Study Finds That Black Consumers Brush Off Poor Customer Service Because They Are Used to It

A new study led by Sterling Bone, a professor of marketing at Utah State University, finds that members of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups tend to rate poor customer service less negatively than White people.

Researchers recruited nine male small-business owners in Los Angeles to act as “mystery shoppers” to compare the treatment of different racial groups at banks. They had similar ages, heights, builds, and education; three were Black, three were Hispanic and three were White. The men, who wore identical shirts and pants, were sent to a total of 69 banks to ask for a loan based on identical customer profiles. They also secretly recorded the meetings using a camera embedded in their shirt. The participants, regardless of race or ethnicity, reported similar levels of satisfaction during the bank encounters.

However, when examining the video recordings, researchers found that Black and Hispanic participants were given significantly less time than White participants, waited longer to see a bank employee, and experienced other subtle forms of discrimination.

The authors conclude that “companies seeking to maximize and grow revenues — and government and advocacy groups seeking to formulate policy and protect consumers — can benefit by including measurements of employee actual behavior in service encounters with consumers. Failing to measure employee actual behavior and instead relying solely on consumer perceptions can be greatly misleading and may suggest consumers are receiving fair and equitable treatment when they are not.

The full study, “Moving Beyond Perceptions: Examining Service Disparities Among Consumers,” was published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. It may be accessed here.

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