Matching the personal initiative capabilities of FLEs to their self-regulatory processes and the firm's initiative climate

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Frontline employees (FLEs) — the people behind the counter, on the phone, or walking the shop floor — can profoundly affect the customer experience. Harnessing the capability of FLEs to positively shape customer experiences is critical for service firms. However, placing the right employee in the right frontline role is not an easy task. To deliver positive service experiences, FLEs must be customer-oriented, placing customers’ interests first. In addition, FLEs need to demonstrate personal initiative by going beyond prescribed job roles to find solutions to customer problems. We propose that personal initiative is an important mediating variable in the relationship between customer orientation and FLE performance. Further, we examine whether this relationship is strengthened or weakened when a firm's climate encourages initiative-taking behavior and FLEs have a prove or avoid orientation, or engage in deep or surface acting. We test the model across two studies using a multi-respondent data collection procedure within the retail banking sector. Our findings demonstrate that personal initiative mediates the relationship between customer orientation and FLE performance. Notably, this effect is stronger when a firm's climate encourages initiative-taking and when FLEs have a prove orientation or engage in deep acting, and that the effect is weaker when FLEs have an avoid orientation or engage in surface acting. Our findings underscore that it is only when the fit between FLEs, their roles, and the work climate is right that firms will get the best out of their employees (c.f., Arthur et al. 2006; Kristof-Brown et al., 2005).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-335
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Retailing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Customer orientation
  • Frontline employees
  • Personal initiative

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