Robert Mai and Stefan Hoffmann, both of Dresden University of Technology, published “Four Positive Effects of a Salesperson’s Regional Dialect in Services Selling” in the August 2011 issue of Journal of Service Research. Professor Mai kindly provided the following responses to the article.
Who is the target audience for this article?
The findings of this study are of interest to researchers who analyze key drivers of business interactions, seller-buyer-relationships and personal selling of services. They are also relevant to marketers in fields which are characterized by extensive customer contact, such as personal selling, call and contact centers, or counseling.
What inspired you to be interested in this topic?
There were several recent incidents of job applicants being discriminated because of their regional dialect reported in the media. This was also confirmed by some job applicants we were talking to. For that reason, we were curious about the “actual” consequences of regional dialect in a business context. Do front line employees or salespeople with a regional speech pattern really do worse than speakers with standard speech?
Were There Findings That Were Surprising To You?
Our results were, indeed, truly unexpected. In contrast to conventional wisdom, we found that buyers do not generally devalue salespersons with a dialect. Our data shows that dialect is – under certain circumstances – even advantageous in services selling as it fosters customer satisfaction with the salesperson and the company.
How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?
As regards to marketing research, this study sheds light on an aspect of buyer-seller-interactions which has been vastly neglected. So far, research has analyzed what salespeople say, but not how they say it. On this account, we expect that our study stimulates further research on communicational aspect of the interaction between the buyer and the seller or service encounters in general. With respect to marketing practice, we provide new arguments for the debate on the impact of speech variation in business communication (e.g., regional dialects and foreign accents). Since we have shown that regional dialect is not a communication barrier per se, marketers and human resource specialist will (hopefully) reconsider their previously formed (sometimes stereotypical) evaluations of front line employees, salespersons or job applicants with a regional dialect.
How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?
This study is part of a broader stream of research. Besides regional dialects of salespeople, we further analyze foreign accents of communicators in quantitative studies. We also reviewed the business literature on para-verbal aspects of communication.
How did your paper change during the review process?
The reviewers’ comments helped us a lot. Our paper initially reported the results of one study conducted in a business-to-business context. The reviewers inspired us to conduct a follow-up study in a business-to-consumer context as well. By doing this, we were able to confirm our results in a different setting. Moreover, we did find meaningful differences in effect sizes between both settings.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?
If we could go back and do this study again, we would include more characteristics of regional dialects and some additional interesting variables. And of course we would try to gather more data to find more moderators and boundary conditions (e.g., product type). In future studies, we are going to delve deeper into this interesting topic. We will look at variables not covered by our study to give a better picture of speech variety effects in daily business.