Friday, June 26, 2009

Judge a book by its cover at your own peril

One hundred and ten years after its 1818 founding in New York City, venerable retailer Brooks Brothers opened its second store, in Boston, on that city’s famed Newbury Street. A cautionary tale for the ages happened one morning when a man entered the store in tattered clothing, wearing rubber boots, and smelling a bit rank. The “up” salesman would not wait on him (the associate whose turn it was to help the next customer). The other salesmen looked away, busying themselves with anything else to avoid the unwelcome stranger. When the man finally asked for help from anyone within earshot, he was pawned off on the most junior salesman, who had no choice but to offer some assistance. Then, in the next two hours, the stranger ordered up $10,000 in custom-made suits, shoes and furnishings. (As you might guess, the “up” man tried to claim the sale as his own, to no avail). When the young salesman began asking the stranger about himself, he learned the man just arrived in town from his home in Vermont, where he was the owner of a highly successful hog farming business.

Fast–forward to the reverse situation. What happens when customers are the ones judging salespeople? According to a recent article in the New York Times, a new study found that people give higher customer satisfaction ratings to white male employees than to women and members of minorities, even when their performance is the same. In one test, about 12,000 patients in an HMO rated their doctors. The number of follow-up email messages doctors sent to patients increased their patient ratings only when the doctor was a white man. In another experiment, students watched videotaped interactions between a bookshop sales clerk and customers, and were asked to rate the customer service. Three actors played the part of the sales clerk—a white male, a black male, and a white female. All used the same settings and scripts. The subjects shown the white male clerk rated the bookshop’s service 19% higher than subjects who viewed the other two actors. Even women and people of color gave white males higher marks. Since over 60 percent of employees have at least some of their pay linked to customer satisfaction results, these biases are not just socially undesirable, they hit female and minority employees squarely in the pocketbook.

According to David R. Hekman, the lead author of the study and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, “Someone needs to call customers out on their biases.” Hopefully, if people are made aware of their subconscious biases through coverage of studies like these, they will be less likely to penalize female and minority employees on satisfaction surveys. Another possibility would be to create employee evaluation tools that are truly objective. Techniques such as video analytics can deliver a bias-free analysis of the customer experience. Any other ideas on how we can eradicate the hidden biases that occur when shoppers evaluate employees (or vice versa)?
Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark

No comments:

Post a Comment