CUHK Business School Research Reveals Similarities Could Alter Customers' Reactions to Service Failures

October 08, 2018 - 09:49
CUHK Business School Research Reveals Similarities Could Alter Customers' Reactions to Service Failures

HONG KONG, CHINA - Media OutReach - 9 October 2018 - Whether it is ourname, hometown or personal characteristic, our similarities could alter ourreactions to service failures.


"What a coincidence!" This is a familiar line in our lives. Wehave all experienced that mysterious sensation -- hopefully pleasant -- triggeredby an unexpected connection with a person. As human beings, we tend to attachmeanings to this kind of surprising incidents as we hope to make sense of the 'abnormal'events in our lives.


Accordingto a recent study by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) BusinessSchool, we sometimes do more than just giving meanings to these bewilderingconnections.


The study titled "TheInfluence of Incidental Similarity on Observers' Causal Attributions andReactions to a Service Failure" investigates how observers ofservice failures assign blame or responsibility of the events in relation totheir perceived coincidences.


The study was conducted by Prof. Lisa Wan,Assistant Professor of School of Hotel and Tourism Management and Director ofCentre for Hospitality and Real Estate Research at CUHK Business School incollaboration with Prof. Robert S. Wyer Jr, Visiting Professor at LindnerCollege of Business, University of Cincinnati.


"We found thatwhen observers are not personally involved in a service failure, theirinclinations to blame the provider or the customer can depend on some thingsthat have nothing to do with the failed service but on certain similarities," says Prof. Wan.


The Effect of Incidental Similarity

Previousstudies have shown that when consumers identify certain similarities with asalesperson, such as the same last name, birthday or hometown, they are morelikely to favour the salesperson and the service or product as a result of thepersonal connection.


However,will the effect of having these incidental similarities apply to someone who isnot directly involved in the sales or service interaction?


To decodethis mysterious phenomenon, the researchers conducted a few experiments inwhich participants were placed in different service failure scenarios.


In one ofthe experiments, the participants were invited to a restaurant in differenttime slots where they witnessed a customer complaining to a waitress about herfood. The participants either have the same last name as the waitress or thecustomer.


The resultof the study indicated that the participants having the same last name as thecustomer would blame the waitress for the service failure, whereas those withthe same last name as the waitress would blame the customer instead.


"This doesn't only show that the effect ofincidental similarity exists, but also that the effect is valid even when peopleare only observing and not directly involved in the service failure," says Prof. Wan.


In anotherexperiment, the participants were asked to read a trip advisor websitecontaining a negative review written by a customer regarding a hotel service.Before they commented on the review, they were also given a cognitive task -- bymemorising a 2-digit number or a 10-digit number. The result was mixed.


"For theparticipants who were asked to remember a 2-digit number, the same effect wasseen, that is, those having the same last name as the customers would blame thehotel manager for the service failure,"she says.


However,the result did not replicate for those who had to memorize a 10-digit number.


"This showsthat the effect is not valid when the participants' attention is diverted by a highcognitive load."


Experimentswere also carried out involving a service provider displaying a negative orundesirable quality (e.g., rudeness or obesity). In such scenario, participantssharing the incidental similarity with the provider were found to blame theservice provider rather than the customer for the failure of service.


Why is thatthe case?


"People aremore likely to blame a negative event on someone they dislike than on someonethey like. Since sharing an incidental similarity with the provider willincrease an observer'sattention on the provider'snegative or undesirable characteristics, the observer will increase their blameon the provider in this case,"says Prof. Wan.


This studyhas extended previous research to include observers who are not directlyinvolved in the service at all. And it reveals that the effect of incidentalsimilarity on observers'attribution of blame is present both online and offline.


It hassignificant implications for consumers'reactions to online reviews which play a major part in our shopping experiencesnowadays, as consumers often make their purchase decisions by reading onlinereviews of a certain product or a shop.


"The studyreveals that our reactions to online reviews can be manipulated by something astrivial and accidental as the reviewer's last name."


Prof. Wanthinks the study also reflects a unique characteristic in Asian societies.


"Participantsin our research are all Asians, who may be particularly sensitive to thesimilarities between themselves and others and inclined to value socialconnectedness."


"Although theeffects of incidental similarity have been identified in research on Westerncultural samples as well, this difference could be a consideration inevaluating the generalizability of our findings," she says.



Lisa C Wan,Robert S Wyer, Jr (2018), "The Influence of IncidentalSimilarity on Observers' Causal Attributions and Reactions to a Service Failure,"Journal of Consumer Research.


Thisarticle was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website byCUHK Business School:


AboutCUHK Business School

CUHKBusiness School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel and Tourism Management -- and fourdepartments -- Decision Sciences andManagerial Economics, Finance,Management and Marketing. Established in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the firstbusiness school to offer BBA, MBA and Executive MBA programmes in the region.Today, the School offers 8 undergraduate programmes and 20 graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA,Master, MSc, MPhil and Ph.D.


In the FinancialTimes Global MBA Ranking 2018, CUHK MBA is ranked 43rd. In FT's 2017 EMBA ranking, CUHK EMBA is ranked 32nd in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest numberof business alumni (35,000+)among universities/business schools in Hong Kong-- many of whom are key business leaders. The School currently has about 4,400undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Kalok Chan is the Dean ofCUHK Business School.


More information is available at or byconnecting with CUHK Business School onFacebook: LinkedIn: