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

The Brown Derby’s Mysterioso was one of three entries in the 2020 Armstrong Professional Grilled Cheese Sandwich competition held Tuesday, Oct. 20. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Bakery gets judges’ attention in Armstrong pro grilled cheese sandwich event

Country Bakery’s German Kase Pretzel Grilled Cheese oozes past Brown Derby, Wild Oak Café

A power outage caused by a vehicle crash affected 2,178 BC Hydro customers in Enderby Wednesday night, Oct. 21, 2020. (BC Hydro image)
Vehicle crash in Enderby knocks out power for more than 2,000

BC Hydro crews are expected to arrive by 6:30 p.m.

Ahead of the provincial election on Oct. 24, Enderby residents put their questions to the Shuswap riding’s three candidates: Greg Kyllo for the BC Liberal Party, Sylvia Lindgren for the BC NDP and Owen Madden for the BC Green Party. The candidates recorded their answers in videos distributed by the Enderby and District Chamber of Commerce. (Salmon Arm Observer image)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Shuswap candidates answer Enderby’s top election questions

The candidates submitted video responses for an all-candidates forum ahead of the Oct. 24 election

Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community announced Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, The Lodge will close by February 2021. (Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community)
Coldstream retirement community to close Lodge

Staff to work with residents of the Lodge to find new accommodation

Judy Mallett, a Butcher Boys employee for 44 years, known for her fun-loving nature and fundraising abilities, died of cancer Oct. 4 at age 70. (Photo submitted)
Fun-loving Vernon grocery clerk fondly remembered

Judy Mallett, who worked for Butcher Boys for 46 years, died Oct. 4.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Princeton man on motor scooter refuses to provide breath test to police

The scooter did not have a license plate and was not insured

Most Read