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The effect of service employees’ accent on customer reactions

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

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




The primary objective of this article is to investigate customer reactions to service employees with accents that differ from a non-native accent taking into account customer emotions.


This article reports on a study with a 2 (accent of service employee: Australian or Indian) × 2 (service employee’s competency: competent or incompetent) × 2 (customer’s affective state: positive or negative) between-subject experimental design to uncover the effects of service employees’ accent on customers’ reactions.


The findings revealed that hearing a service employee with a foreign accent was not enough on its own to influence customer responses. However, when the service employee is incompetent or the customer was in a negative affective state, a foreign accent appeared to exacerbate the situation.

Research limitations/implications

While the findings indicate that accents are used a cue for customers to evaluate service employees, further research should also take service types, service outcomes, customer-service employee relationships, customers’ ethnic affiliation and ethnocentrism into consideration when examining the effect of accents.

Practical implications

Service managers need to be aware that accents will exacerbate perceptions of already difficult service situations. Providing competent service will help breakdown stereotypes and improve the acceptance of diversity at the customer–employee interface.


This article contributes to the service literature about service 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 work force.



Tombs, A. and Rao Hill, S. (2014), "The effect of service employees’ accent on customer reactions", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 48 No. 11/12, pp. 2051-2070.



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