TitleWho Cares if "Service with a Smile" is Authentic?: An Expectancy-Based Model of Customer Race and Perceptions of Service Interactions
Publication TypeJournal Articles
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsHouston, L, Grandey, AA, Sawyer, K
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Date Published2017

“Service with a smile” improves performance ratings, but it is unclear whether that smile must always be authentic. We propose that reactions to a service employee’s display authenticity may depend on the customer’s race, due to a history of differential service experiences. Further, we propose that these experiences inform customers’ expectations, such that White customers are more likely than Black customers to expect friendly “service with a smile.” To test this conjecture, we first confirm that Blacks have lower service performance expectations than Whites due to a history of mistreatment in a service context. In two experimental studies and a field study, we then show that authenticity is a stronger predictor of performance-based evaluations (i.e., exceeded expectations) for White customers than for Black customers. Our findings underscore the impact of the racially biased treatment that Black customers have come to expect and the challenge of pleasing a diverse customer base.