The effect of customer-initiated support on employee service performance: the self-verification theory perspective

ZHANG Hui1 LIU Yanjun2 SHI Yanwei3 ZHANG Nan4

(1.School of Sociology, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430074)
(2.School of Economics and Management, North China University of Technology, Beijing 100144)
(3.College of Philosophy, Law & Political Science, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234)
(4.School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079)

【Abstract】With the service industry growing rapidly to contribute to about 60% of the world’s GDP, improving customer service quality with high service performance (in-role performance and proactive customer service performance) is critical for service organizational development. Previous research has linked employee service performance with a variety of potential antecedents, such as individual difference factors and organizational factors from resource, identification, and motivation perspectives. Surprisingly, we know little about how customer positive behaviors (e.g., customer-initiated support) might affect employees’ service performance. This is a critical gap to fill because customers have substantial power and impact on front-line service employees through frequent direct interactions with them during service delivery. Drawing on the self-verification theory, the present study aimed to examine the effect of customer-initiated support on employee service performance (in-role performance and proactive customer service performance) and explore the mediating role of organization-based self-esteem and the moderating roles of promotion focus and internal locus of control. We collected three-wave time-lagged data from 652 nurses nested within 139 department supervisors. In the first-wave survey (T1), employees reported perceived customer-initiated support, their promotion focus, internal locus of control, proactive personality, and demographic variables. In the second-wave survey (T2), employees who had completed first wave questionnaires were asked to rate their organizational-based self-esteem. In the third wave survey (T3), employees’ supervisors were asked to report the employees’ service performance, including in-role performance and proactive customer service performance. Results from multilevel modeling analysis showed that (1) customer-initiated support was positively related to employee organization-based self-esteem; (2) organization-based self-esteem was positively related to employee in-role performance and proactive customer service performance; (3) employee organization-based self-esteem mediated the relation between customer-initiated support and employee in-role performance and proactive customer service performance; (4) promotion focus strengthened the positive relationship between customer-initiated support and organization-based self-esteem, such that the positive relationship between customer-initiated support and organization-based self-esteem is stronger for employees with higher promotion focus; (5) internal locus of control weakened the relationship between customer-initiated support and organization-based self-esteem, such that the positive relationship between customer-initiated support and organization-based self-esteem is weaker for employees with higher internal locus of control. Our findings contribute to literature in several ways. First, we contribute to the service performance literature by identifying customer-initiated support as a potential antecedent. Second, this study uncovers the potential mechanism of customer-initiated support’s impact on employee service performance from the self-verification perspective, which broadens previous research from resources, identification, and motivation perspectives. Third, this study confirms the moderating roles of promotion focus and internal locus of control, which contributes to the understanding of under what conditions the effect of customer-initiated support will be stronger.

【Keywords】 customer-initiated support; service performance; self-verification theory; organizational-based self-esteem; promotion focus; internal locus of control;


【Funds】 National Natural Science Foundation of China (71901098, 72101005) National Natural Science Foundation of China (72132001) the Independent Innovation Fund of Huazhong University of science and Technology (2020WKYXQN011)

Download this article


    Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The self. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 635– 679). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Co., Inc.

    Bosson, J. K., & Swann, W. B. (1999). Self-liking, self-competence, and the quest for self-verification. Personality & Social Psychology Bull­etin, 25(10), 1230–1241. doi: 10.1177/0146167299258005

    Bridges, J., Nicholson, C., Maben, J., Pope, C., Flatley, M., Wilkinson, C., … Tziggili, M. (2013). Capacity for care: Meta-ethnography of acute care nurses’ experiences of the nurse-patient relationship. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(4), 760–772. doi: 10.1111/jan.12050

    Chen, H. master’s thesis, National Chi Nan University, (2009).

    Chen, M., Lyu, Y., Li, Y., Zhou, X., & Li, W. (2016). The impact of high-commitment HR practices on hotel employees’ proactive customer service performance. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 58(1), 94–107. doi:10.1177/1938965516649053

    Chen, T., Li, F., & Leung, K. (2016). When does supervisor support encourage innovative behavior? Opposite moderating effects of general self-efficacy and internal locus of control. Personnel Psychology, 69, 123–158. doi:10.1111/peps.12104

    Chen, Y. master’s thesis, Hengyang: University of South China, (2013).

