Service and experience: Beauty to the rescue—physical Attractiveness and Service Experience Implications

J. N. Halm

The global beauty industry is worth more than 500 billlion US dollars, according to latest data. That is a lot of dollars to spend on making ourselves look attractive.  It is clear that this must be a most conservative figure because it would not include much of the traditional beauty therapies used by tribes found in the Outback of Australia, in the jungles of South America and on the plains of Africa. We cannot forget the fact that beauty is not only the concern of those living in the most advanced societies.

Since the first humans saw their faces in pools of water, people have tried to always look their very best. People have, for centuries, used all manner of concoctions and solutions on their skins and faces just to look attractive. Mud, extracts from the mucuous of snails, seaweed, and other interesting items have been used to help beauty stay beautiful. These days, people are using all kinds of machines to zap away spots from their faces to keep the skin looking fresh. The plethora of options regarding creams, lotions and soaps that are available on the market is simply mind-boggling. We are truly crazy about our looks.

In spite of all the emphasis placed by religion on the cultivation of inner virtues like love, forgiveness, giving, etc., it seems we are equally interested in our outward appearance. All the noise made about inner beauty seems to be just that—noise! Studies after studies have proven that when dealing with people, people make their decisions based on the looks of the other person. Even those who argue that the content of an individual’s character should be of more concern will also accept that it helps if an individual looks good.

But why are we so obsessed with looking good? Could it be because as a species, we are wired to believe that everything that looks good is truly good? Could this not be why we therefore make ourselves aesthetically-appealing to ensure that we always come across as good-looking?

The concept of the good-looking being good is so pervasive that it has become a part and parcel of our very existence. With the advent of social media and platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others that thrive on the way people look, the trend towards looking more beautiful will only continue to take on an upward trajectory.

But beauty is more than just for posting photos on social media and getting likes from friends and strangers alike. Beauty is more than just using apps and software to clean one’s image to give a flawless look. Apparently, there are more ways by which beauty affects each and every one of us. Our obsession with all things beautiful means that we tend to enjoy interacting with people we find attractive. Interacting with attractive individuals tends to be an exhilarating experience for many, for almost all of us.

It has been proven that people tend to like those they view as beautiful more than those they do not see as beautiful. It has also been found that people tend to believe that physically-attractive individuals have better characters than those less attractive.  There is also the perception that people who are attractive tend to be warmer than those less attractive. Although, this is just a perception, very few people will argue against the power of perception. It goes without saying that the more physically attractive an individual is, the greater the chances of the one getting a date or even getting married.

Those who are more attractive are even thought to be more persuasive than those less attractive. There are several studies that show that those who have the good looks tend to get paid a lot more than other colleagues on the same scale of employment. It has even been argued that those who are better looking live better lives than those considered not too beautiful.

The beautiful and handsome ones among us are also more likely to be employed for a job than those who are not that good looking. This is quite interesting because if you ask those HR Managers and recruitment officers why they prefer the more physically-attractive applicants, these officers will not have very good reasons. It is nothing logical. If two individuals have the same qualification, it seems the more handsome or more beautiful one will get the job over the other less attractive person. This might not be fair. But is life ever fair?

But it seems even without knowing it and thus being unable to explain themselves with the most logical reason, human resource personnel might have very good reasons why physically-attractive individuals get jobs ahead of the less attractive. This is especially true for front line work. The fact is that customers just prefer being served by those who are deemed attractive.

The power of beauty is even not restricted to the appearance of front line employees. The results of a study published in the July 2018 of the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services showed that when customers were physically attractive, it had an effect on the way employees respond when there was service failure. The title of that report was “Complaint as a persuasion attempt: Front line employees’ perceptions of complaint legitimacy.” It is not too surprising that when employees find a customer physically attractive, there was a possibility that the employee will do a lot more to help recover the failed service situation.

There are other effects of the attractiveness of the customer-facing employee on the business-customer relationship. Studies have found that customers tend to like the physically-attractive employees and this increase in likability is extended to the company. In other words, organisations with more attractive front line employees tend to be more admired by customers than those with not-so-attractive employees. The beauty of the employees is transferred on to the entire brand.

It has even been discovered that when customer-handling employees are more attractive, customers tend to be more satisfied with the quality of the service. Customers will rate such services higher than services offered by employees who are not so physically attractive.  As a matter of fact, there are assertions that how physically attractive an employee is even has an influence on the repurchase intentions of customers. That is to say, the chances of customers coming back for more business increases when the one serving the customer is appealing to the eye. This is something that many people will relate to. A customer-facing lady that is very attractive can draw in a lot of customers, especially those of the opposite sex, to come make purchases—purchases that some of these men might not even need.

It seems one area where the power of a beautiful face has been so felt is in resolution of service failures. The results of an interesting study published in the March 2022 edition of the Journal of Business Research showed that an employee’s attractiveness had an effect on the reactions of customers when things go wrong. Titled Can beauty save service failures? The role of recovery employees’ physical attractiveness in the tourism industry,” the study made use of three well-crafted experiments.

The impact of beauty of the customer-handling professional on service recovery is of critical importance because many businesses have lost customers as a result of poor recovery efforts. Things occasionally go off script when it comes to dealing with customers. Computers crash. Systems shut down. Employees fall sick. Nature happens. These are all part and parcel of running a business. The problem therefore is not whether there will be failure. The problem is what a business is to do when things go wrong. In many instances, customers become so dissatisfied and therefore take their business to the competition. Customer attrition as a result of poor recovery is a fact of business life.

Customers will, in all likelihood, not stop doing business when all is going well. The truth is that it is when there is failure of any kind, and the organisation is unable to recover the situation well, that customers will begin to think of going elsewhere. Therefore, all businesses will do with any help they can get when it comes to handling service recovery situations. It is true that apologies and compensation help when dealing with aggrieved customers in a service recovery situation. However, if the results of the aforementioned study are anything to go by, then the looks of front line employees must also be considered when formulating service recovery strategies.

In talking about the attractiveness of front line employees and its effect on the responses of customers in a moment of service failure, it is also important to note that gender also plays a role in this dynamic. It has been found that male customers were more influenced by attractive female service employees than females were of attractive male service employees. This was one of the key findings in the report of a study published in the June 2017 edition of the Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management.


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