Great deals lead to worse treatment for customer service workers: study

New psychological study looks at the implications of a bargain-hunting mentality

As shoppers search for the best post-Christmas deals, a study by the University of British Columbia has found bargain hunters tend to dehumanize customer service staff.

The study published this month in the Journal of Consumer Psychology looked at the implications of a bargain-hunting mentality and found it causes shoppers to be less attuned to the human needs of employees and more likely to report bad service.

“It kind of has this perverse effect of, ‘Oh I’m paying less, hence they’re worth less,’ and the other effect that is, I am so narrowing down on paying the lowest price that I don’t take the time to look around and appreciate what’s going on,” said co-author Johannes Boegershausen, a PhD student at the Sauder school of business.

In one experiment, researchers compared over 2,000 online reviews of airlines Lufthansa and the low-cost carrier Ryanair by looking specifically for more than 100 words that reflect the humanity behind the service, such as friendly, compassionate, kind or helpful.

The humanizing terms were used far less often for Ryanair than the higher-end Lufthansa, even when results were adjusted for differences in quality.

Perceptions of advertising between the two airlines were also tested. Identical ads of a flight attendant branded for both airlines and a neutral non-brand found that people perceived the Ryanair employee in a lesser light.

Boegershausen said it’s believed this is the result of the perceived cost-benefit of the interaction based on market pricing.

The perceptions can also affect how consumers then rate their experience with a customer service agent.

In a test asking consumers to rent a car online that included interacting with a rude employee in a chat room, consumers tasked with finding the best deal were harsher in their review of the chat support.

With car rental or car sharing platforms, such as Uber and Lyft, relying on customer reviews to monitor the quality of their employees, Boegershausen said bargain hunters are 18 per cent more likely to leave a review that triggers a disciplinary meeting for a driver.

“Basically when you shop at price-conscious mentality … you actually perceive the employee as somewhat less human and because of that, when they do something wrong, you punish them more, or you are more likely to punish them,” he said.

The findings are not intended to paint bargain hunters in a bad light, Boegershausen said.

“I think almost every one of us is in that state at some point in their life through, say, a particular sale and it’s not that we’re necessarily particularly bad people, but we can lose sight of what is really important,” he said.

Employers with discount brands should keep in mind that their staff may face greater stress and burnout when facing price-conscious consumers, he said.

Especially during the deal hunting around the holiday season, Boegershausen said.

“It’s a little ironic that Christmas is a celebration of love and that can get lost very quickly,” he said.

“It’s not that much of an extra effort to treat someone with human kindness.”

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fire Chefs give back to community with one free meal a day to those who are in need

Fire Chefs will offer one free meal from 3:30 until 4:30 on the days they are open to those in need.

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

COVID-19: Isolation exemptions to frontline workers a danger to patients, say Island Health employees

Staff exempt from self-isolation upon return from international travel according to Island Health

North Island community groups are adapting due to COVID-19

‘The coronavirus and its effects make this a challenging time for us all’

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Thousands of beds have been freed up, but patients and seniors have had to sacrifice

Crucial details of Ottawa’s proposed wage subsidy program expected today

The government has rolled out a bailout package totalling more than $200 billion

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

World COVID-19 morning update: Olympics delayed one year; 12,000 health care workers infected

Comprehensive world news update: Lockdown in UK showing signs of hope

Newspapers are safe to touch, World Health Organization confirms

Just make sure to wash your hands as you would after touching any surface or object

‘It’s up to us: Recently-returned B.C. couple urges Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

Most Read