    Chen, Y. & Yan, Q. Journal of Nursing Science (护理学杂志), 28, 94–96, (2013)

    Claes, R., Beheydt, C., & Lemmens, B. (2005). Unidimensionality of abbreviated proactive personality scales across cultures. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54, 476–489. doi: 10.1111/j. 1464-0597.2005.00221.x

    De Hoogh, A. H. B., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2009). Neuroticism and locus of control as moderators of the relationships of charismatic and autocratic leadership with burnout. Journal of Applied Psych­ology, 94, 1058–1067. doi: 10.1037/a0016253

    Dempsey, C., Wojciechowski, S. l., McConville, E., & Drain, M. (2014). Reducing patient suffering through compassionate connected care. Journal of Nursing Administration, 44, 517–524. doi: 10.1097/NNA. 0000000000000110

    Dong, Y., Liao, H., Chuang, A., Zhou, J., & Campbell, E. M. (2015). Fostering employee service creativity: Joint effects of customer em­powering behaviors and supervisory empowering leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(5), 1364–1380. doi: 10.1037/a0038969

    Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13(2), 172–175. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00431

    Ghosh, R., Reio, T. G. J., & Haynes, R. K. (2012). Mentoring and organizational citizenship behavior: Estimating the mediating effects of organization-based self-esteem and affective commitment. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 23, 41–63. doi: 10.1002/ hrdq.21121

    Groth, M., & Grandey, A. (2012). From bad to worse: Negative exchange spirals in employee-customer service interactions. Organizational Psychology Review, 2(3), 208–233. doi: 10.1177/2041386 612441735

    Gu, M. Advances in Psychological Science (心理科学进展), 12(3): 423–428 (2004).

    Han, L. & Wang, C. Advances in Psychological Science (心理科学进展), 19(1): 73–84 (2011).

    Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52(12), 1280–1300.

    Howell, J. M., & Shamir, B. (2005). The role of followers in the charismatic leadership process: Relationships and their consequences. Academy of Management Review, 30, 96–112. doi:10.5465/AMR. 2005.15281435

    Huo, Y., Lam, W., & Chen, Z. (2014). The joint effects of perspective taking and proactive personality on customer service performance. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1, 13371– 13371. doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2014.63

    Jauhari, H., Singh, S., & Kumar, M. (2017). How does transformational leadership influence proproactive customer service performance of frontline service employees? Examining the mediating roles of psychological empowerment and affective commitment. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 30, 30–48. doi: 10.1108/JEIM- 01-2016-0003

    Johnson, R. E., Chang, C. H., & Yang, L. (2010). Commitment and motivation at work: The relevance of employee identity and regulatory focus. Academy of Management Review, 35, 226–245. doi: 10.5465/AMR.2010.48463332

    Judge, T. A., Erez, A., Bono, J. E., & Thoresen, C. J. (2003). The core self-evaluations scale: Development of a measure. Personnel Psychology, 56, 303–331. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2003.tb00152.x

    Koopmann, J., Wang, M., Liu, Y., & Song, Y. (2015). Customer mistreatment: A review of conceptualizations and a multilevel theoretical model. In P. Perrewé, J. Halbesleben, & C. Rosen (Eds.), Research in Occupational Stress and Well Being (Vol. 13, pp. 33–79). Bradford, UK: Emerald Group.

    Korman, A. K. (1970). Toward a hypothesis of work behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 54, 31–41. doi:10.1037/h0028656

    Lau, P. Y. Y., Terpstra Tong, J. L. Y., Lien, Y. B., Hsu, Y., & Chong, C. L. (2017). Ethical work climate, employee commitment and proactive customer service performance: Test of the mediating effects of organizational politics. Journal of Retailing & Consumer Services, 35, 20–26. doi: 10.1016/j.jretconser.2016.11.004

    Lee, J. (2003). An analysis of the antecedents of organization-based self-esteem in two Korean banks. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14, 1046–1066. doi: 10.1080/095851 9032000106207

    Li, Y. & Fu, J. Journal of Developments in Psychology (心理学动态), 4, 24–29, (1996).

    Liao, H., & Chuang, A. (2004). A multilevel investigation of factors influencing employee service performance and customer outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 47, 41–58. doi: 10.2307/20159559

    Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Liao, C., & Meuser, J. D. (2014). Servant leadership and serving culture: Influence on individual and unit performance. Academy of Management Journal, 57(5), 1434–1452. doi: 10.5465/amj.2013.0034

    Liu, X., Liu, J., Xu, J. et al. Acta Psychologica Sinica (心理学报): 47(6): 826–836 (2015).

    Lu, X. & Tu, Y. Advances in Psychological Science (心理科学进展), 22, 130–138 (2014).

    Lyu, Y., Zhou, X., Li, W., Wan, J., Zhang, J., & Qiu, C. (2016). The im­pact of abusive supervision on service employees’ proactive custo­mer service performance in the hotel industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 28(9), 1992–2012. doi: 10.1108/IJCHM-03-2015-0128

    McColl-Kennedy, J. R., Vargo, S. L., Dagger, T. S., Sweeney, J. C., & vanKasteren, Y. (2012). Health care customer value co-creation practice styles. Journal of Service Research, 15(4), 370–389. doi: 10. 1177/1094670512442806

    Naus, F., van Iterson, A., & Roe, R. A. (2007). Value incongruence, job autonomy, and organization-based self-esteem: A self-based perspective on organizational cynicism. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 16, 195–219. doi: 10.1080/135943206 01143271

