Improving Service Quality for Consumers Experiencing Vulnerabilities in the Marketplace

Consumers whose social identities conflict with service providers, such as LGBTQIA+ couples seeking wedding services from religious businesses, might experience lower service quality or discrimination. Previous research has failed to identify a suitable intervention strategy for improving service quality for vulnerable consumers. Frank G. Cabano and Elizabeth A. Minton strive to fill this gap with “A Common Identity Intervention to Improve Service Quality for Consumers Experiencing Vulnerabilities,” which was published in the Journal of Service Research.

There are numerous examples in the United States and across the world of LGBTQIA+ consumers being discriminated against by service providers. For example, there have been recent cases of photographers, bakers, florists, dress designers, and others who have denied service to LGBTQIA+ consumers who were preparing to celebrate their big day. The growing number of these types of cases inspired us to empirically research such contexts where there are social identity conflicts between consumers and service providers and, importantly, identify ways to improve the service quality for such consumers experiencing vulnerabilities in the marketplace.

We conducted six studies in our research. Using the context of highly religious service providers or highly conservative service employees interacting with LGBTQIA+ consumers, we find that the motivation to avoid being affiliated with undesirable social identities reduces service quality toward these consumers. We also find that discrimination against such consumers occurs due to an increase in social identity threat perceptions associated with serving these consumers. In addition, we also identify an important boundary condition to these findings, such that this effect occurs when providing service that is high (vs. low) in identity relevance, such as a highly religious service provider potentially selling a wedding (vs. birthday) ring to a same-sex couple. Importantly, we demonstrate that a common identity intervention, where service providers focus on commonalities that they share with the consumers, is an effective strategy that increases service quality.

Headshots of authors Frank G. Cabano and Elizabeth A. Minton.
Frank G. Cabano (left) and Elizabeth A. Minton

In the field study in our paper, we worked with an LBGTQIA+ couple who was preparing for their upcoming wedding. We sent emails on behalf of the couple to a random sampling of 50 religious businesses (i.e., these businesses mentioned religious statements/values on their websites) that sold products that could be used as wedding favors. One of two emails was sent to each business: a control email or a common identity email. Both emails gave background information about the couple, including that they were a same-sex couple, and asked the business if they could provide 100 of their products for the wedding and the associated cost. The common identity email also mentioned how the couple and service provider are similar in many ways, such as both wanting to make a difference in the world for the better. We found that the common identity email significantly increased the providers’ likelihood of agreeing to provide service to the couple compared to the control condition (64 percent vs. 40 percent). We also conducted the same test with 50 control businesses that did not mention religious statements or values on their websites to ensure that the common identity intervention did not increase service quality for all businesses. As expected, we found no effect of the common identity email for these businesses.

With this research, we provide evidence for an intervention strategy that can improve the service quality that consumers experiencing vulnerabilities face in the marketplace. As such, our research is important for consumers, service providers, and public policy officials alike in order to increase marketplace inclusion for all consumers.

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Frank Cabano and Elizabeth Minton

Frank G. Cabano is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on religion’s influence on consumer behavior and identity-based consumption. His work has appeared in journals such as Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, European Journal of Marketing, and Psychology & Marketing.

Elizabeth A. Minton is an associate professor of marketing at the University of Wyoming. She has published papers on religion and consumer behavior, pro-social marketing, and priming and cueing theory. Her work has appeared in journals such as Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Business Research, and Psychology & Marketing.

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