Customers are increasingly on the lookout for authentic brands and experiences. The demand for authenticity has become so strong that big marketing firms have picked up on this trend and in the last few years we have seen the creation of authenticity market studies by global communication & marketing companies such as Cohn & Wolfe. According to their 2016 study authenticity is becoming a personal experience: “consumers are looking for daily, real-life reminders that they can count on brands. In defining authenticity, they prioritize “high quality” (66 percent) and “delivering on promises” (70 percent) over more lofty measures like “social responsibility” (57 percent) and “environmental responsibility” (55 percent).” In April 2016 Cohn & Wolfe also started a top 100 list for authentic companies (www.authentic100.com).
Although this list focuses on bigger companies it does represent how important ‘real and honest’ experiences are for the consumer in today’s marketplace. But authenticity can also be important in everyday activities in our own neighbourhood. In French cities we have for instance seen a rise of British, Indian, Japanese and Thai (to name a few) establishments in the hospitality industry that cater customers with typical food and drinks from ‘their’ country. The authenticity of these pubs and restaurants is important for how customers perceive their visit and the quality that they attribute to the experience. But what elements determine if an establishment has a high ‘real and honest’ factor? We decided to focus on the authenticity of British pub restaurants and to study how the use of English by employees working in British pub-restaurants in a large French city contributes to customer authenticity perceptions.
Use of a second language and authenticity.
The main question with which we started our research is if customers always want to interact in their first language or if they might sometimes want to hear or speak another language? It is likely that a visit to an Italian restaurant or a salsa class becomes more authentic if the waiter uses Italian words when taking the order or when the dance instructor speaks with a heavy Spanish accent. Language thus potentially influences the ‘authenticity factor’ of the service encounter.
See, hear and speak English
The results provide a comprehensive description of reasons for customers to choose for a night at the pub. Besides general reasons such as affordable food and drinks participants describe a second set of reasons that are related to the uniqueness of the pub compared to any other local French bar or restaurant. Many customers are charmed by typical British interiors but according to the pub staff it is the laidback atmosphere and the presence of the English language that sets the pub environment apart from a typical French establishment. Some customers come to the pub to practice their English or to reminisce with the pub staff about previous experiences in Britain. Others just want to have a taste of the UK and enjoy listening to the pub staff conversing in English without actually speaking English.
What can we learn from this?
There are several things that we can take away from this study. First, there are different ways how language use and importance of authenticity interact and we have identified four main typologies of language use and authenticity, which we present in the paper. Second, management in these kinds of establishments should invest in their recruitment. Creating a laidback atmosphere and having staff that can switch between languages requires a good fit between the staff and the pub environment. We therefore provide several relevant managerial recommendations in our paper. Third, pub staff will switch between English and French depending on the type of experience the customer desires. Participants explain how this switch is usually carried out to accommodate the customer. But what can pub staff do when customers are rude or impolite? Our paper explains how language switches can be used in negative behavior, which can be qualified as service sabotage.
Kraak, J.M., & Holmqvist, J., The authentic service employee: Service employees’ language use for authentic service experiences, Journal of Business Research (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2016.04.182