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Who cares if “service with a smile” is authentic? An expectancy-based model of customer race and differential service reactions

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  • Houston, Lawrence
  • Grandey, Alicia A.
  • Sawyer, Katina

Abstract

“Service with a smile” improves performance ratings, but it is unclear whether that smile must always be authentic. We propose that reactions to a service employee’s display authenticity may depend on the customer’s race, due to a history of differential service experiences. Further, we propose that these experiences inform customers’ expectations, such that White customers are more likely than Black customers to expect friendly “service with a smile.” To test this conjecture, we first confirm that Blacks have lower service performance expectations than Whites due to a history of mistreatment in a service context. In two experimental studies and a field study, we then show that authenticity is a stronger predictor of performance-based evaluations (i.e., exceeded expectations) for White customers than for Black customers. Our findings underscore the impact of the racially biased treatment that Black customers have come to expect and the challenge of pleasing a diverse customer base.

Suggested Citation

  • Houston, Lawrence & Grandey, Alicia A. & Sawyer, Katina, 2018. "Who cares if “service with a smile” is authentic? An expectancy-based model of customer race and differential service reactions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 85-96.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:144:y:2018:i:c:p:85-96
    DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2017.10.001
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Levine, Emma E. & Wald, Kristina A., 2020. "Fibbing about your feelings: How feigning happiness in the face of personal hardship affects trust," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 135-154.

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