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This study examines the effects of cleanliness and neatness in employee appearance on customer approach to a service interaction, identifying customer emotions and cognitions as mediators. Participants (n = 209) viewed one of six video clips, comprising two sets of three, showing a bank employee at work. The two sets were identical in all respects except for the cleanliness of employee appearance. Participants expressed more interest in approaching and in doing business with a service provider whose attire was clean and neat (as opposed to messy and dirty). Customer emotions (feelings of pleasantness) and cognitions (attributions of power) mediated the effect of cleanliness. Implications for research and management of employee appearance in customer service delivery are discussed.
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Services Marketing Quarterly
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The Effects of a Service Provider's Messy
Appearance on Customer Reactions
Iris Vilnai-Yavetz a & Anat Rafaeli b
a Department of Business Administration , Ruppin Academic Center ,
Emek Hefer, Israel
b Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion
Institute of Technology , Haifa, Israel
Published online: 24 Jun 2011.
To cite this article: Iris Vilnai-Yavetz & Anat Rafaeli (2011) The Effects of a Service Provider's
Messy Appearance on Customer Reactions, Services Marketing Quarterly, 32:3, 161-180, DOI:
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The Effects of a Service Provider’s Messy
Appearance on Customer Reactions
Department of Business Administration, Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer, Israel
Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion Institute of Technology,
Haifa, Israel
This study examines the effects of cleanliness and neatness in
employee appearance on customer approach to a service interac-
tion, identifying customer emotions and cognitions as mediators.
Participants (n ¼209) viewed one of six video clips, comprising
two sets of three, showing a bank employee at work. The two sets
were identical in all respects except for the cleanliness of employee
appearance. Participants expressed more interest in approaching
and in doing business with a service provider whose attire was
clean and neat (as opposed to messy and dirty). Customer emo-
tions (feelings of pleasantness) and cognitions (attributions of
power) mediated the effect of cleanliness. Implications for research
and management of employee appearance in customer service
delivery are discussed.
KEYWORDS cleanliness, emotion, employee appearance,
employee dress, power attribution, uniform
Service employees are critical participants in customer service delivery
(Gutek, 1999; Menon & Dube, 2000). As such, they also comprise an impor-
tant part of the organization’s public face, representing it in their appearance
and behavior (Rafaeli & Pratt, 1993). This article suggests that employee
appearance, specifically dress, may be one factor that promotes or discour-
ages customer approach toward a service organization. More conceptually,
it is suggested that the degree to which employees present a clean, neat
Address correspondence to Iris Vilnai-Yavetz, Department of Business Administration,
Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer 40250, Israel. E-mail:
Services Marketing Quarterly, 32:161–180, 2011
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1533-2969 print=1533-2977 online
DOI: 10.1080/15332969.2011.581890
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and tidy appearance is an important part of the service environment—or the
‘‘servicescape’ ’’ (Bitner, 1992)—and as such can influence both the feelings
of pleasantness experienced by customers and their attributions of power
to service employees, which in turn can influence customer approach toward
a service interaction.
Although cleanliness may seem to be an obvious variable for analysis of
service delivery or fashion marketing, it has received little empirical or theor-
etical attention from scholars. This work, therefore, begins by suggesting a
theoretical analysis of cleanliness and neatness in employee appearance,
based on three theoretical dimensions: instrumentality, aesthetics, and sym-
bolism (Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2004a, 2004b). This is followed by a brief
review of how the elements of cleanliness and neatness fit within the struc-
ture of customer reactions to service interactions. Research hypotheses then
build on the three theoretical dimensions to link cleanliness of employee
appearance to customer reactions.
Appearance of Customer Service Employees
Employers often attempt to screen potential employees based on physical
features, such as weight or body shape (Witz, Warhurst, & Nickson, 2003).
The focus in this article is not on such physical features, but rather on how
employees present themselves through decisions about clothing, ornaments,
and other such controllable elements of appearance (Rafaeli & Pratt, 1993;
Rafaeli, Dutton, Harquail, & Mackie-Lewis, 1997). Employee dress, in parti-
cular, has been argued to have powerful effects on customers (Fussell,
2002; Joseph, 1986; Molloy, 1975; Shao, Baker, & Wagner, 2004; Solomon,
1998). Indeed, decisions about the appearance of customer service employ-
ees command careful attention from many organizations, which view emp-
loyee appearance as anchoring customer impressions and reactions to an
otherwise abstract and intangible service experience (Bitner, 1992; Iacobucci,
1998; Solomon, 1998). These efforts to shape employees appearance can be
titled employee branding, since organizations use employees’ appearance to
influence the thoughts and behavior of their customers and the employees
themselves (Harquail, 2006). For this reason, organizations often require
customer service employees to wear particular colors or styles of clothing,
and in some cases even supply employees with a required uniform.
Despite—or because of—the powerful anecdotal evidence, however,
only limited empirical research has examined the effects of employee
appearance on customer reactions. Especially missing is research on the
effects of different aspects of appearance. Most previous analyses have
regarded employee appearance as symbolizing organizational values
(Forsythe, 1990; Jones, 1996; Swartz, 1983)—for example, traditional
men’s business attire (dark pants, white shirt, and a tie) as representing
professionalism and competence—but have overlooked the fact that
162 I. Vilnai-Yavetz and A. Rafaeli
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employee dress and appearance can, in itself, be multifaceted. For example,
the same pattern of dress might produce different customer reactions
depending on whether the clothes are clean and pressed, or stained and
The implications of neatness and cleanliness in employee appearance
are considered here in terms of three theoretical dimensions: (a) instrumen-
tality—their effects on the quality of employee performance at work; (b)
aesthetics—the sensory experience they evoke; and (c) symbolism—the
associations they elicit. To illustrate, while analyzing a waiter’s dress it can
be asked, first, does it allow the waiter to provide efficient and effective ser-
vice? (instrumentality). Second, is it perceived by customers as pleasing or
unattractive? (aesthetics). And third, what does it communicate to customers?
