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The role of social incompatibility in customer discomfort

Mark Scott Rosenbaum (Department of Retailing, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)
Tali Seger-Guttmann (Department of Business Administration, Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer, Israel)
Ofir Mimran (Department of Organizational Development, Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer, Israel)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 27 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of customer discomfort in service settings when employees and customers who share social incompatibilities, stemming from war, nationalism, religious differences or terrorism, work together in service settings.


The authors engage in triangulation research to understand how Israeli Arabs and Jews experience comfort/discomfort in services. Study 1 uses an experimental design to show how comfort differs when Israeli Jews work with Arabs and Jews in three different service settings. Study 2 employs survey methodology to explore how comfort differs among Israeli Arabs when they work with either an Arab or a Jewish employee. Study 3 uses grounded theory methodology to provide a theoretical framework that explains reasons for customer discomfort occurrence between Israel’s Arabs and Jews, its impact on customers’ attitudes and behaviors and suggestions for increasing comfort.


Israeli Arabs and Jews express various feelings of discomfort when working with each other, and Druze, in service settings. Israeli Jews express higher levels of discomfort when working with Arabs than vice versa, while Israeli Arabs express discomfort when working with Druze employees. Five strategies for increasing customer comfort are defined and developed.

Research limitations/implications

Social incompatibilities prevent many consumers and employees from experiencing comfort during service exchanges; however, managers can alleviate some of the factors that exacerbate customer discomfort.

Practical implications

Managers need to realize that customer discomfort leads to place avoidance and thus should implement strategies to assuage it.

Social implications

Unabated service situations that result in customer discomfort may lead to customer ill-being, including fear.


This study is the first to explore customer discomfort due to social incompatibilities in depth.



Rosenbaum, M.S., Seger-Guttmann, T. and Mimran, O. (2018), "The role of social incompatibility in customer discomfort", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 815-837.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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