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Frontline Employees as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Ambassadors: A Quasi-Field Experiment

Abstract

As past research has identified frontline employees as the primary communicators of a company’s CSR, this paper reports on a large-scale quasi-field experiment aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the levers of successful in-store, point-of-sale, CSR communication. In cooperation with a large international retailer, the authors analyzed the effects of varying in-store CSR communication strategies in 48 unique stores, combining data from a customer survey (N = 38,999), company records of customers’ real visits and purchases, and interviews with store managers. Taking into account the nested structure of the data, the authors reveal that CSR-related training of frontline employees bestows its favorable effect on customers and customer behavior only if it is accompanied by the store managers’ personal support for CSR.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    https://influitive.com/blog/train-employees-brand-ambassadors/.

  2. 2.

    https://prsay.prsa.org/2011/04/05/involving-employees-in-corporate-social-responsibility/.

  3. 3.

    http://taigacompany.com/5-ways-to-train-employees-to-be-social-media-ambassadors-of-your-csr-communications/.

  4. 4.

    http://www.workforce.com/2012/12/14/sap-spreads-the-word-through-employee-brand-ambassadors/.

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Funding

This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Grant No. SCHO-1605/2-1.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laura Marie Edinger-Schons.

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Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Measurement Scales

Construct Definition Measurement itemsa Source
Employee CSR training The fact whether store employees were trained on the company’s CSR engagement (yes/no) “How intensively did you communicate the topic of CSR in your store?”
(1 = not at all; 7 = very intensively)
Own operationalization
Management support of CSR The store manager’s personal support the topic of CSR “How strong is your personal support for the topic of CSR?”
(1 = very weak; 7 = very strong)
Own operationalization
Intensity of in-store CSR communication The intensity of the in-store use of CSR-related POS materials (e.g., wallpapers, brochures) “Have you conducted an employee training on CSR?”
(0 = no, 1 = yes)
Own operationalization
Customers’ CSR knowledge Customers’ knowledge of the company’s CSR activities and engagements (1) “I feel well informed about the social engagement of [COMPANY NAME]”
(2) “I am aware of several social projects that are supported by [COMPANY NAME]”
(3) “I have received plenty of information on the social engagement of [COMPANY NAME]”
Ellen et al. (1991)
Customer–company–identification A customer’s perception that a company engages in CSR out of genuine concern (1) “I can strongly identify myself with [COMPANY NAME]”
(2) “I feel good to be a customer of [COMPANY NAME]”
(3) “I like to tell people that I am a customer of [COMPANY NAME]”
(4) “[COMPANY NAME] fits well to me”
(5) “I feel attached to [COMPANY NAME]”
Homburg et al. (2009)
Perceived consumer effectiveness The extent to which a consumer believes that the efforts of an individual alone can make a difference (1) “There is a lot that any one individual can do about the environment”
(2) “In my opinion everybody can contribute enable a better society”
(3) “The conservation efforts of one person are useless as long as other people refuse to conserve”
(4) “I can change something through buying products of companies that engage socially”
Ellen et al. (1991)
  1. aAll items are measured on seven-point Likert scales anchored “fully disagree” to “fully agree” unless indicated otherwise

Appendix 2: Sample Sizes Per Store

Local store Frequency Percent Local store Frequency Percent
1 506 1.3 25 905 2.3
2 1146 2.9 26 619 1.6
3 715 1.8 27 837 2.1
4 1361 3.5 28 521 1.3
5 436 1.1 29 1236 3.2
6 881 2.3 30 1234 3.2
7 816 2.1 31 840 2.2
8 733 1.9 32 859 2.2
9 412 1.1 33 967 2.5
10 1104 2.8 34 872 2.2
11 855 2.2 35 933 2.4
12 1115 2.9 36 1034 2.7
13 1202 3.1 37 618 1.6
14 569 1.5 38 747 1.9
15 711 1.8 39 517 1.3
16 1110 2.8 40 393 1.0
17 610 1.6 41 778 2.0
18 389 1.0 42 798 2.0
19 1023 2.6 43 1012 2.6
20 1810 4.6 44 915 2.3
21 1462 3.7 45 662 1.7
22 603 1.5 46 21 .1
23 1038 2.7 47 34 1.9
24 519 1.3 48 214 .5
    Total 38,999 100.0

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Edinger-Schons, L.M., Lengler-Graiff, L., Scheidler, S. et al. Frontline Employees as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Ambassadors: A Quasi-Field Experiment. J Bus Ethics 157, 359–373 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3790-9

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Keywords

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • CSR communication
  • In-store communication
  • Point-of-sale communication
  • Boundary-spanning agents
  • Frontline employees
  • CSR ambassadors
  • CSR-related training of employees
  • Managers’ personal support