Mistreated Customer Service Employees Seek Revenge
A busy hotel concierge.
Credit: Georgescu Gabriel, Shutterstock

Treating service employees rudely is likely to earn you revenge in North America — but Chinese employees will take their anger with you out on everyone.

Those are the findings of a new study to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Personnel Psychology, which examined how customer service employees at a luxury hotel responded to nasty treatment. The findings are important for companies planning to expand abroad, said study researcher Danial Skarlicki of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.

“North Americans take a surgical approach to abuse, zeroing in on individuals who mistreated them,” Skarlicki said in a statement. “Chinese don’t blame the transgressor. They blame the system — the company or customers they serve.”

The researchers first held focus groups with employees at an upscale hotel chain with locations in Beijing and Vancouver, and then turned the feedback from those small discussions into a series of surveys with 132 Beijing employees and 82 Vancouverites.

They found that the Canadian employees were 20 percent more likely than Chinese employees to sabotage a rude guest, perhaps by giving bad directions or making sure their food is cold before serving it.

The Chinese employees, on the other hand, were more likely to say they responded to rudeness by becoming less enthusiastic about their jobs in general. After experiencing rudeness from a customer, Beijing employees were 19 percent more likely than Vancouver employees to say they'd go above and beyond their job requirements for hotel guests.

"When service-oriented companies go global, they need to heighten their sensitivity to how culture in a new market can influence the performance of frontline staff and tallor their customer service operations accordingly," Skarlicki said.

The reactions from each culture fit with previous research, he said. Many studies have found that North Americans are more individualistic than Chinese citizens, who tend to be more collectivistic.

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