7 June 2014

The Relationship between Bad Service and Confirmation Bias

At the time of writing this blog post, I am in Bucharest, the City I called “home” for 21 years. For four years, now, I live in The Netherlands.

Being a relatively young democracy and free-market Romania overall offers huge diversity ranging from exceptionally good service at more than reasonable prices to absolute crap at obscenely high prices.

One instance of bad service was my recent visit to a hair-dresser. The hair-cut I got was quite OK, though considering how I keep my hair, it would be very difficult to get something wrong. The hair-dresser story goes like this:

I went to the hair-dresser place that I used to go for quite some years before I moved from the city. I kind of remembered where it was (most communist blocks of flats look the same). I arrived at the place where I knew the hair-dresser was and found that it had closed down. I decided to walk to another one I knew was nearby (15 min walk). After less than a minute I stumble upon a hair-dresser saloon which was for both men and women.

I went inside and noticed on the right side two ladies who (I assume) were ladies hair-dressers. Both of them were lying on the chairs for customers reading some tabloids. On the left side a young man was giving a shoulders massage to an older gentleman who was sitting on a chair for clients. After about one minute of being completely ignored, I was asked by the younger man:

“What would you like / what do you want” (approximate translation from Romanian)

The question left me speechless for about 20 seconds. I simply could not answer, since I was in a hair-dresser saloon and I assumed the personnel would realize that people who enter the establishment want to get hair-cuts or make appointments for hair-cuts in the future. I am sorry that I didn’t answer with “two kilos of potatoes, please”.

The actual hair-cut experience was OK… in fact more or less what I know it is since ever. At the end I asked how much it costs. The answer was 15Lei which is about 3.75Euros.

Beyond the shock of being asked “what do you want” in a hairdresser saloon, for me as an applied psychologist this experience revealed a very interesting self-fulfilling prophecy. The four hair-dressers were doing their thing (particularly the two ladies were completely absorbed by the tabloids) because there were no clients at the time. However, their behaviour – doing their things and (almost) ignoring potential clients – is a clear cause of not having clients.

Moreover, there is the issue of price. Non-Romanians should know that Romania is a very price sensitive market (except for status goods). However, the population in large cities is very diverse and there are people who would not mind paying 20Lei (4.2 Euros) or even 30Lei (6.5 Euros) for a haircut.

Again we have a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the saloon (needs to have) has low prices, it will have badly paid staff and will invest zero in delivering a good service. In turn this will drive away the clients who are willing to pay a premium for good service (which does not mean exceptional).


These self-fulfilling prophecies are a very interesting case of confirmation bias, which means that we look (only) for information that confirms our existing beliefs and (virtually) ignore evidence that disconfirms our beliefs. For the hair dresser that I went to, it is obvious that it is not worthy to invest a bit in delivering better service because their only clients are people who can pay very little. Moreover, to the staff it makes perfect sense to read tabloids (in close to obscene positions) and to get a massage and chat about football, thus ignoring the (potential) clients, exactly because there are few clients.



1 comment:

gwenaelle Porsmoguer said...

“Two kilos of potatoes, please” is exactly the kind of answer my husband can do and I must say that I saw, according to the circonstances, smiles or surprise on the salespeople's faces. Good quality in services is so much important. I am interested in in the field of care and medecine. In France for instance we have good doctors but the staff around is sometimes so awfull !! I even thought I could make some research about it. Have a good week. Gwenaëlle