Does it represent quality service? (symbolism). These qualities of instrumen-
tality, aesthetics, and symbolism are used to examine the influence of cleanli-
ness and neatness in employee appearance on customer reactions, as a
foundation for the theoretical understanding of cleanliness.
Before proceeding, it should be noted that in a service setting, a dirty or
untidy environment could be perceived as appropriate or inappropriate
depending on the context of the service task. A bank or hotel employee
wearing rumpled or stained clothing would be judged very differently from
say, a mechanic in a garage. Shao et al. (2004), for instance, documented the
effects of the appropriateness of service personnel dress on customers, and
showed that appropriate (vs. inappropriate) dress resulted in higher service
quality expectations and purchase intent. Thus, in the following discussion,
terms like neat, clean and dirty are used to refer to degrees of cleanliness and
order deemed appropriate for a particular service context.
Hygiene is colloquially presumed to be important to consumers, but research
on its effects is very limited. One exception is Hoffman, Kelley, and Chung
(2003), who—using the critical incidents method—asked customers to report
service failures that were or were not satisfactorily resolved. They found that
issues involving cleanliness and hygiene—such as complaints about plastic
objects found in food and human hair found in bedding—accounted for a
majority (over 60%) of servicescape failures in hotel services. A finer coding
of Hoffman et al.’s (2003) data identified dirt in particular as a key service
failure issue: When people were asked to rate the relative importance
of possible servicescape failures, dirt was consistently rated as the most
Hoffman et al.’s (2003) study could not identify what about dirt is so dis-
turbing to consumers, but the three dimensions noted previously can help
answer this question. First, the presence or absence of dirt has instrumental,
practical importance: neatness and cleanliness are presumed to promote
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 163
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effective accomplishment of general work tasks (Leddy, 1995). Indeed, in
many service occupations, such as food or medical services, cleanliness
has a supreme role in ensuring the health and safety of consumers—surely
a key element in providing quality service. Second, cleanliness (or dirtiness)
has aesthetic aspects: a clean and orderly service environment is pleasing to
the eye, whereas a dirty and messy one will be perceived as ugly or
unpleasant. Along these lines, Leddy (1995) suggests that cleanliness and
neatness are the foundations of more complex aesthetic notions such as
harmony and beauty.
Third, cleanliness and neatness, or alternatively dirtiness and messiness,
are symbolic in that they convey values and elicit associations. Harris and
Sachau (2005), for example, find dirt to be associated with laziness, poverty,
low status, and immorality, while cleanliness is argued to symbolize purity
and goodness. Academic research has supported tidiness and cleanliness
in offices as symbolizing openness and willingness to help (Harris & Sachau,
2005) or as communicating the importance of the employee in the organiza-
tional hierarchy (Vilnai-Yavetz, Rafaeli, & Schneider-Yaacov, 2005).
Building on these three dimensions, it is next suggested that the degree
to which customer service agents present a clean and neat, or untidy and
dirty, appearance is likely to impact the service delivery process by evoking
specific emotions in the consumer—emotions that either attract consumers to
the service agent, or repel them. First, the mediating mechanism—consu-
mers’ emotional reactions to dirty versus clean employee appearance—is
being discussed. This discussion is followed with specific predictions about
a key outcome of these reactions—employee approach (or avoidance) of a
service interaction.
Consumer Reactions—Pleasantness and Power—In the Face of
Clean Versus Dirty Employee Appearance
Consumers’ reactions to the general servicescape (i.e., the physical appear-
ance of a service location) are known to influence their emotions (Bitner,
1992); and customers’ emotions, in turn, are known to be critical to the suc-
cess or failure of service encounters (Bagozzi, Gopinath, & Nyer, 1999;
Mattila & Enz, 2002; Mattila & Wirtz, 2000). But the effects of neat and clean
versus messy and dirty employee appearance on customer emotions has
received little research attention. In addressing this issue, the focus is on
one key customer emotion—pleasantness. Pleasantness is the hedonic
element of emotion, referring to the degree to which people feel good or
happy (Feldman-Barrett & Russell, 1999; Mehrabian & Russell, 1974).
Pleasantness is central to customer satisfaction (Bagozzi et al., 1999) and
reactions to service interactions (Berry, 1999), and can explain various
aspects of customer behavior (Donovan & Rossiter, 1982; Sherman, Mathur,
& Belk Smith, 1997). Mattila and Wirtz (2000) and Wirtz, Mattila, and Tan
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(2000) showed separate effects of pleasantness and arousal as predictors of
customer evaluations of service episodes.
Besides looking at emotion, another key element of service encounters
is being considered: the power attributions made by customers. Customers
inevitably make judgments about the control or autonomy held by the
employees they encounter (Bateson, 1985; Mars & Nicod, 1984). Power is
mentioned as one of the dimensions of pure affect (Russell & Mehrabian,
1977), but is more commonly thought of as one of the precursors to emo-
tion (Kuller, 1991; Russell & Pratt, 1980; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985; Tiedens,
2001). Power struggles abound in service encounters because both employ-
ees and customers regard themselves as holding power in the interaction
(Bateson, 1985; Rafaeli, 1989). Perhaps paradoxically, while customers
may have a sense of power in a service encounter (because they are paying
for the service), they also like to feel that the service provider has authority
and is in control of the situation (Kluger & Rafaeli, 2000). Management of
the power interplay in a service encounter is therefore a key to manage-
ment of the encounter itself. Dress has been argued to be one of the ways
in which service providers can transmit a message of power and dominance
to customers (Bickman, 1974; Daniel, Johnson, & Miller, 1996; Maysonave,
As developed next, it is suggested that cleanliness and neatness of a
service employee is likely to evoke in customers a feeling of pleasantness
and a sense that the employee holds power, which, as summarized in
Figure 1, influence customer interest in a business interaction with the
FIGURE 1 Predicted relationships between cleanliness of employee appearance, customer
reactions, and customer approach toward a service interaction. Note. The solid lines represent
direct influence and the dotted lines represent mediated influence of cleanliness on customer
approach toward a service interaction.
