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Managing Service Quality: An International Journal

The importance of attitude and appearance in the service encounter in retail and
hospitality
Dennis Nickson Chris Warhurst Eli Dutton
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Dennis Nickson Chris Warhurst Eli Dutton, (2005),"The importance of attitude and appearance in the
service encounter in retail and hospitality", Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, Vol. 15 Iss 2
pp. 195 - 208
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Importance of
The importance of attitude and attitude and
appearance in the service appearance
encounter in retail and hospitality
195
Dennis Nickson, Chris Warhurst and Eli Dutton
Scottish Centre for Employment Research, University of Strathclyde,
Glasgow, UK

Abstract
Purpose For service organisations the interaction between front-line personnel and the customer is
crucial as they aim to create high quality service encounters. Much research has focused on attempts
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by organisations to inculcate the right kind of attitude in their front-line employees. This paper seeks
to extend this analysis by pointing to the increasing importance not just of having employees with the
right attitudes, but also possessing aesthetic skills. The emergence of aesthetic skills reflects the
growing importance of aesthetic labour in interactive services. That is, employers increasingly desire
that employees should have the right appearance in that they look good and sound right in the
service encounter in retail and hospitality.
Design/methodology/approach The paper mainly utilises responses to a structured
questionnaire from employers in the retail and hospitality industries in Glasgow, although
reference is also made to a similar employees questionnaire.
Findings The evidence from the questionnaires suggests that employers in the retail and
hospitality industries are not generally looking for hard technical skills in their front-line personnel,
but rather soft skills. Such soft skills encompass attitude and, importantly, appearance what we
term aesthetic skills and the latter is often underappreciated in academic and policy-making
debates.
Research limitations/implications The findings of the survey suggest that academics and
policy-makers need to expand the way they think about soft skills. Specifically, they need to be
aware of the extent of employers needs for both social and aesthetic skills.
Originality/value The findings of the survey have implications from a policy perspective and
policy-makers may need to think about if and how these needs can be incorporated into education and
training provision.
Keywords Service industries, Employees, Skills
Paper type Research paper

Introduction
The survey reported in this paper examines the nature and importance of the range of
skills required by employers in the retail and hospitality industries. Much of the
previous research on interactive services, such as hospitality, has concentrated on the
importance of a range of soft skills. For example, Burns (1997, p. 240) notes how
soft skills are much more important than hard, technical skills in the provision of
hospitality: emotional demands are made of employees to constantly be in a positive,
joyful and even playful mood. Burns, in common with many other authors, tends to
understand such soft skills as being primarily concerned with attitudinal and Managing Service Quality
Vol. 15 No. 2, 2005
emotional aspects. Consequently, much of the discussion surrounding soft skills has pp. 195-208
tended to concentrate on aspects such as social and interpersonal skills, which are q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0960-4529
largely concerned with ensuring employees are responsive, courteous and DOI 10.1108/09604520510585370
MSQ understanding with customers, or in simple terms can demonstrate emotional labour
15,2 (Hochschild, 1983). However, this description of soft skills is partial. Our recent work
on what we have termed aesthetic labour points to the increasing importance of the
way in which employees are expected to embody the product in industries such as
retail and hospitality. As part of this process of embodiment, employees are now
expected to not only demonstrate soft skills with regard to their attitude, but also
196 have the ability to look good or sound right, or in short to draw on their aesthetic
skills.
A review of the range of skills required in front-line interactive service jobs is
particularly timely in the UK. Service jobs now account for around three quarters of all
jobs in the UK, with retail and hospitality alone providing nearly 5 million jobs (HtF,
2003; Working Futures, 2004). In common, then, with many other parts of the UK,
Glasgow, the city on which this research is based, is increasingly reliant on the retail
and hospitality industries to drive the economic success of the city and provide
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employment. Services now account for over 85 per cent of Glasgows employment.
Retail, wholesale and hotels alone account for 20 per cent of the citys jobs. Job growth
in these industries is continuing and is forecast to continue. Tourism generally is at the
forefront of the Glasgow economy and the city now attracts three million tourists each
year, generating in the region of 670 million annually in the local economy (Glasgow
Tourism Development Group, 2002). Indeed, the Glasgow Tourism Action Plan
2002/07 has as a key principle the need to ensure that tourism continues to generate
wealth and create jobs for Glasgow. Such a commitment also needs to be seen in light
of the recent innovative and ambitious re-branding of Glasgow as Scotland with style
(Stewart, 2004).
This paper seeks to consider how, within service-dominated economies, the nature
of skills required by employees is changing to roll up both attitude and appearance.
First, we consider the nature of services and specifically the issue of service quality.
The paper then considers how the emergence of aesthetic labour has impacted on the
changing nature of skills required in front-line service work. The paper then outlines
how data were collected from both employers and employees. The findings are then
considered, and we conclude by assessing the changing nature of skills and how the
emergence of aesthetic skills requires consideration from academics, managers and
policy-makers.