    Neubert, M. J., Kacmar, K. M., Carlson, D. S., Chonko, L. B., & Roberts, J. A. (2008). Regulatory focus as a mediator of the influence of initiating structure and servant leadership on employee behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(6), 1220–1233. doi: 10.1037/ a0012695

    Ng, T. W. H., Sorensen, K. L., & Eby, L. T. (2006). Locus of control at work: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(8), 1057–1087. doi: 10.1002/job.416

    Ostrom, A., Parasuraman, A., Bowen, E. D., Patricio, L., & Voss, C. A. (2015). Service research priorities in a rapidly changing context. Journal of Service Research, 18(2), 127–159. doi: 10.1177/1094670 515576315

    Park, J., & Kim, H. J. (2020). Customer mistreatment and service performance: A self-consistency perspective. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 86, 285–299. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2019. 102367

    Pierce, J. L., & Gardner, D. G. (2004). Self-esteem within the work and organizational context: A review of the organization-based self- esteem literature. Journal of Management, 30, 591–622. doi: 10. 1016/

    Pierce, J. L., & Gardner, D. G. (2009). Relationships of personality and job characteristics with organization-based self-esteem. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 24, 392–409. doi: 10.1108/026839409109 59735

    Pierce, J. L., Gardner, D. G., Cummings, L. L., & Dunham, R. B. (1989). Organization-based self-esteem: Construct definition, measurement, and validation. Academy of Management Journal, 32(3), 622–648.

    Preacher, K. J., Zyphur, M. J., & Zhang, Z. (2010). A general multilevel SEM framework for assessing multilevel mediation. Psychological Methods, 15(3), 209–233.doi: 10.1037/a0020141

    Rank, J., Carsten, M. J., Unger, M. J., & Spector, E. P. (2007). Proactive customer service performance: Relationships with individual, task, and leadership variables. Human Performance, 20, 363–390.

    Raub, S., & Liao, H. (2012). Doing the right thing without being told: Joint effects of initiative climate and general self-efficacy on employee proactive customer service performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 651–667. doi: 10.1037/a0026736

    Rong, Y., Yang, B. & Yang, S. Science of Science and Management of S.&T. (科学学与科学技术管理), 37(10): 119–129 (2016).

    Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80(1), 1–28. doi: 10.1037/h0092976

    Shin, Y., Kim, M. S., Choi, J. N., Kim, M., & Oh, W. K. (2016). Does leader-follower regulatory fit matter? The role of regulatory fit in followers’ organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Management, 43(4), 1211–1233. doi: 10.1177/0149206314546867

    Spector, P. E. (1988). Development of the work locus of control scale. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 61, 335–340. doi:10.1111/ j.2044-8325.1988.tb00470.x

    Swann, W. B. J. (1983). Self-verification: Bringing social reality into harmony with the self. In J. Suls & A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Social psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 2, pp. 33–66), Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Swann, W. B. J. (1997). The trouble with change: Self-verification and allegiance to the self. Psychological Science, 8(3), 177–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00407.x

    Swann, W. B. J. (2012). Self-verification theory. In Van Lange PAM, Kruglanski AW, Higgin ET (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 23–42). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Talaifar S., & Swann W. B. (2017). Self-Verification Theory. In: Zeigler- Hill V., Shackelford T. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-28099- 8_1180-1

    The World Factbook. (2017). The World Factbook. Available at: https://

    Vogus, T. J., & McClelland, L. E. (2016). When the customer is the patient: Lessons from healthcare research on patient satisfaction and service quality ratings. Human Resource Management Review, 26, 37–49. doi: 10.1016/j.hrmr.2015.09.005

    Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2009). Work engagement and financial returns: A diary study on the role of job and personal resources. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82, 183–200.

    Zhang, H., Ma, H., Liu, Y. et al. Human Resources Development of China (中国人力资源开发), 35, 41–51 (2018)

    Zhang, H., Zhou, Z. E., Ma, H., & Tang, H. (2020). Customer-initiated support and employees’ proactive customer service performance: A multilevel examination of proactive motivation as the mediator. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 70(3), 1154–1183. doi: 10.1111/apps.12268

    Zhang, R., Liu, X., Shen, L. et al. Nankai Business Review (南开管理评论), 3, 6–13, 28, (2009).

    Zhou, Y. Human Resources Development of China (中国人力资源开发), 10, 49–56 (2016).

    Zimmermann, B. K., Dormann, C., & Dollard, M. F. (2011). On the positive aspects of customers: Customer-initiated support and affective crossover in employee-customer dyads. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 84, 31–57. doi: 10.1111/j.2044- 8325.2010.02011.x

This Article



Vol , No. 04, Pages 398-410

February 2022


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Method
  • 3 Results
  • 4 Discussion
  • 5 Conclusion
  • References