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 165
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Cleanliness (or Dirtiness) of Customer Service Employees and
Customer Reactions
It is first predicted that cleanliness and neatness in employee dress impact
customers’ feelings of pleasantness. Each of the three theoretical dimensions
outlined previously—instrumentality, aesthetics, and symbolism—can influ-
ence the extent to which customers feel pleasantness. Regarding instrumen-
tality, customers are likely to assume that employees whose attire is clean and
neat are more hygienic, more careful, and therefore more effective employ-
ees. On the aesthetic level, clean and neat dress is likely to be perceived as
more attractive (Leddy, 1995; Nasar, 1994; Strati, 1992). In empirical studies,
high aesthetics have been reported to evoke feelings of pleasantness in stu-
dies of supermarkets (Gilboa & Rafaeli, 2003), public transportation vehicles
(Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2004a), and Web sites (Mummalaneni, 2005). In one
study that considered aesthetics of employee attire, it too has been found to
produce positive reactions (Forsythe, 1990). Finally, clean and neat
employee attire can be predicted to symbolize desirable values, such as ser-
vice orientation (Bitner, 1992; Daniel et al., 1996; Harris & Sachau, 2005; Shao
et al., 2004; Trice & Beyer, 1993). Thus, the first hypothesis predicts positive
emotional reactions to clean and neat employee appearance:
H1: A clean and neat employee appearance will produce greater feelings
of pleasantness in customers.
A second outcome that can be predicted regards the degree of power the
employee is perceived as holding. As noted before, dress was documented
as indicating hierarchy and status, and as one of the ways in which service
providers can transmit a message of authority to customers (Daniel et al.,
1996). Customers are likely to view employees wearing neat, clean attire as
more effective in accomplishing their tasks (Leddy, 1995)—itself a necessary
precursor to power. The higher aesthetics of a neater appearance and the
greater attraction of people to highly aesthetic individuals can also impact
the power attributed by customers to an employee (Bower & Landreth,
2001). The marketing literature is replete with evidence of the effectiveness
of using physically attractive spokespeople in advertising (Belch, Belch, &
Villareal, 1987; Joseph, 1982), again suggesting that attractive (i.e., aesthetic)
people hold great social power. Based on a review of 76 studies, Eagly, Ash-
more, Makhijani, and Longo (1991) reported that physically attractive people
are perceived more favorably than others in a variety of personality traits,
including social and intellectual competence. Bower (2001) further docu-
mented that attractive models appearing on a magazine cover leave readers
feeling relatively inferior in comparison. Extending this idea, it can be
166 I. Vilnai-Yavetz and A. Rafaeli
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predicted that a neater, more aesthetic appearance of a customer service
employee will lead to attributions of greater competence and power. Hence,
the second hypothesis:
H2: Customers will presume that employees wearing neat, clean, and tidy
attire have more power than employees wearing dirty or messy attire.
Customer feelings are important as a way to obtain customer loyalty and
retention. In the final leg of this analysis, it is suggested that customer loyalty
or interest in a service interaction can be influenced by the cleanliness and
neatness of employee appearance.
Cleanliness of Employee Appearance and Customer Interest in a
Service Interaction: The Mediating Role of Customer Reactions
Interactions between employees and customers are central to the service
process—the nexus of the economic exchange between organizations and
customers (Evans, Arnold, & Grant, 1999; Gutek, 1999; Iacobucci, 1998). Cus-
tomers understand and accept their responsibility to pay for a service, but the
need to pay also endows customers with the right to choose between service
providers (Dick & Basu, 1994; Liao & Chuang, 2004). A central issue is, there-
fore, what factors or conditions attract customers to approach or accept an
initial business interaction with a service organization (Dube, Chebat, &
Morin, 1995; Gremler & Gwinner, 2000). The appearance of customer service
employees, and in particular the degree to which this appearance is clean,
neat, and aesthetic, is likely to influence this approach behavior through
its influence on customer feelings of pleasantness and customer perceptions
of employee power (see Figure 1).
In this set of hypotheses, it is first suggested that employee appearance
can predict customer approach toward a service interaction. The appearance
of employees—like other servicescape features—can provoke approach or
avoid reactions (Shao et al., 2004). After an encounter with an employee
has produced particular emotions, a customer may be more or less inclined
to return for additional interactions with the same employee (Pratt & Rafaeli,
2001). In this vein, Hoffman et al. (2003) found that servicescape failures
associated with cleanliness led to very low customer retention rates, and that
customers refused to forgive or forget dirt. Hoffman et al. (2003) concluded
that service recovery from cleanliness problems is very difficult, which sup-
ports a relationship between the cleanliness of employee appearance and
customer approach toward a service interaction:
H3: A neat and clean appearance of employees will create greater cus-
tomer approach toward a service interaction than a dirty or messy
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 167
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As a final prediction the various hypotheses are connected, as summarized in
Figure 1. Hypotheses 1 and 2 suggested that the cleanliness of employees’
appearance would influence feelings of pleasantness in customers and cus-
tomers’ perceptions of employee power. Hypothesis 3 predicted that the
cleanliness of employees’ appearance was related to customer approach to
a service interaction. A final prediction suggests that customer reactions to
the cleanliness of employees’ appearance (feelings of pleasantness and per-
ceived power) will be the factors that mediate customers’ sense of approach
toward repeating a service.
