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Better Business

Marketing expert Elten Briggs finds shared ethnicity may help bottom line

Elten Briggs

Want to increase your customer base? Increase your employee diversity. That’s the conclusion of a study by marketing Associate Professor Elten Briggs in the Journal of Business Research.

He and co-author Detra Montoya of Arizona State University found that service-oriented businesses that want to succeed with minority customers should hire front-line employees from those ethnic groups, particularly if the businesses cater to Hispanics or Asians.

The researchers used an experiment and a survey to analyze the influence of shared ethnicity on consumer behavior, ultimately concluding that members of Asian and Hispanic cultures are more “collectivist” than members of Western cultures in how they emphasize the social self and connectedness to others. For this reason, they may be more susceptible to the effects of shared ethnicity in the marketplace.

“The study shows that if I work for a service or sales company, my company should reflect the audience I am seeking,” Dr. Briggs says. “When customers share the same ethnicity with their salesman or customer service agent, they generally have a more favorable perception of the business.”

The influence of culture on interactions between contact employees and customers is becoming increasingly important as marketplaces worldwide continue to diversify. Though recent research emphasizes the drawbacks of individual cultural differences, it largely overlooks potentially positive effects of congruency between contact employees and customers.

“The future of business is multicultural and will involve an increasing diversity of the customer base of many firms, both within the United States and internationally,” College of Business Dean Rachel Croson says. “The businesses that succeed will be those that understand how to customize the experience they give these customers. Dr. Briggs’ work identifies how to do this effectively.”