Do all customers receive the same level of service by business providers?
The answer is a definitive “no,” according to a Stetson University research paper published in the Journal of Business Ethics, a prestigious peer-reviewed academic journal covering ethical issues related to business.
The paper was co-authored by Carol Azab, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing in Stetson University’s School of Business Administration, and Jonas Holmqvist, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Kedge Business School in Talence, France, according to a news release from Stetson University.
Published earlier this year, “Discrimination in Services: How Service Recovery Efforts Change With Customer Accent” confirms that customers speaking with an accent are discriminated against, as employees may evaluate customers as both less credible and less competent depending on their accent. The implications are far-ranging for both customers and the service industry, the news release said.
This is one of the first studies that examines how front-line employees or service providers evaluate customers with accents, as well as issues with grammar accuracy in speech. Previous studies have examined the opposite — how customers rate or evaluate service providers who have a different ethnicity, language or an accent, according to the release.
“Part of the complexity of this research is getting access to frontline service employees as respondents. It is much easier to recruit customers,” Azab said in the news release. “The second and more complex issue is to research a sensitive subject that lends itself to social desirability bias. We had to design a creative experiment to be able to test our hypotheses.”
The research findings highlight important implications for managers, with two main managerial insights, Azab said.
“The first key managerial insight consists of uncovering an important moral problem in current business practices. Our findings show that discrimination against minority customers is a common practice, unconscious though it may be, and that results both in less satisfactory treatment during interactions with the business as well as in less favorable outcomes,” Azab explained.
“. . . Our second key managerial insight attempts to alleviate this moral problem by identifying how managers may act to reduce discriminatory practices through cultural intelligence.”
Azab said with more people traveling globally for both business and pleasure, many people settle in new countries. As such, it has become commonplace that customers and service employees do not always share the same first language.
“For managers, our results should be a cause for concern, as they show that customers speaking a second language are likely to get worse outcomes if they have an accent and/or if they make grammar mistakes when explaining their issue to employees,” Azab said. “Our results also show the important role that cultural intelligence plays in hiring and training service providers to act as an antidote against such discrimination.”
The research was funded by a Stetson Faculty Summer Research Grant.