Feelings of pleasantness are known to be positively related to customer
approach toward a service interaction (Dube et al., 1995; Russell &
Mehrabian, 1978). Dube et al. (1995) documented a link between feelings
of pleasantness aroused by the servicescape and approach toward a bank
clerk. Customers’ feelings of pleasantness, evoked by employee appearance,
can be thus expected to mediate the connection between cleanliness and
approach toward a service interaction. This mediation is also supported by
previous research on the effects of servicescapes (Babin & Darden, 1995;
Donovan & Rossiter, 1982; Mehrabian & Russell, 1974; Mummalaneni,
2005; Sherman et al., 1997).
H4: Feelings of pleasantness mediate the relationship between cleanli-
ness of employee appearance and customer approach toward a ser-
vice interaction.
In a similar spirit, perceptions of employees’ power can also be predicted to
mediate the relationship between cleanliness of employee appearance and
customer approach toward a service interaction. This prediction is founded
upon research that documented customers’ desire to see the agents serving
them as powerful and authoritative (Kluger & Rafaeli, 2000). Situations that
cause customers to attribute greater power to employees can help alleviate
the stress and conflict over power typical of service encounters (Bateson,
1985; Rafaeli, 1989). This can clarify the position and status of employees
(Tiedens & Fragale, 2001), and improve customers’ approach toward service
interactions. Hence, the final hypothesis:
H5: Perceptions of power of service providers mediate the relationship
between cleanliness of employee appearance and customer app-
roach toward a service interaction.
In sum, this study suggests relationships between three sets of variables, as
summarized in Figure 1: (a) cleanliness and neatness of employee appear-
ance; (b) customer reactions—feelings of pleasantness and perceptions of
employee power; and (c) customer approach toward a service interaction.
Cleanliness of employee appearance is predicted to influence customer
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reactions, and customer reactions are predicted to increase customer
approach toward a service interaction. This research model is summarized
in Figure 1.
The study used an experimental, between-subject design. Participants saw
video clips that showed the same male bank employee performing the same
set of tasks while sitting at identical workstations. In each case, the employee
interacted with a female client, who was heard but not seen. The employee
in the video performed four tasks in exactly the same manner (checking an
account balance; entering a transaction into a computer; retrieving new
checkbooks from a drawer; and answering the telephone) and each clip
lasted precisely 2 minutes; that the only difference between the clips
involved the employee’s appearance. The independent variable—cleanliness
and neatness of employee appearance—was manipulated by the attire the
employee was wearing, as explained next.
Following Bateson and Hui (1992), the psychological effects of videos
can be assumed to be similar to effects in the field. The current experimental
design, therefore, allowed for complete and accurate control of employee
appearance, while maintaining experimental accuracy and capturing the situ-
ation from the customer’s point of view (Echeverri, 2000).
Data were collected from two separate samples: (a) 150 undergraduate stu-
dents (79 males and 71 females, average age 23), who participated in the
study for partial course credit; and (b) 59 clerical employees (25 males and
34 females), who participated at their work stations on a volunteer basis.
To rule out concerns about generalizing from data collected solely from stu-
dents, results from the two samples were first analyzed separately; as the
analyses revealed completely identical patterns, the data were combined into
one sample (n ¼209). A new dichotomous demographic variable was then
created, called sample origin (1 ¼student, 2 ¼nonstudent). The hypotheses
test was ran using multiple ANOVA (GLM), with the new variable as an inde-
pendent variable (along with the independent variable of cleanliness). No
significant relationships (main effect or statistical interaction effect) were
found between the sample origin variable and the dependent variable
(approach toward a service interaction, feelings of pleasantness, or attribu-
tions of power). This finding supported the assumption that the two samples
could be analyzed together, and strengthened the ability to generalize from
the conclusions. (The results described below are derived from a second set
of analyses performed without the sample origin variable.)
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 169
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Data Collection
Participants were told they would be participating in a study on customer
expectations from bank services. Following brief instructions, participants
watched a randomly selected video clip (which manipulated the inde-
pendent variable) on a computer screen, and then responded to a set of
structured questions designed to measure the dependent variables. The
questions appeared on the computer screen, and participants indicated their
responses by clicking on the selected answer with a mouse.
Independent Variable: Cleanliness of Employee Appearance
Cleanliness of employee appearance included two conditions: a clean cloth-
ing condition, in which the employee was shown wearing clothes that were
neat, orderly and pressed, and a dirty clothing condition, in which the clothes
were messy, stained and wrinkled. To ensure external validity of the manipu-
lation, three sets of both conditions were used, showing different levels of
formality. In two videos (one for each condition) the employee was formally
dressed in a suit, white shirt, and tie (clean and pressed in the clean con-
dition, wrinkled and dirty in the dirty condition). Two videos featured attire
that was somewhat less formal, comprising a white dress shirt but no jacket
or tie; and in the last two the employee was informally dressed in a t-shirt and
jeans. A ‘‘match-up’’ effect (Kamins, 1990; Till & Busler, 2000), or statistical
interaction, between cleanliness and formality was not apparent from our
data, justifying the exclusion of formality as an independent variable in
the current study. Figure 2 provides still images of the six experimental
Dependent Variables
Customer reactions were measured using indices adapted from Mehrabian
and Russell (1974), which were empirically supported by Russell and Pratt
(1980). The feelings of pleasantness index included two items (‘‘I feel
pleasant while looking at the employee,’’ and ‘‘the employee gives me a
pleasant feeling’’; Cronbach’s a¼0.78). Power attributed to employee
was an index of two items (‘‘the employee looks influential,’’ ‘‘the
employee has control of the interaction,’’ Cronbach’s a¼0.67). Although
the Cronbach’s alpha level of this variable was low, it was clearly sup-
ported by a factor analysis that follows, which justifies its inclusion in
the analyses.
