SERVICE AND EXPERIENCE: Beauty to the Rescue (cont’d)—Physical attractiveness and service experience implications

J. N. Halm

The power of attractiveness in the shopping experience can be quite impactful, as found in a series of experiments written about in the December 2008 edition of the Journal of Marketing Research. The study was titled “Positive Consumer Contagion: Responses to Attractive Others in a Retail Context” and relied on real-life retail shopping experiences. The key finding of this particular study was that customers were more likely to place a higher value on a product when they perceive that product to have been touched by someone who is deemed to be very attractive. This is contagion in its most positive sense.

The researchers added that for positive contagion to occur, the one who touched the item must be of a different gender to the one who saw the item being touched. In other words, a male customer will find a product attractive if the product had been touched by an attractive female. Crazy as this might come across, the researchers insisted that truly there is a positive contagion that arises from people finding others very attractive.

The impact of beauty on the business-customer interaction and relationship goes just beyond face-to-face interaction. A study reported of in a 1977 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that even over the telephone, the effects of beauty were still profound. The study was titled, “Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes”. The researchers found that when male participants believed they were talking to attractive ladies on the other end of the line, the men behaved warmer and more personably.

Interestingly, it came to light that by behaving in that manner, the men were able to elicited pleasant responses from the women on the end of the line. Just the thought of talking to a beautiful individual caused the behaviour to pleasantly change, even if that person is a total stranger. That person over the phone also began to behave appropriately in turn because they were being treated nicely. That’s the power of beauty!

Applying the findings of this particular study to customer service and customer experience can really have an impact on the quality of conversations that occur over the phone between front line professionals and customers. If a customer service professional would only imagine talking to the most attractive individual over the telephone, then the probability of that conversation going so well becomes higher. The power of visualisation combine with our love of the attractive is the key to unlocking the most wonderful interactions between customers and customer service professionals.

As with many things in life, there are always the downsides. Dealing with beautiful people also has its downsides. For starters, it has been found that the impact of attractiveness decreases over time. A customer can be greatly impacted by a service provider’s attractiveness for the first time. However, over a period of time and after repeated exposure to the one’s attractiveness, that impact wanes. The Wise Man was right when he wrote, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting….”

There is also a fascinating corollary to the effect of beauty. Customers, just like all other human beings, are very conscious of making very positive first impressions on others. People prefer to make a favourable impression on others, especially those they are meeting for the very first time. This desire to make a good first impression is so strong that it always brings up interesting reactions from people. Self-presentation. That is what scientists call that consciousness to want to put out the very best versions of us.

An interesting study that was reported in the August 2015 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research found that there were instances where the beauty of the customer-facing professional could rather be a disadvantage. According to that study, titled “Consumer Reactions to Attractive Service Providers: Approach or Avoid?,” one of these instances is when the customer wants to make a good impression on the very attractive employee.

In that case, customers become intimidated by the attractiveness of the customer-facing employee. The desire to also look good in the presence of the good-looking customer service professional can cause anxiety in the customer. This then leads to one of those few times that the customer will prefer to deal with a less attractive customer-handling employee. The beauty of the customer-facing professional then becomes a huge disadvantage.

It has been explained that when faced with those deemed to be not so attractive, individuals tend not to be so concerned about the impressions they make on that person. However, when it comes to dealing those deemed attractive, then people become very concerned about the impressions they make on the attractive person.

The desire to present a good image of oneself has even been found to hold over the telephone. Researchers found that when people believe they were dealing with someone of average beauty, people tend to form impression of the other person on the line through what the one says. However, when individuals believe that the one they are having a conversation is a very attractive person, then people tend to become more conscious of what they say over the phone. They choose their words more carefully just to give a good first impression. In other words, when we are dealing with the not-so-attractive, then it is the not-so-beautiful person who is under scrutiny. However, when dealing with the very attractive, then we are the ones under scrutiny and must therefore make a good impression. That is the power of beauty.

The tendency for customers to prefer not to deal with customer service professionals deemed attractive is something that has been noticed for years. In the mid-70s, a study was done which found that customers who were by nature not too confident in themselves would walk further away from attractive customer-facing professionals. The anxiety of these individuals always got the better of them when they encounter attractive people. In other words, the customer’s own inherent traits can cause an opposite effect of beauty from the norm.

If the customer has no other choice than to deal with the very attractive customer service profession, that customer might even decide against making that purchase. This is a very drastic move. It is pretty serious that a customer will abandon or not make a repeat purchase in order not to deal with someone very attractive. But that is the power of attractiveness. It stands to reason therefore that there are organisations losing business because those serving customers are too physically attractive for certain customers.

What makes this finding even more intriguing is that the results still hold, regardless of the gender of the customer and the employee. The study found that the only difference was in the customer’s reasons for wanting to stay away from the attractive employee. If the employee is of the same sex as the customer, then the customer tends to engage in comparison with the employee. In this case, the female customer will view a very attractive female customer-handling employee with some tints of jealousy. Why should this person be endowed with more beauty than I have? That is the question that will pop up in the customer’s mind.

However, if the employee is of the opposite gender, then the customer’s reason will be sexual in nature. The customer’s innate sexual tendencies may kick and the one will begin to ask questions such as “Why will this very attractive person want to deal with me?”

That study also found that what made this aversion to dealing with beautiful employees even more telling was the product being purchased. The chances of the customer having anxiety when dealing with a very attractive front line professional increases when the customer is buying products that come with some kind of embarrassment. These products include condoms and weight loss pills.

From the above discussion, it should be abundantly clear that the issue of beauty cannot be overlook. Physical attractiveness, whether of the customer or the one serving the customer, is of great importance. For as long as individuals will physically be at the forefront of delivering service, the physical state of those professionals will continue to play a very important role in the customer’s experience. Customers will continue to judge those who serve them not only by their friendliness, product knowledge, etc. but also by the way those professionals look. This is fact that businesses must accept and do something about.

It is a fact that the customer’s experience is the deciding factor in the prospects of any business. If the customer’s experience does not match the one’s expectation, the chances of that customer returning for more will be quite low. It is also a fact that the outward appearance of the customer service employee is part of the experience of the customer. This is why organisations cannot take the look of those who serve customers for granted. In designing the ideal customer experience, a business must leave nothing to chance.

It might come across as vain but if it is going to help a business stay in business, then I am all for staffing the front line with the most beautiful faces that the business can find. If all else fails, beauty can come to the rescue. Beauty might be just skin deep but it definitely is a valuable asset to have.

Leave a Reply