ServiceFriday: Culture Affects Perception of Service

Service failures can make or break a company’s competitive edge, but the degree to which this can affect a company can change dramatically across different cultures. Globalization has allowed for businesses to reach consumers all around the world, but many are failing to manage behavioral responses to failures based on culture, and are mistakenly focusing on a specific one they are most familiar with. As service failures are inevitable, companies’ ability to bounce back and understand how customers from different cultures are affected by a dissatisfactory experience is crucial.

In an article published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, the authors examine multiple behavioral responses to dissatisfactory service experiences and how these fluctuate between cultures. Error-free service delivery is difficult for service providers to guarantee continuously to all their customers. Thus, responses to these errors, such as negative word-of-mouth, complaining, third-party action, reduced willingness to repurchase, and the intention to switch service providers or “exit the service” are of significant interest to businesses. Consumers of one culture are most likely to respond differently than those of another. For example, some may be more inclined to voice their dissatisfaction after a negative incident, while others may simply switch service providers or “exit” from involvement with a business altogether, wishing to avoid confrontation.

The studies conducted examined Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions and how these impact behavioral responses. These are summarized as:

  1. Individualism-collectivism: the degree to which group goals and objectives are valued versus individual preferences
  2. Uncertainty avoidance: the degree of comfort with ambiguous situations
  3. Masculinity-femininity: the degree to which tough and assertive behavior versus tender and nurturing behavior is encouraged
  4. Power distance: the degree to which unequal distributions of power are accepted
  5. Long-term/short-term orientation: the degree to which short-term pain is accepted in return for long-term gain

The results found that consumers are more likely to switch service providers or spread negative word-of-mouth if from high individualism cultures, low uncertainty avoidance cultures, feminine cultures, low power distance cultures, and short-term oriented cultures.

However, these results do not take into account the impact of online social forums and rating apps such as Yelp, which allow for the rapid spreading of negative word-of-mouth across nationalities and cultures around the world. If customers from one culture are more inclined to respond negatively to a service failure, their complaints can spread to customers of another culture, instigating similar responses.   

To better understand the results and to read the full article visit the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. (A fee may apply.)

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