Approach toward a service interaction was measured through an index
of four items adapted from Clark and Mills (1993; ‘‘I would like this employee
to deal with all my financial affairs,’’ ‘‘I would like this employee to work on
the business I need from a bank,’’ ‘‘I prefer that this employee not deal with
170 I. Vilnai-Yavetz and A. Rafaeli
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my banking matters’’ (reverse coded), ‘‘It is important to me that this
employee not deal with my business affairs’’ (reverse coded); Cronbach’s
a¼0.81). Factor analysis (Varimax, eigenvalue >1.0) confirmed a
three-factor structure of these items, as reported in Table 1.
FIGURE 2 Still images taken from the videos of one point in time in the six experimental
conditions. Note. Images in the top row show the employee wearing clean attire, and in the
bottom row dirty attire.
TABLE 1 Factor Analysis of Items Measuring Participants’ Responses (Dependent Variables)
Survey items
toward a service
Feelings of
attributed to an
I feel pleasant while looking
at the employee
0.191 0.830
The employee gives me a pleasant
0.252 0.655
The employee looks influential 0.052 0.520 0.618
The employee has control of the interaction 0.188 0.118 0.891
I would like this employee to deal with
all my financial affairs
0.308 0.301
I would like this employee to work on
the business I need from a bank
0.550 0.128
I prefer that this employee not deal
with my banking matters (reverse coded)
0.217 0.143
It is important to me that this employee not
deal with my business affairs
(reverse coded)
0.066 0.107
Explained variance for each factor 29.2%23.4%19.6%
Note.N¼209, eigenvalue >1; factor analysis rotation method ¼varimax.
Marked cells indicate items with high loading on factor.
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Table 2 summarizes the means, standard deviations, and correlations among
study variables.
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions
Hypotheses 1 and 2, which predicted a positive relationship between the
cleanliness of employee appearance and customer reactions, were confirmed
(see Tables 3 and 4). Cleanliness explained 17%of the variance in customers’
feelings of pleasantness (Table 4, Stage 1) and about 7%of the variance in
customers’ attributions of power to the employee (Table 4, Stage 2).
Hypothesis 1, which predicted the cleanliness of employee appearance
to be positively associated with customers’ feelings of pleasantness, was con-
firmed. As is evident from Table 3, feelings of pleasantness rose with
increased cleanliness of employee attire (M
¼2.2 vs. M
t(207) ¼6.68, p<.001), as predicted. Hypothesis 2, which predicted the
cleanliness of employee appearance to be positively related to power attribu-
tions, was confirmed as well; customers’ attributions of power to the
employee were lower with dirty dress (Mpower ¼1.8) than with clean dress
(Mpower ¼2.3, t(207) ¼4.10, p<.001; Table 3).
TABLE 2 Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of Study Variables (N¼209)
Variables M(1–5) SD 12
1. Customer’s feelings
of pleasantness
2.70 1.14
2. Power attributed
to employee
2.09 1.00 0.57
3. Approach toward a
service interaction
3.09 1.03 0.53 0.40
TABLE 3 T-Test Results of Cleanliness as Predictor of Customer Reactions (N¼209)
feelings of
attributed to
toward a
interaction (1–5)
(df ¼207)
(df ¼207)
(df ¼207)
Clean 3.2 6.68 2.3 4.10 3.3 2.73
Dirty 2.2 1.8 2.9
p.01. p.001.
172 I. Vilnai-Yavetz and A. Rafaeli
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Employee Appearance and Customer Approach Toward a Service
Hypothesis 3 predicted relationships between the cleanliness of employee
appearance and customer approach toward a service interaction. This predic-
tion was supported by the results presented in Table 3. Clean employee
appearance was found to produce significantly greater approach toward a
service interaction (M¼3.3) than dirty employee appearance (M¼2.9), as
predicted by Hypothesis 3, t(207) ¼2.73, p<.01 (Table 3).
Customer Reactions as Mediators of the Relationship Between
Employee Appearance and Customer Approach Toward a Service
Finally, Hypotheses 4 and 5, as depicted in Figure 1, suggested that feelings
of pleasantness and power attributions would be the mediators between the
cleanliness of employee appearance and customer approach toward a ser-
vice interaction. This argument was fully supported by the analyses summar-
ized in Table 4. Following Baron and Kenny (1986) a set of four multiple
ANOVA analyses was conducted to test the mediation hypotheses. First
(Stage 1 in Table 4), it was verified that the first mediator (pleasantness)
was predicted by the independent variable (cleanliness). Then (Stage 2 in
Table 4) it was verified that the second mediator (attributions of power)
was also predicted by this independent variable. Third (Stage 3 in Table 4),
it was examined whether the dependent variable (approach toward a service
interaction) was predicted by the independent variables. Fourth (Stage 4 in
TABLE 4 GLM Analyses of Feelings of Pleasantness and Power Attributions as Mediators of
the Relationship Between Cleanliness and Approach Toward a Service Interaction
Stage 1:
DV ¼Feelings
of pleasantness
Stage 2:
DV ¼Power
Stage 3:
DV ¼Approach
toward a service
Stage 4:
DV ¼Approach
toward a service
Cleanliness 44.6 16.5 7.5 0.7
Pleasantness 40.1
Power 3.8
¼0.18 R
¼0.07 R
¼0.04 R
Note.N¼209. Customers’ feelings of pleasantness and power attributed to the service provider were
entered as covariates, while cleanliness served as a predictor.
p.05. p.01. p<.001.
