Physical attractiveness is an essential factor in consumers' evaluation processes during a service encounter. Using both experimental and field study designs, we demonstrate that a service representative's physical attractiveness affects consumer response (i.e., customer satisfaction, service quality perception, and likability of the service representative). Also, we find that a consumer's social distance perception between themselves and a service representative mediates the physical attractiveness effect on consumer response. Thus, this article is the first to demonstrate that social distance perception is an underlining mechanism of the physical attractiveness effect. Furthermore, findings from Studies 2 and 3 show that consumers' physical attractiveness and their attractiveness-ability belief moderate the physical attractiveness effect. Although contentious to some, our findings indicate that the recruitment of attractive representatives may be an effective business practice in service settings. However, managers should not regard consumers as a homogeneous group; self-perceived unattractive consumers may respond negatively to their service representative's physical attractiveness.
The service marketing literature has investigated various factors that could influence service encounters. The physical environment of the service encounter, for instance physical surroundings, are able to alter consumers' evaluations of the service (Bitner, 1990). Interpersonal factors, especially frontline employees, are receiving great attention from researchers (Luoh and Tsaur, 2011; Quach et al., 2017; Söderlund and Julander, 2009). The service employee's age, non-verbal communication, and physical appearance have been found to impact customer satisfaction and service quality perception (Luoh and Tsaur, 2011; Söderlund, 2017; Söderlund and Julander, 2009). While it is encouraging to observe a change in the trends of systematic discrimination in recruitment practices in certain industries, physical appearance nonetheless affects consumers' judgments of consumption experiences. The beauty premium refers to the notion that the more physically attractive workers have better earning advantages (Rosenblat, 2008). Also called the physical attractiveness stereotype, it is still an important factor not to be neglected. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch applies this principle when staffing its stores, although many have criticized it for its discriminating recruitment practices. Nonetheless, human beings are naturally inclined toward beautiful things (Langlois et al., 1991). As a visible attribute, appearance can alter consumer attitudes. Being good-looking brings benefits to both the service employees and the company employing them. Attractive individuals receive higher performance evaluations, make more money, and are more likable than the unattractive ones (Dion et al., 1972; Khantimirov and Karande, 2018; Langlois et al., 2000; Leinsle et al., 2018; Wan and Wyer, 2015). Companies that have attractive CEOs have better stock returns than those with less attractive ones (Halford and Hsu, 2014). The encounters that occur between consumers and the frontline employees are fundamental to the service delivery process (Albrecht et al., 2016; Orth and Wirtz, 2014; Otterbring, 2017). Thus, although ethically questionable, it might explain why Abercrombie & Fitch emphasizes the importance of their staff's physical appearances during the recruitment process. Although the beauty premium has been extensively examined, it is possible that beauty can be beastly (Heilman and Saruwatari, 1979), being good-looking can also backfire. Agthe et al. (2010) found that physical attractiveness can lead to interpersonal derogation. Individuals may avoid interacting with others who are physically attractive because of self-presentation concerns (Agthe et al., 2014; Wan and Wyer, 2015). In service interactions, this ‘beastly beauty’ can cause lower purchase intentions and consequently lower business performance (Wan and Wyer, 2015).