The purpose of this paper is to investigate the expectations and evaluations of services provided by members of an ethnic minority using the lens of ethnic stereotypes. The authors also examine how ethnic service providers (ESPs) are evaluated by customers from the majority group vs the same ethnic group as the provider.
In Study 1, the authors measure the stereotypes about skills, abilities, and typical professions associated with different ethnic groups (i.e. Chinese, South Asians and white). The authors then measure the effect of these stereotypes on the performance expectations from ESPs in different professional services. In Study 2, the authors manipulate the service domain (stereotypical vs counter-stereotypical) and the level of service performance (good: above average performance vs mediocre: below average) of a Chinese ESP, and subsequently measure the evaluation of the ESP by the same ethnic group (Chinese) vs majority group (white) participants.
Performance expectations from ESPs closely match the stereotypes associated with the ethnic group. But the performance of an ESP (especially mediocre-level service) is evaluated differently by the same ethnic group vs majority group customers, depending upon the domain of service. A Chinese ESP providing mediocre service in a stereotypical domain (martial arts instructor) is evaluated more critically by same ethnic group (Chinese) participants as compared to white participants. In contrast, a Chinese ESP providing mediocre service in a counter-stereotypical domain (fitness instructor) is evaluated more favourably by same ethnic group (Chinese) participants as compared to white participants. There is no such difference when performance is good.
It is a common practice to employ ESPs to serve same ethnic group customers. While this strategy can be effective in a counter-stereotypical domain even if the ESP provides mediocre service, the findings suggest that this strategy can backfire when the performance is mediocre in a stereotypical service domain.
The results demonstrate the need for emphasizing outcome (vis-à-vis interaction) quality where ESPs are employed to serve same ethnic group customers in a stereotypical service setting. However, when an ESP is offering a counter-stereotypical service, the emphasis needs to be more on the interpersonal processes (vis-à-vis outcome). Firms can gain by taking this into account in their hiring and training practices.
Prior research has primarily used cultural distance to examine inter-cultural service encounters. The authors show that ethnic stereotypes pertaining to the skills and abilities of an ESP can affect evaluations beyond the role of cultural distance alone.
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