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 173
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Table 4), it was explored what happened when the predicted mediators
(pleasantness and power attributions) were added to the independent
variable (cleanliness) and entered as covariates to the prediction of the
dependent variable.
These analyses confirmed that, as predicted by Hypotheses 4 and 5,
feelings of pleasantness and power attributions mediated the relationship
between cleanliness of employee appearance and customer approach
toward a service interaction. The mediation was evident, as summarized in
Table 4, in the significant relationship found between cleanliness and feel-
ings of pleasantness (the first mediator) in Stage 1, F(1, 207) ¼44.6,
p<.001, and likewise in the significant relationship found between cleanli-
ness and power attributions (the second mediator) in Stage 2, F(1,
207) ¼16.5, p<.001. Stages 3 and 4 confirmed a mediation since, as is clear
from Table 4, the relationship between cleanliness and approach toward a
service interaction was significant in Stage 3, F(1, 207) ¼7.5, p<.01, and
became nonsignificant in Stage 4, where feelings of pleasantness and power
were related to approach toward a service interaction (pleasantness: F¼40.1,
p<.001; power: F¼3.8, p<.05). Thus, feelings of pleasantness and
power attributions were shown to mediate the relationship between the
cleanliness of employee appearance and customer approach toward a
service interaction.
This study illustrates the important role that employee appearance, shaped as
part of the efforts to adopt an employee branding approach (Harquail, 2006),
and customer reactions to these efforts can play in sustaining the perform-
ance of customer service firms. Following Shao et al. (2004) it specifically
emphasizes the importance of the appropriateness of service personnel dress
on customer reactions. Spontaneous reactions of customers are shown to
mediate the relationship between aspects of employee appearance and cus-
tomer approach toward service interactions. As predicted, the cleanliness and
neatness of employees’ appearance increased customers’ feelings of
pleasantness, attributions of power to a service employee, and approach
toward a service interaction. Customer reactions to employee appearance
(feelings of pleasantness and power attributions) were found to be mediat-
ors of the relationship between cleanliness and approach toward a service
This study’s findings support the argument that aesthetics should be
separated from the instrumentality and symbolism of cleanliness for a better
understanding of the impact of employee appearance. Previous work has
drawn a theoretical and empirical distinction between instrumentality, aes-
thetics, and symbolism (Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2004a), and the cleanliness
174 I. Vilnai-Yavetz and A. Rafaeli
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that was studied here is a specific case involving all the three. However, the
relationship between instrumentality, aesthetics and symbolism may be even
more complicated, because of second-order effects.
First-order effects are the direct effects of employee appearance, such
as a customer’s perception of employee attire as pleasing or unattractive.
Second-order effects occur when first-order effects themselves have an aes-
thetic or symbolic quality. Through such second-order effects, aesthetically
pleasing service uniforms, for example, might be viewed as symbolizing
great care and concern for customers (Becker, Strauss, Greer, & Hughes,
1961; Bitner, 1992; Goodstein, 1981). The possibility of second-order effects
does not contradict the theory explored here of three separate dimensions
of attire—instrumentality, symbolism, and aesthetics. Rather, this possibility
enriches the theory that is being testing by suggesting first- and
second-order implications for the physical artifact under review (Lakoff &
Johnson, 1999). However, in this article, second-order effects could not
be examined.
The findings confirm that it is important to consider feelings of pleasant-
ness and power attributions in studying customer reactions, as suggested by
Russell and Mehrabian (1977) and others. The current results show that
cleanliness inspires customers’ feelings of pleasantness and power attribu-
tions. Since power and feelings of pleasantness are both critical in service
delivery (Bateson, 1985; Foxall & Greenley, 1998; Rafaeli, 1989), it appears
that service organizations should attend to cleanliness in the appearance of
their customer service employees.
These results also support previous empirical findings and theoretical
models regarding the impact of the servicescape on emotion (Russell &
Mehrabian, 1978; Russell & Pratt, 1980; Wohlwill, 1976), and confirm that dis-
tinct dimensions of the servicescape (of which the cleanliness of employees’
attire is but one) have distinct effects on customers’ emotional reactions.
Further study of additional such aspects, such as the design of service sta-
tions, store layouts, or logos, or even other aspects of employees’ dress
(e.g., color), can enhance the current understanding of the full impact of
servicescapes on customers. For example, Yanow (1998) documents how
museum buildings symbolically convey emotional messages, and describes
the processes by which these messages are interpreted by constituents. In
a different setting, Gilboa and Rafaeli (2003) show that the aesthetics of retail
store layouts influence customers’ emotional reactions.
Finally, although the data did not support the possibility of a matching
effect (Kamins, 1990; Till & Busler, 2000) between cleanliness and formality
in employee appearance, this idea seems worthy of additional research
with the current dependent variable, as well as with other behavioral and
emotional variables.
In closing, limitations to the design and implications of this study
should be noted. First, the experimental manipulation focused on only one
Employee Appearance and Customer Reactions 175
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type of service—financial services. In other contexts, the dynamics of the
relationships, which were noted, may be affected by different expectations
and the particular nature of customer-employee relationships in these set-
tings (Gutek, 1999; Gutek, Bhappu, Liao-Troth, & Cherry, 1999; Price,
Arnould, & Tierney, 1999). Future research should examine reactions to
employee appearance in such contexts, such as fast-food services, edu-
cational services, or medical services.
Second, the analyses and inferences are based on a brief exposure of
customers to the employee for the purpose of the study. The brief experi-
mental exposure allowed a test of the effects of one very specific example
of employee appearance. These effects might change in other contexts, such
when a long-term relationship exists between the customer and either the
institution or the specific employee.
