Race and Gender Biases in Customer Satisfaction Data

Customer satisfaction surveys have become ubiquitous.   It is nearly impossible to speak with a customer service agent without being asked to participate in a short satisfaction survey immediately upon the conclusion of the service interaction.  And recognizing the importance of customer service, an increasing number of organizations are tying employee compensation to customer ratings of agents’ service behavior.  But to what degree might these customer ratings be subject to gender or racial bias?

While noting that “U.S. society has made considerable progress in reducing overt expressions of prejudice since the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s,” Heckman and his colleagues explain how covert and unconscious forms of prejudice and bias may still, nevertheless continue to exist.  One of the explanations is that customer often has “preconceived expectations about others depending on whether the person being observed belongs to a high or low-status demographic group.”  While such biases may be held in check when raters are held accountable for their ratings, customers have rarely held accountability for their ratings of service agents.  Indeed in the vast majority of cases, ratings are provided on an anonymous basis.

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