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The effect of accent of service employee on customer service evaluation

Sally Rao Hill (University of Adelaide Business School, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)
Alastair Tombs (UQ Business School, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

Managing Service Quality: An International Journal

ISSN: 0960-4529

Article publication date: 15 November 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The primary objective of this paper is to investigate the attitudes, feelings and perceptions of Australian consumers towards service frontline employees with accents that differ from Standard Australian English, taking into consideration service‐country image and customer emotions.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper reports on a qualitative study designed to uncover the attitudes and perceptions of Australians towards service personnel with foreign accents.

Findings

The findings revealed that hearing a service provider with a foreign accent, particularly in services encounters without face‐to‐face contacts, often evokes a negative predisposition to certain accents, reduces the customers' level of tolerance and increases the perception of the service provider's lack of understanding. This negative stereotype bias seems to be moderated by the accent (a proxy of ethnicity) and service‐country image and influenced by customer emotions in the service interaction.

Research limitations/implications

Future studies could also use a controlled experimental design where accent could be used as a sensory cue to further test the validity and reliability of the current findings while controlling for factors such as ethnic background, employment, education and age. Further research should also take service types and service outcomes into consideration in examining the effect of accents on customer service evaluation.

Practical implications

Accent as a service employee attribute influences customers' evaluation of the service encounter because of the stereotype customers have. Training in language skills, cross‐cultural interpersonal skills and authority to deviate from the script should be given to minimise the negative effect of service employee accent. Service firms also need to develop strategies to manage customer emotions and reactions.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to the service literature about service employee attributes and is particularly relevant to economies such as the USA, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Australia where immigrants are a large part of the service workforce.

Keywords

Citation

Rao Hill, S. and Tombs, A. (2011), "The effect of accent of service employee on customer service evaluation", Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 649-666. https://doi.org/10.1108/09604521111185637

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited