Highlighting Effort Versus Talent in Service Employee Performance: Customer Attributions and Responses

Fine F. Leung, Sara Kim, Caleb H. Tse

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Firms often attribute their service employees’ competent performance to either dedicated effort or natural talent. However, it is unclear how such practices affect customer evaluations of service employees and customer outcomes. Moreover, prior work has primarily examined attributions of one’s own performance, providing little insight on the impact of attributions of others’ performance. Drawing on research regarding the warmth–competence framework and performance attributions, the current research proposes and finds that consumers expect a more communal-oriented and less exchange-oriented relationship when a service employee’s competent performance is attributed to dedicated effort rather than natural talent, as effort (vs. talent) attribution leads consumers to perceive the employee as warmer. The authors further propose customer helping behaviors as downstream consequences of relationship expectations, finding that effort (vs. talent) attribution is more likely to induce customers’ word-of-mouth and idea provision behaviors. The findings enrich existing literature by identifying performance attributions as a managerially meaningful antecedent of relationship expectations and offer practical guidance on how marketers can influence consumers’ relationship expectations and helping behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-121
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Marketing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • attribution theory
  • communal and exchange relationships
  • competence and warmth
  • customer helping behaviors
  • service employee performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing


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