Incidental similarities are chance similarities between individuals which create a sense of association between two people. Although incidental similarities can be triggered by trivial cues such as a shared family name or birthplace, they can have nontrivial consequences. For example, chance similarities to another person can increase compliance with a request to help this person (Burger et al. 2004) and, if the individual is a salesperson, can increase purchase intentions (Jiang et al. 2010). Existing research therefore suggests that incidental similarities lead to favorable reactions to the similar other. We propose that the effects of incidental similarities are not invariably favorable. Incidental similarities can elicit unfavorable effects, and can make an otherwise disinterested observer become involved in an exchange between a stranger and a company that (s)he merely witnessed.
For example, a service failure involves the service provider and the suffering customer. From the perspective of an individual observing the failure, the nature of the effect of incidental similarities would depend on whether one feels a sense of association with the provider or the customer. Imagine a situation in which someone observes a customer being told that a table he had reserved is actually not available. If the observer notices that customer’s tie happens to be the same color as his own, he may be disposed to view the situation from the customer’s perspective and blame the provider for the failure. However, if the observer notices from the provider’s name tag that they happen to have the same surname, he may feel more similar to the provider and attributing him less responsibility for the failure. We also suspect this pattern will be stronger for observers with interdependent (vs. independent) self-construal, given they are more sensitive to interpersonal relationships.
This is the first research to investigate the deleterious effects of incidental similarity in a service failure context. We attempt to illuminate the process through which incidental similarities can affect attribution and evaluation. Our findings will not only contribute to an understanding of the effect of incidental similarities on perception and judgment but also will offer managerial insights into service failure and recovery.
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