: Encounters with the Police", Journal of Service Research,  15(2), 231-241, 2012.


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