Third, these analyses did not consider the broader context of the work
environment of a customer service employee. A neatly dressed employee
operating at an untidy or disorganized workstation might produce different
customer reactions than are depicted here. The service context was inten-
tionally held constant across the experimental conditions. Individual dress
and appearance is a unique part of the servicescape because it is highly
mobile; it accompanies an employee wherever he or she goes and may be
assumed to reflect personality or other internal qualities. The work context,
an integral part of the stable environment (Vilnai-Yavetz & Rafaeli, 2006),
demands focused research attention both separately from and in tandem with
the appearance and behavior of individual employees.
In sum, the findings of this study support the claim that employees’
attire can have strong effects on customers’ reactions and on customer
approach toward a service interaction. Thus, managers should pay attention
to the cleanliness of employees’ attire as part of the overall managerial atten-
tion to servicescapes and service quality.
We wish to thank Techiya Ramati for her contribution to this research project.
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... The interaction between customers and service personnel (i.e., the service encounter) is considered to be a crucial factor in the service delivery process which influences customer experience. In many cases, the service encounter itself is considered as the service from the enduser point of view , Vilnai-Yavetz & Rafaeli, 2011. Service personnel is able to communicate a firm's ideals and attributes through the service encounter. ...
... In service environments, architectural clutter may be approached from an instrumental, aesthetic, and symbolic perspective (Rafaeli & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2004;Vilnai-Yavetz & Rafaeli, 2011). Firstly, the presence or absence of architectural clutter has instrumental, practical importance: uncluttered environments are presumed to support the primary service process, for example, by enhancing wayfinding (Leddy, 1995). ...
... Firstly, the presence or absence of architectural clutter has instrumental, practical importance: uncluttered environments are presumed to support the primary service process, for example, by enhancing wayfinding (Leddy, 1995). Secondly, the concept of architectural clutter may be approached from an aesthetic perspective: an uncluttered service environment is pleasing to the eye, whereas a cluttered one will be perceived as ugly or unpleasant (Vilnai-Yavetz & Rafaeli, 2011). Along these lines, Leddy (1995) suggests that clutteredness (and also cleanliness) should be considered as aesthetic qualities (e.g., 'cluttered space', 'clean lines') in design. ...
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In private healthcare services, patient satisfaction is of special importance to service providers, and the quality of food can influence a patient"s satisfaction with the total hospital experience. The quality of foodservice is strongly associated with patient satisfaction in hospitals, and most hospital foodservice organisations are changing their focus to patient care in order to boost patient satisfaction. Also, hospital foodservice standards are important in gaining the market share edge in a highly competitive healthcare industry. This study investigates the level of satisfaction with foodservice amongst patients in private hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A quantitative research approach was used for the study, and the data was collected by means of a survey questionnaire that was targeted at patients admitted to various wards at three private hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal. A total of 275 patients completed the survey. Overall, the study concluded that patients were generally satisfied with the foodservice in the private hospitals, especially with the food equipment and the food serving staff. However, reduced levels of satisfaction was noted with cultural considerations in menu choices and meal serving times. The study offers several recommendations to improve the quality of foodservice in hospitals.
... Following the work of Bitner (1992), the appearance of the environment comprises three dimensions: ambient conditions, space/function, and signs, symbols, & artefacts. Staff behaviour is about the presence, appearance, attitude, and behaviour of employees who serve the primary (e.g., train conductor) and secondary service process (e.g., cleaning staff) (Vilnai-Yavetz & Rafaeli, 2011;Whatley, Jackson, & Taylor, 2012). In the current study, we will use this typology and identify individual predictors of perceived cleanliness that are related to cleaning quality, the appearance of the environment, and staff behaviour. ...
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Facial expressions convey critical information for customers to evaluate a service encounter. Widespread mask-wearing since the pandemic began has brought challenges in decoding individuals' facial expressions. This study investigates the effects of face masks on customers' interpretations of frontline employees' facial expressions across retailing and healthcare service contexts. The findings show that mask-wearing improves customer perception of service employees and behavioral intention when the employees display neutral or negative emotions. Photo tags, as an additional nonverbal signal, can enhance the positive perceptions of masked employees. This research suggests that service companies could incorporate face masks and photo tags as a cost-effective practice to improve service encounters beyond the current pandemic.
Purpose Face masks have been integrated into daily life and come to signify different meanings due to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on social perception and attribution theories, this paper investigates the possible additional benefits of face mask use in the service marketplace by understanding how consumers react to the new social norm. Design/methodology/approach Four experimental studies were run across different service contexts. Study 1 examines consumers’ evaluation of a service promotion when an employee wears a face mask; Study 2 focuses on the impact of face mask usage on salesperson credibility and service satisfaction; Studies 3 and 4 investigate the consequences of not using face masks on consumers’ intention to spread positive word-of-mouth for the service provider. Findings The results revealed that the presence of a face mask in a service promotion determined a higher level of service liking, while in a service encounter, it led to a higher level of salesperson credibility, which then positively affected consumer satisfaction. Finally, the non-utilization of a face mask negatively affected consumer intention to spread positive word-of-mouth about the service provider, even when the social norm is to not wear one. Originality/value The manuscript adds to research on salespeople appearance and tries to understand consumers’ reactions toward face mask use in the services sector, as, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, few empirical studies in the service marketing literature have investigated the topic so far. Findings also provide useful insights that can further promote companies’ adoption of face masks beyond the COVID-19 emergency.
