Male or Female Frontline Employees? The Impact of Gender Choice on Customers’ Emotions
Nowadays a world without customization and customer choice is unthinkable. When thinking about customization, we mostly think about different service offerings or products that customers can choose from. However, it is also possible to customize the service provider (e.g., a customer can choose to book his/her favorite hairdresser), yet academic research on this approach is under-researched. This paper focusses on customers’ choice in selecting a service provider, specifically by centering on the service provider’s gender.
From the literature it is expected that having a gender choice could elicit different emotions and impact service performance outcomes (e.g., satisfaction, return intention) due to for instance, stereotypes, expectations about men/ women being better suited for certain jobs, or in-group bias.
This paper is designed to better understand the benefits of offering customers a choice between a male or female service provider, thereby adopting a multi-method approach: experimental survey design and real-life interactions, neuro-scientific tools and open-ended questions. Specifically, two studies investigate the impact of this choice on customers’ emotions and service performance outcomes. The participants either had a choice to be served by a male or female employee before the service started (choice condition) or gender was randomly assigned (no choice condition). After the (no) choice, participants ordered a concert ticket. After participants went through this service ‘scenario’ they answered self-report items on experienced emotion and service performance outcomes (e.g., service satisfaction, return intention), next to several open-ended questions.
Study 1 made use of a scenario-based experiment with retrospective self-report items to measure experienced emotion during the service, whereas Study 2 also adopted neuro-scientific measures (changes in galvanic skin responses and facial muscles), which allow measuring emotions while the service is happening. Furthermore, in this study, participants interacted with a real employee instead of reading a scenario.
Study 1 shows that emotions and service performance outcomes do not differ between the conditions. Study 2 replicates these results; however, the neuroscientific results suggest that woman have more positive emotions while served by a woman in the no choice condition. Interestingly, the answers on the open-ended questions in both studies did suggest a clear preference for women service providers, irrespective of their own gender. Taken together, these findings have implications for both theory and practice.
In addition, we are currently collecting additional data by means of focus groups to get a broader picture on choice of gender of the service employee. These results will be integrated in this project.