The nature of services


A defining feature within the service sector is the tangible/intangible output of the
product. Tangible in the sense that physical products such as food, drink and
accommodation, are offered and intangible due to the role of the service deliverer in
providing service to the customer. Successful organisations such as Disney, Marriott
and Ritz-Carlton have developed strong reputations for their recognition of the role that
their employees play in meeting customer expectations. The human element, as part of
the product, is a key feature in the provision of quality service as service firms are more
likely to be labour intensive with employees experiencing direct and frequent contact
with the customer. Therefore, this interaction is a critical part of the overall service
product and essential to customers perception of service quality. No two service
interactions are identical and this situation gives rise to uncertainty in the service
delivery process. As a result it is not wholly possible entirely to prescribe or routinise job
tasks to ensure quality standards. The service provider and customer are both liable to Importance of
introduce variation to the service, with the individuality of customer needs or the service attitude and
provider lacking consistency. The quality of service may vary between different service
encounters, and this variability can lead to difficulties for companies in defining appearance
standards and ensuring consistency of service.
As the delivery of service is highly variable, managers are dependent on employees
to try to maintain consistency in their provision of a quality service. Branded service 197
operations especially may face difficulties in ensuring uniform quality of service across
their outlets. To counter these problems some service work has stripped out labour and
replaced it with technology as automated calling and interactive voice recognition
systems illustrate in call centre operations. However, there are other ways in which
these issues are addressed. One way is to try to systematise the service encounter with
tight rules and regulations. For example, call centres and fast-food outlets commonly
script employees verbal interactions with customers (Leidner, 1993; Ritzer, 2000).
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Emphasis is also increasingly put on shaping and, if necessary, changing the attitudes
of existing employees. This attitudinal restructuring focuses on managing employees
feelings while they are at work, which often gives rise to the need for front-line
employees to engage in emotional labour, involving the suppression or engendering of
certain types of emotions (Guerrier and Adib, 2003; Hochschild, 1983).
In sum, the personal attributes of service providers are a key aspect in the provision
of quality service. This point about the importance of service personnel is recognised in
the seminal work of Parasuraman et al. (1985). Their SERVQUAL model, based on
customers perceptions of the service encounter, identifies emotional labour, expressed
in the model as desirable attributes such as responsiveness, courtesy and
understanding/knowing the customer, as an important dimensional feature. A
further dimension of the model is tangibles and among other things this refers to
appearance, which takes into account both the physicality of the environment and also
the personnel. Thus, it is recognised that the demeanour and appearance of front-line
workers is crucial and customers see well-presented, courteous, helpful and empathetic
staff as playing a key role in quality service.

The shifting skills terrain and the emergence of aesthetic labour


In interactive service work, such as that of retail and hospitality, a pattern is emerging
of employers skill demands. With respect to sales and personal services work, Jackson
et al. (2002) point out that in their analysis of job adverts, the skills stated as necessary
by employers are social skills and personal characteristics. Likewise, a recent
examination of nearly 100 human resource professionals in the USA responsible for
hiring entry-level hospitality industry employees revealed that the top two criteria
were: pride in appearance and good attitude (Martin and Grove, 2002).
While debate continues about whether or not attitude and appearance constitute
skills, and how and if they can be trained (also see Warhurst et al., 2004a), there is
increasing consensus about their importance to employers nonetheless. It is in this
context that we have developed our work on what we have termed aesthetic labour.
The term aesthetic labour is analytically complex and a full working definition can be
found in Nickson et al. (2001). Here it is enough to note that companies employ people
with certain capacities and attributes that favourably appeal to customers visual or
aural senses, and which are then developed through training and/or monitoring. It has
MSQ become translated in the popular imagination as those people who are employed on the
15,2 basis of looking good and/or sounding right (Warhurst and Nickson, 2001). In
looking good or sounding right, employees, then, are potentially offering competitive
advantage in relation to both the process of service and the service encounter (in other
words doing the work); and equally becoming an integral part of the tangible product
(that is, literally embodying the image of the company).
198 The initial research monograph from Strathclyde University was based on an
exploratory study over 1997-1998. Stimulated by a number of job adverts in the press,
the purpose of the study was to identify if aesthetic labour had been or was an
emerging feature of contemporary work and employment and, if so, how important a
feature. The focus of the study was Glasgows expanding number of designer retailers,
boutique hotels and style bars, cafes and restaurants. Some inclusion, though
undeveloped, was also made of banks. The findings of this study are fully reported in
Nickson et al. (2001). In short, the study found that the need to look good and sound
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right did exist and was very important to employers in retail and hospitality. These
employers believed that having staff that look good and/or sound right not only helped
their companies create a distinct image on the high street, but also provided
competitive advantage in the crowded retail and hospitality industries. The study
revealed that companies sought and developed employees who could become the
physical embodiment of the image and personality of those companies. As one
respondent stated about her companys recruitment and selection, they wanted: . . .
people that look the part . . . fit in with the whole concept of the hotel (cited in Nickson
et al. 2001, p. 180).
The pilot research suggested that there were hotspots of companies designer
retailers, boutique hotels and style bars, cafes and restaurants that had developed
aesthetic labour through their recruitment, selection, training and management
practices, creating what we termed a style labour market. Furthermore, there was
some evidence of a demonstration effect among more prosaic retail and hospitality
companies as they too sought aesthetic labour, although less developed as both
corporate product and labour strategy and has since been termed aesthetised
labour by Pettinger (2002) to make the distinction[1].
An emergent issue, therefore, was the extent of aesthetic labour among all retail and
hospitality employers, both those in an overtly stylish niche and those serving more
prosaic customer segments. Consequently, this questionnaire-based survey is the
result of the lack of awareness of the extent of aesthetic labour, while also more
generally considering the range of issues concerned with recruitment, selection,
training and management practices in a range of retail and hospitality organisations.

Methodology
The survey was questionnaire-based, with tailored questionnaires for each industry. In
addition, both employers and employees were surveyed. These questionnaires were
developed and piloted in conjunction with human resource practitioners, training and
development agencies, trade unions and employees. Examining current and future
supply and demand, the focus of the questionnaires was on recruitment, selection,
training and management practices. For the employers survey, 1,023 postal
questionnaires were distributed to retail outlets, hotels, and restaurants/bars/cafes in
Glasgow. After distributing the questionnaires it became apparent that certain
businesses were part of a group where the recruitment and selection of staff tended to Importance of
be conducted by a central office, therefore reducing the number of possible responses. attitude and
Additionally, 29 questionnaires were returned due to the property no longer existing or
the questionnaire was returned uncompleted. As a result the total number of reachable appearance
responses was reduced to approximately 950, which generated 147 returned responses.
While this is a relatively low response rate, survey-based research shows that response
rates are generally lower in central cities, especially when using a postal method to 199
distribute questionnaires. It has also been found that recent business surveys have
response rates of 15-20 per cent. Thus, although there is no agreed on standard for a
minimum acceptable response rate, it is important to receive a minimum 10 per cent
response rate in order to comment on the significance of the findings. Ultimately, our
response rate was 16 per cent. For the employee survey, 627 questionnaires were
dispatched to students who worked in the Glasgow retail and hospitality industries.
Recent research suggests that the vast majority of students who work in Glasgow do
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so in the retail and hospitality industries (Taylor et al., 2000). A total of 207 completed
questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 64 per cent. The following section
outlines the findings from the surveys. The data from the employees survey are
reported more fully in Warhurst et al. (2004b). Here, the presented findings are drawn
predominantly from the employers responses, although occasional reference is made
to the employees survey.

Findings
Recruitment and selection
For much interactive front-line service work, studies consistently report high levels of
informality in recruitment and selection, including the use of methods such as word of
mouth, referrals and casual callers, especially in the hospitality industry (see for
example Lockyer and Scholarios, 2004). Moreover, in customer service work,
recruitment and selection is more likely to be based on peoples social and aesthetic
skills rather than technical skills (Warhurst et al., 2000). Thus, managers preference
for recruitment and selection in service work has tended to be on the basis of
personality and increasingly, as we have argued, aesthetics and self-presentation. It is
of course noteworthy that it is at the recruitment and selection stage that employers
have most opportunity to filter out those who are considered inappropriate for the
company image. Our previous research in this area has highlighted this point and also
indicated some self-selection, as potential employees may, for example, consider
themselves not posh enough for certain jobs (Nickson et al., 2003).

Recruitment methods
On the specific question of recruitment methods, Table I presents the most common
sources of recruitment used by employers in the survey and those that have been most
useful for potential employees to learn of jobs in the hospitality and retail industries.
Generally, these findings offer no real surprises, but several aspects are worthy of
comment. An interesting finding was the high number of companies who still make use
of government job centres, with 71 per cent of respondents still using this service. It is
also unsurprising to still see relatively large numbers of employers using the local
press. In terms of recruitees personal aesthetics, employers can signal the type of
labour required by using terms such as smart young person in the advertisement.
MSQ For example, Jackson et al. (2002) in a review of 5,000 jobs advertisements across a
number of different occupations and sectors found that only 26 per cent of
15,2 organisations mentioned the need for educational requirements in their
advertisements. Within, personal services this figure was less than 10 per cent.
Rather like our earlier review of job adverts (as reported in Warhurst et al., 2000)
Jackson et al. (2002) also found numerous instances of front-line service jobs asking for
200 attributes which referred less to what individuals could do than to what they were like,
such as being well-turned out or well-spoken, or having a good appearance,
good manners, character or presence. Additionally, employers may also require
the enclosure of a photograph with applications. On that latter point, it is noteworthy
here that there was a noticeable difference between the employers and employees
response on the use of a photograph as part of the recruitment and selection process.
Only 3 per cent of the employers suggested that they still used a photograph as part of
the recruitment and selection process. This low figure may well be a recognition by
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employers of the advice from the Employment Service to desist from using
photographs, due to their potentially discriminatory nature. However, 23 per cent of the
employees sample noted that they have been asked to provide a photograph as part of
the recruitment and selection process. As was noted earlier, a number of employers in
the retail and hospitality industries use more informal methods, not least because such
methods are inexpensive. Beyond this cost factor, we would argue that things such as
casual calling also allows for the filtering out of those who may not best embody the
corporate image. The fact that many young people, such as students, may seek work
by presenting themselves in person enables employers to screen for aesthetic skills.
Indeed, Lucas and Ralston (1997, p. 57), in noting how students often make a direct
approach to the employer, recognise that perhaps the more experienced students sell
their wares by visiting a number of employers until a job offer is achieved.

Selection methods
In service work the social composition of the producers is part of the product.
Employers seek employees with personal characteristics likely to make them interact
spontaneously and perform effectively. Thus, as we suggested earlier sociability,
self-presentation, friendliness, drive, honest/integrity, conscientious and adaptability
are more important selection criteria than technical skills. To discern such
characteristics and attributes most of the surveyed organisations relied on the
so-called classic trio of application forms (79 per cent) and/or CVs (74 per cent),
interviews (89 per cent) and references (60 per cent). The interview remains popular

Employers Employees

Job centres 71 49
Local press 50 60
National press 17 20
Word of mouth/referrals 65 65
Casual callers 49 17
Web sites 32 16
Table I. Training agencies for the unemployed 13 Question not asked
Sources of recruitment Note: Figures are percentages and rounded
with managers and applicants alike, as it is simple, quick and cheap despite Importance of
reliability and validity concerns. It also fulfils a social function, enabling recruitees attitude and
social, and we would argue, aesthetic aspects to be assessed. Over and above the
classic trio there was little evidence of employers seeking a more sophisticated appearance
approach to selection. What is clear is that throughout the recruitment and selection
process employers are judging potential employees on the basis of customer focus,
interpersonal skills, aesthetic and self-presentation skills, emotional control and 201
empathy.

Importance of image and appearance


As argued earlier, it is increasingly recognised that control of employees attitudes and
appearance are seen as legitimate managerial strategies for service companies in the
name of customer care and service quality. Within these broader customer care
strategies, the aesthetic content of labour, in the form of language, dress codes, shape
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and size of body, manner and style, is deliberately manufactured to appeal to


customers. This strategy was evident in the findings. Asked to assess the centrality of
employee appearance to the success of the business, 53 per cent of the sample felt it
was critical, 40 per cent felt it was important, and 6 per cent somewhat important.
Thus, at least 93 per cent of respondents attributed significant importance to the image
of customer-facing staff. Only one respondent suggested that the appearance of
customer-facing staff had no importance to business success.

Image and dress codes


When writers talk of the importance of servicescapes (Bitner, 1992), packaging the
service provider (Solomon, 1985) or the performative labour (Bryman, 2004) of the
service worker on the service stage (Pine and Gilmore, 1999) it is clear that
organisations are increasingly taking an interest in further refining the corporate
image through items such as uniforms and dress codes. As Income Data Services (IDS,
2001, p. 3) note There is little mileage to be gained from introducing a smart new
uniform if the general appearance of staff undermines the overall look. A recent
survey by Industrial Relations Services (IRS, 2000) of 79 organisations across a variety
of sectors found that 60 of these organisations were operating a formal policy on
uniforms and dress codes. The vast majority of these organisations, 82 per cent,
introduced these policies to maintain a corporate image. A question in the survey of
Glasgow elicited a similar response, with 80 per cent of organisations operating a
uniform policy, primarily for the purposes of maintaining a corporate image. If
companies are willing to spend money on uniforms to project a positive brand image to
customers then they are equally keen to ensure that the overall look is not
undermined by other aspects of employees appearance. Thus, 90 per cent of our
surveyed companies also operated a dress code for employees. Aspects of the dress
code included:
.
rules for general tidiness 98 per cent;
.
clothing style 74 per cent;
.
jewellery 66 per cent;
.
make up and/or personal grooming 63 per cent; and
.
hair style and length 45 per cent.
MSQ Appearance therefore matters to employers. Moreover, the main aspects of this
appearance can be moulded, in other words acted on and changed. In this respect, it
15,2 should also be noted that 31 per cent of respondents do not allow visible tattoos in their
customer-facing staff. Given that tattoos cannot be moulded, having tattoos, or having
visible tattoos, might impede employability. From these findings it can be seen that
employers are concerned not only with recruiting the right image, but also then
202 further moulding this image through the use of uniform and dress codes. This practice
may raise some ethical considerations in terms of the extent to which companies can
legitimately involve themselves in policing an individuals appearance in the
organisational setting, especially in light of the Human Rights Act (1998)[2].

What are employers looking for? Attributes and capacities for customer-facing staff
The following figures reiterate much of the previous discussion that points strongly to
employers, in the first instance, being more concerned with aspects such as the
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attitudes and appearance of their customer-facing staff (see Figure 1).


On the question of what employers are looking for in front-line or customer-facing
staff 65 per cent suggested that the right personality was critical, with the remainder of
respondents suggesting this aspect was important. Equally, 33 per cent of the
employers surveyed felt that the right appearance was critical and 57 per cent as
important, only 2 per cent of respondents felt it was not important. These figures can
be compared to qualifications, with only 1 per cent of employers seeing qualifications
as critical, 19 per cent felt it was important and 40 per cent suggested it was not
important at all for selecting their customer-facing staff. These findings are consistent
with other work, such as Jackson et al. (2002), which suggests that the right personality
and right appearance are clearly accorded greater worth by employers in the
recruitment and selection of front-line staff compared to qualifications.

