Increasing competition, changing immigration patterns and growth in technological developments have all contributed to the transformation of the marketplace. Consequently, the demographic profile of today's customer has undergone considerable alterations, and in turn organisations have had to reassess their internal and external operations. Recent national demographic statistics (ABS, 1999) indicate that within Australia the customers' profile is becoming increasingly diverse, a trend that organisations are encouraged to tackle proactively. This thesis focuses on one aspect of organisational operations, namely, the employee and customer interface. Although the behaviours of service providers are influential in a customer's evaluation of service quality (Mohr & Henson, 1996; Rafaeli, 1993), to date, little attention has been given to the factors contributing to provider behaviours when interacting with racially dissimilar customers. This void in research warrants further investigation, especially in light of evidence that despite the development of legislation, promotion of racial equality and growth in egalitarian attitudes, negative attitudes towards racial minorities prevail (White & Harkins, 1994).
The purpose of this thesis is to address this notable gap by employing a multi-method research design incorporating Social Identity Theory, Integrated Threat Theory, Communication Accommodation Theory and the Similarity Attraction Paradigm to build theory. Three studies were undertaken in sequential order comprising interviews, observations and questionnaires. Study 1 reports detailed accounts of service encounters as experienced by racially diverse customers. In particular, focus is placed on verbal and non-verbal behaviours attributed to perceptions of inferior service treatment and customer dissatisfaction. Study 2 involved numerous observations, which centred on contextual and behavioural characteristics of racially similar and dissimilar provider and customer dyads.
Results from both interviews and observations support the key proposition of this thesis, that the quality of service provided is influenced by the customer's racial profile, which, in turn, impacts customer satisfaction. Through the identification of specific Customer Service Behaviours (CSB), a Behavioural Observation Scale (BOS) was created. Consisting of both verbal and non-verbal behaviours (greeting, eye contact, tone, speed and volume of voice, employee effort and closure) the BOS symbolises areas where CSB may vary between racially similar and dissimilar provider-customer dyads. In essence, the BOS provided the overall framework for the development of Study 3, which utilised three questionnaires targeting management, employees and customers within the banking and travel industries. Analysis of the questionnaire data highlighted the relationship between organisational practices, employee emotional competence, diversity openness and affectivity, and customer satisfaction. In particular, the results showed that racially dissimilar customers received inferior service treatment and, subsequently, experienced lower levels of satisfaction. In addition, the results also indicated an interdependent relationship between employee emotional competence, diversity openness and positive and negative affectivity. Reflecting on the overall research findings, implications for organisational policies and practices are discussed, particularly pertaining to customer service and human resource management.