Bargain Hunters View Customer Service Workers As Less Than Human, Study Finds

VANCOUVER — Bargain hunters may be too hyper-focused on finding a good deal that they fail to extend common courtesies to store employees who help them. That’s according to recent research which found super-savers view customer service representatives as less than human.

According to researchers at the University of British Columbia, when it comes to deep discounts, deep discrimination and dehumanization comes in to play for some hoity-toity shoppers.

Woman shopping
Bargain hunters may be too hyper-focused on finding a good deal that they fail to extend common courtesies to store employees who help them.

The study was comprised of a series of experiments. One monitored the use of humanizing words when shoppers were asked to review the discount airline Ryanair in comparison with reviews of Lufthasa. Discount shoppers used fewer humanizing trait words in their reviews of Ryanair than in their reviews of Lufthasa, even when factoring in the real differences in quality between the two airlines.

“When shoppers focus only on paying the lowest price, they become less attuned to understanding the human needs of others, or even recognizing them,” explains Johannes Boegershausen, a UBC Sauder School of Business PhD student and study co-author, in a statement.

In another study, participants were shown pictures of flight attendants wearing uniforms from both airlines, and attendants with neutral uniforms. The participants saw the un-uniformed attendant and the Lufthasa attendant as relatively equal, but the Ryanair attendant was perceived as somehow below them.

“We simply varied the brand, and found that people ascribed lower capabilities for experiencing emotions and feelings to the Ryanair flight attendant,” says Boegershausen. The researchers added that this casual and subtle dehumanization takes many forms and is not always intentional. The researchers compared customers whose mindset was to save as much money as possible with customers with different mindsets.

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The researchers also point out that bad customer service and the dehumanization of customer service workers operates sometimes in a vicious circle. An employee who is mistreated by a rude customer is more likely to treat the next customer badly, who goes on to treat another employee badly, and so on.

“I think most consumers, myself included, are guilty of this at some point. When you really drill down, you don’t really recognize that someone is fully human anymore,” argues Boegershausen. “But it doesn’t take much to be human and to let others know you recognize them as human. Everyone has the right to be considered human.”

The full study was published Dec. 13, 2017 in the Journal of Customer Psychology.

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