HONG KONG, CHINA - Media OutReach - 9 October 2018 - Whether it is our
name, hometown or personal characteristic, our similarities could alter our
reactions to service failures.
"What a coincidence!" This is a familiar line in our lives. We
have all experienced that mysterious sensation -- hopefully pleasant -- triggered
by an unexpected connection with a person. As human beings, we tend to attach
meanings to this kind of surprising incidents as we hope to make sense of the 'abnormal'
events in our lives.
to a recent study by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business
School, we sometimes do more than just giving meanings to these bewildering
The study titled "The
Influence of Incidental Similarity on Observers' Causal Attributions and
Reactions to a Service Failure" investigates how observers of
service failures assign blame or responsibility of the events in relation to
their perceived coincidences.
The study was conducted by Prof. Lisa Wan,
Assistant Professor of School of Hotel and Tourism Management and Director of
Centre for Hospitality and Real Estate Research at CUHK Business School in
collaboration with Prof. Robert S. Wyer Jr, Visiting Professor at Lindner
College of Business, University of Cincinnati.
"We found that
when observers are not personally involved in a service failure, their
inclinations to blame the provider or the customer can depend on some things
that have nothing to do with the failed service but on certain similarities," says Prof. Wan.
The Effect of Incidental Similarity
studies have shown that when consumers identify certain similarities with a
salesperson, such as the same last name, birthday or hometown, they are more
likely to favour the salesperson and the service or product as a result of the
will the effect of having these incidental similarities apply to someone who is
not directly involved in the sales or service interaction?
this mysterious phenomenon, the researchers conducted a few experiments in
which participants were placed in different service failure scenarios.
In one of
the experiments, the participants were invited to a restaurant in different
time slots where they witnessed a customer complaining to a waitress about her
food. The participants either have the same last name as the waitress or the
of the study indicated that the participants having the same last name as the
customer would blame the waitress for the service failure, whereas those with
the same last name as the waitress would blame the customer instead.
"This doesn't only show that the effect of
incidental similarity exists, but also that the effect is valid even when people
are only observing and not directly involved in the service failure," says Prof. Wan.
experiment, the participants were asked to read a trip advisor website
containing a negative review written by a customer regarding a hotel service.
Before they commented on the review, they were also given a cognitive task -- by
memorising a 2-digit number or a 10-digit number. The result was mixed.
participants who were asked to remember a 2-digit number, the same effect was
seen, that is, those having the same last name as the customers would blame the
hotel manager for the service failure,"
the result did not replicate for those who had to memorize a 10-digit number.
that the effect is not valid when the participants' attention is diverted by a high
were also carried out involving a service provider displaying a negative or
undesirable quality (e.g., rudeness or obesity). In such scenario, participants
sharing the incidental similarity with the provider were found to blame the
service provider rather than the customer for the failure of service.
Why is that
more likely to blame a negative event on someone they dislike than on someone
they like. Since sharing an incidental similarity with the provider will
increase an observer's
attention on the provider's
negative or undesirable characteristics, the observer will increase their blame
on the provider in this case,"
says Prof. Wan.
has extended previous research to include observers who are not directly
involved in the service at all. And it reveals that the effect of incidental
similarity on observers'
attribution of blame is present both online and offline.
significant implications for consumers'
reactions to online reviews which play a major part in our shopping experiences
nowadays, as consumers often make their purchase decisions by reading online
reviews of a certain product or a shop.
reveals that our reactions to online reviews can be manipulated by something as
trivial and accidental as the reviewer's last name."
thinks the study also reflects a unique characteristic in Asian societies.
in our research are all Asians, who may be particularly sensitive to the
similarities between themselves and others and inclined to value social
effects of incidental similarity have been identified in research on Western
cultural samples as well, this difference could be a consideration in
evaluating the generalizability of our findings," she says.
Lisa C Wan,
Robert S Wyer, Jr (2018), "The Influence of Incidental
Similarity on Observers' Causal Attributions and Reactions to a Service Failure,"
Journal of Consumer Research.
article was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website by
CUHK Business School: https://bit.ly/2y630Td.
CUHK Business School
Business School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel and Tourism Management -- and four
departments -- Decision Sciences and
Managerial Economics, Finance,
Management and Marketing. Established in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first
business 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 Financial
Times 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 number
of business alumni (35,000+)
among universities/business schools in Hong Kong
-- many of whom are key business leaders. The School currently has about 4,400
undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Kalok Chan is the Dean of
CUHK Business School.
More information is available at www.bschool.cuhk.edu.hk or by
connecting with CUHK Business School on
and LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/school/3923680/.