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Employee, branch, and brand switching: the role of linguistic choice, use and adaptation

Mohammadali Zolfagharian (Department of Marketing, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas, USA)
Fuad Hasan (Department of Marketing, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas, USA)
Pramod Iyer (Department of Marketing, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas, USA)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




The purpose of this study is to explore how service employee choice and use of language to initiate and maintain conversation with second generation immigrant customers (SGIC) influence customer evaluation of the service encounter, and whether such employee acts may lead customers to employee switching, branch switching (i.e. switching from one to another location within the same brand) and/or brand switching (switching to another brand altogether).


A scenario-based between-subjects experiment of 4 (employee: match, adapt, bilingual, no adapt) × 2 (fast food, post office) × 2 (English, Spanish) was used to examine the SGIC response to service encounters in different contexts arising from employee choice and use of language. These scenarios were complemented with a series of measurement scales. The instruments, which were identical except in scenario sections, were administered on 788 second-generation Mexican American customers, resulting in 271 (fast food) and 265 (post office) effective responses.


In both service contexts, when employees initiated conversation that matched (English or Spanish) the customer expectations, the SGIC perceptions of interaction quality was higher as compared to other scenarios, leading to subsequent satisfaction and lower switching intentions (employee and branch). Similarly, interaction quality was higher for adapt scenarios as compared to bilingual or no adapt scenarios. Bilingual customers perceived higher interaction quality in bilingual/no-adapt scenarios when compared to monolingual customers. In both contexts, service quality and satisfaction were associated with employee switching and branch switching, but not with brand switching.

Research limitations/implications

By utilizing interaction adaptation theory to conceptualize the effects of employee choice and use of language, the study grounds the model and the hypotheses in theoretical bases and provides empirical corroboration of the theory. The study also contributes toward understanding the service encounters from the perspective of an overlooked group of vulnerable customers: second-generation immigrants.

Practical implications

Service research cautions service providers that a key factor in attracting and retaining customers is having detailed communication guidelines and empowering employees to follow those guidelines. The findings go a step further and underscore the critical role of communication from a managerial standpoint. It is in the interest of service organizations to develop guidelines that will govern employee choice and use of language during service encounters. So doing is commercially justified because unguided employee choice and use of language can result in customer switching and attrition.

Social implications

The juxtaposition between assigned versus asserted identities is an important one not only in social sciences but also within service research. As service encounters grow increasingly multicultural, the need to educate employees on multiculturally appropriate communication etiquette rises in importance. The findings should encourage service firms and local governments to develop formal communication guidelines that begin with multiculturalism as a central tenet permeating all aspects of employee–employee, employee–customer and customer–customer communications. Service providers ought to take precautionary measures to ensure customers will be empowered to assert their identities in their own terms, if they wish so.


The study demonstrates how employee choice and use of language during service encounters may thwart SGIC, who might view such employee behaviors as acts of identity assignment and, consequently, feel stigmatized, marginalized and offended; and links such customer experiences to switching behavior through mediatory mechanisms.



Zolfagharian, M., Hasan, F. and Iyer, P. (2017), "Employee, branch, and brand switching: the role of linguistic choice, use and adaptation", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 31 No. 4/5, pp. 452-470.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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