Employer demand: skills


In Figure 2 it is clear that employers place a far greater emphasis on softer skills for
customer-facing staff. If the respondents who felt that the soft skills were either
critical or important are combined then 99 per cent of respondents felt that social and
interpersonal skills were felt to be of at least significant importance, and 98 per cent felt
likewise about self-presentation skills. Conversely, only 48 per cent of employers felt
that technical skills were important in their customer-facing skills, with 40 per cent
suggesting it was somewhat important and 16 per cent suggesting they were not
important at all. The skills that matter to employers in customer-facing staff are
therefore soft, and for both aspects social and self-presentation, not technical.

Figure 1.
The attributes and
capacities employers are
seeking at the point of
entry to employment
(recruitment and selection)
Skills shortages Importance of
On the different question of the extent to which applicants for customer-facing attitude and
positions lacked certain skills the findings point to the skills being most lacking as
again being those soft aspects. appearance
As Figure 3 outlines, for technical skills 12 per cent of the respondents suggested
that applicants lacked such skills to a large extent, with 65 per cent to some extent and
22 per cent not at all. It should also be appreciated that in interactive service work what 203
constitutes these technical skills can be quite limited. For many employers it relates to
employees competent computerised till operation. With regard to social and
interpersonal skills 20 per cent of the respondents noted that applicants lacked these
skills to a large extent, 68 per cent to some extent and only 13 per cent not at all.
Finally, at the point of entry, for self-presentation skills 12 per cent suggested that
applicants lacked these skills to a large extent, 72 per cent to some extent and only 16
per cent not at all.
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Skills gaps
The figures for those lacking such skills at the point of entry can be placed alongside
the extent to which these skills were lacking in existing customer-facing staff, as
outlined in Figure 4.
For technical skills, only 4 per cent of the respondents felt that present staff lacked
technical skills to a large extent, 46 per cent to some extent and 50 per cent not at all.
For social and interpersonal skills, 2 per cent felt that this was true to a large extent, 40

Figure 2.
The skills that are
importance in
customer-facing staff

Figure 3.
The skills lacking in
applicants for
customer-facing positions
MSQ per cent felt that existing staff lacked such skills to some extent, with 57 per cent
15,2 suggesting not at all. Lastly, on the question of self-presentation, 2 per cent felt that
this was true to a large extent, 34 per cent felt that current staff lacked these skills to
some extent, with 64 per cent not lacking such skills. Equally though it is clear that a
number of existing employees do have such skills and this finding is arguably
explained by the fact that those lacking social and interpersonal and self-presentation
204 skills are more likely to be filtered out in the recruitment and selection process. Our
contention would therefore be that those workers with social and aesthetic skills are at
a distinct advantage in the recruitment and selection process, compared to those who
lack such skills.

Training
To address any skills gaps in existing employees, employers provide training,
although it is clear again that such training is more likely to be more oriented to
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addressing deficiencies in hard as opposed to soft skills.


Figure 5 demonstrates that much of the training that occurs within the retail and
hospitality companies in our survey focuses on harder technical aspects, such as
product knowledge and company equipment (computerised tills for example), with a
lesser, although still significant, emphasis on social and interpersonal and
self-presentation skills. The latter is again likely to be an outcome of existing
employees having such skills when they enter employment with the company and thus

