Department of Management

Sascha Steinmann

Oh my Gosh, I got to get out of this Place! A Qualitative Study of Vicarious Embarrassment in Service Encounters

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Thomas Kilian, University of Applied Science for Media, Communication and Management , Germany
  • Sascha Steinmann
  • Eva Hammes, Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Germany
Vicarious embarrassment is a negative emotion, which is experienced by an individual when others misbehave. People can feel vicariously embarrassed when observing other people's pratfalls or awkward appearance. For instance, vicarious embarrassment is elicited when watching reality TV or in service encounters where many other customers are present. However, the relevance of vicarious embarrassment in physical service environments has not yet been thoroughly analyzed in the context of service encounters. The objective of the present study is to close this research gap and to introduce the phenomenon of vicarious embarrassment to service research. The findings of 25 in‐depth interviews indicate that vicariously embarrassing incidents mostly occur in service encounters and that these incidents are triggered by the violation of social norms in both customer‐to‐customer and customer‐to‐employee interactions. The authors of the present paper identified closeness of relationship, the service context, and parties involved as important situational variables influencing vicarious embarrassment and further emotional, cognitive, and behavioral consequences for the observing person. From a managerial point of view, the relevance of vicarious embarrassment in physical service environments is caused by negative spillover effects of the service experience, which lead to decreasing customer satisfaction, negative word‐of‐mouth and purchase intentions, and a negative impact on the overall image of the service provider.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology & Marketing
Volume35
Issue1
Pages (from-to)79-95
Number of pages17
ISSN0742-6046
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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