Physical attractiveness, an important factor in tourism service encounter, has received increased attention recently. However, less attention has been devoted to its effects on tourism service recovery. The current research fills this gap by systematically examining whether, how, and when a recovery employee’s physical attractiveness affects tourists’ attitudes toward the recovery employee and the firm. Three experiments are carried out. Results show that a recovery employee’s physical attractiveness can positively improve tourists’ attitudes toward the recovery employee and the firm, and this effect works by decreasing tourists’ social distance perceptions. Moreover, the effect of recovery employee’s physical attractiveness is conditioned on gender congruence between the tourist and the recovery employee as well as the severity of service failure. This paper contributes at explaining the mechanism and mixed results of physical attractiveness in tourism service recovery. The managers can benefit from the findings for effectively managing employees’ physical presentation in service recovery.
Purpose This series of of five exploratory studies aims to investigate the idea that consumers have visual appearance expectations (stereotypes) for service providers in different occupations and how these visual stereotypes might affect provider choice. Design/methodology/approach Subjects were given color photos of white men and a list of service occupations and asked to infer the most likely occupation for each photo. A separate group of subjects reported the visual elements they most associated with the typical appearance of providers in various occupations. Other groups chose from a set of photos the depicted individual they would most want as their attorney or accountant. Findings Two studies confirmed that photo was a significant predictor of inferred service occupation, suggesting that consumers have visual appearance stereotypes for what a service provider should look like. A counter-intuitive finding was that the most stereotypical appearing service provider in an occupation was significantly less desired by subjects as their service provider than a less stereotypical appearing provider displaying a Duchenne (genuine) smile. Research limitations/implications Only visual stereotypes of male service providers were explored, confined to the un-met provider condition. Also, the reported studies were exploratory, using small samples. Originality/value The results imply that impression formation and relationship marketing begin with the viewing of an un-met service provider’s photo by a potential client at a business website or social media. Further, the findings suggest that providers will want to display a Duchenne smile in their photo, as this visual element is favorably interpreted by consumers.
This study investigates the relationship between tourism and hospitality manager’s perceptions of visible body modification (VBM) and recruitment and operational practices. It examines how managers evaluate, recruit and manage the appearance of employees with VBM. Qualitative research was undertaken, consisting of 14 semi-structured interviews with tourism managers in the North East of England. The interviews were thematically coded and analysed. It is demonstrated that managers recognize VBM as expressions of socio-cultural trends, however their personal experiences, values, expectations, knowledge and attitudes towards VBM may influence hiring practices. Organizations must continue to review their recruitment and operational policies to reflect the evolving socio-cultural values in contemporary society to be more inclusive and provide guidance and clarity concerning VBM. This study offers some important insights into the phenomena by developing an understanding of employees with VBM from the employer’s lens, exploring employers’ perceptions through their personal emotions, assumptions, misconceptions and societal expectations of the modern world.
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The current research problem includes in its content various research motivations to serve of the private health sector, which witnesses a great competition from both internal and external environments. In this regard, the researcher has noted through his review of the private medical clinics and his social environment (family, friends and Work colleagues) that there are a great weakness and the lack of educational awareness rather than focusing on the physical evidence for health service. For this reason, the developed countries are far more developed than us in terms of providing the same health services because these countries use advanced methods and tools to enhance the physical Evidence of the quality of health service through providing of marketing awareness among the owners of these clinics about physical evidence and its role in attracting and retaining customers. This research has based on two main hypotheses are the correlation, influence which in turn are divided into sub-hypotheses. As the research investigated in a number of private medical clinics at Maysan, A sample of (379) clients in private medical clinics. The questionnaire was used as a main tool for collecting data and information. A number of statistical methods were used to analyze, interpret and process data (arithmetic mean, standard deviation, coefficient of variation frequency and percentage)) and the adoption of ready statistical programs such as SPSS V.23. The research found a number of conclusions, the most important of which was the interest of the medical clinics, The attention of the medical clinics investigated the dimensions of the physical presentation of the health service at an acceptable level and based on the evaluation of the opinions of the sample investigated as a result of the weakness of its awareness of the importance of this subject in attracting the customer and excellence in the competing clinics of the same jurisdiction to enable them to provide medical service attractive to the customer in the medical field, Marketing mission in its work), and in the light of the conclusions, the set of recommendations were suggested which included (The need for private medical clinics to develop and improve the dimensions of the physical evidence of the health service through the use of modern marketing methods and everything that is new in the field of marketing and keep pace with development because the customer at present is fully aware of the environment in which the provision of health service and the many offers available to him, Inside or outside for clarification and providing the comfort and health service appropriate to the state of illness and its role in attracting and building a positive image toward it). key words : Physical Evidence Of The Health Service , Attracting The Customer
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Two studies examine complementarity (vs. mimicry) of dominant and submissive nonverbal behaviors. In the first study, participants interacted with a confederate who displayed either dominance (through postural expansion) or submission (through postural constriction). On average. participants exposed to a dominant confederate decreased their postural stance, whereas participants exposed to a submissive confederate increased their stance. Further, participants with complementing response,, (dominance in response to submission and submission in response to dominance) liked their partner more and were more comfortable than those who mimicked. In the second study, complementarity and mimicry were manipulated, and complementarity resulted in more liking and comfort than mimicry. The findings speak to the likelihood of hierarchical differentiation.
This article presents a large-scale cross-sectional field study of the effect of store environment on consumer emotions and the resulting influence on aspects of consumer behavior with actual shopping behavior used as an example. Cast into a stimulus–organism–response framework, the results suggest that a consumer's emotions can be a mediating factor in the purchase process. In this study, we identify and explore how store environment and emotional states may influence various dimensions of purchase behavior. This research confirms that although cognitive factors may largely account for store selection and for most planned purchases within the store, the environment in the store and the emotional state of consumers may be important determinants of purchase behavior. This research has many pragmatic applications, because pleasure was associated with the amount of money spent and affinity for the store, whereas arousal was associated with money spent in the store, time spent in the store, and the number of items purchased in the store. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.