Figure 4.
The skills lacking in
existing customer-facing
staff

Figure 5.
The training provided for
customer-facing staff all
organisations
be what might be termed oven ready. Nonetheless, there are some employers who Importance of
continue to offer further training for employees in aspects of self-presentation. Nickson attitude and
et al. (2001, pp. 181-2) found evidence that employers sought to continue to mould
employees in aesthetic skills after their initial recruitment. The pilot study found appearance
evidence of employers providing training in areas such as grooming and deportment.
Similarly, in the survey reported here, there is significant evidence of employers
offering further training in aesthetic aspects. Of the 56 per cent of employers who 205
offered training on self-presentation, almost 77 per cent offered this training in body
language, largely with the intent of portraying the correct and welcoming image to
initially attract potential customers and then training in how best to approach
customers by reading their body language and responding accordingly. On the
question of dress sense and style, 61 per cent offered such training and 34 per cent of
employers also offered training in the area of personal grooming. These findings
should clearly be taken in conjunction with the earlier discussion about image and
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dress codes. It is clear that simply having aesthetic skills at the point of entry is not
always enough and employers wish to go further in refining their employees image in
order to best embody the corporate image. In summary, what the findings demonstrate
is that it is clear that aspects of self-presentation, along with other soft skills, are an
integral part of the product offered by hospitality and retail organisations. These
aspects of self-presentation can be seen in the surveyed companies recruitment and
selection, training and management practices. For example, in the recruitment and
selection process, employers, along with social or interpersonal skills, judge potential
employees on the basis of their aesthetic and self-presentation skills. Equally,
companies continue to mould their employees once they are in the organisation
through detailed requirements articulated in appearance and dress code regulations
and by training in aspects of self-presentation.

Conclusions
We would argue that in recognising the work of Parasuraman et al. (1985) both
tangible and intangible aspects are important in how customers judge service quality.
Key within this process of determining service quality are front line employees and a
number of organisations are increasingly viewing their employees as offering
competitive advantage in relation to both the delivery and quality of service; and
equally becoming an integral part of the product by embodying the image of the
company. In this process of becoming the embodiment of the company, the human
software is transformed into the corporate hardware and becomes an important part of
what the customer consumes. Our research on aesthetic labour represents a significant
step forward in appreciating the corporeal aspects of service quality, especially in those
organisations that we have previously characterised as being primarily style driven.
The survey reported in this research, though, is important in allowing for a greater
understanding of the breadth and extent of employer demand for aesthetic and
self-presentation skills as part of a broader package of soft skills. It points to the
requirement for aesthetic skills in both style driven and more prosaic retail and
hospitality companies. Focusing specifically on skills and related issues in the retail
and hospitality industries in Glasgow, the survey found that employers place
significant importance on employees soft skills which encompass the social or
interpersonal and aesthetic or self-presentational. With regard to employees
MSQ appearance, employers are concerned most with issues of dress sense/style,
15,2 voice/accent and physical looks. Employers therefore place far greater emphasis on
soft skills rather than hard technical skills for both getting and doing the job and as
a result, do not regard qualifications as important in their customer-facing employees.
The key point to reiterate is that there is a range of skills that are demanded by
employers, encompassing the technical, social and aesthetic. The first two have been
206 discussed in depth, the latter, though, continues to remain under-appreciated but this
situation needs to be rectified given the findings of this study. Soft skills should roll
up the social or interpersonal and aesthetic skills or self-presentational. This study has
provided the evidence needed to demonstrate the importance of aesthetic or
self-presentation skills to employers in the Glasgow retail and hospitality sectors and
we would suggest interactive service work as a whole.
Given the importance of aesthetic skills in industries such as retail and hospitality
there are several implications for both managers and policy makers. For the former,
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while there are clearly established precedents that employers do have a legal right to
regulate their employees dress and appearance (IDS, 2001; IRS, 2000), it is important to
recognise limitations to such prescriptions. Specifically, managers should be clear that
attempts to circumscribe the appearance of employees for the purposes of the branding
and marketing of the organisation are in the business interests of the company and
non-discriminatory. With employees now becoming a crucial part of the company
image and service quality strategies of service companies there is the potential for
judgements about the right kind of employee to be seen to be discriminatory (see also
Prewitt, 2003). Indeed, there is active debate in the USA and other countries such as
Australia, as to whether lookism should take its place along with sexism, racism and
ageism as one of the potentially discriminatory aspects of the contemporary workplace
(Valenti, 2003). For policy-makers there is a need to ensure that vocational training
provision is cognisant of the skills needed in the contemporary service workplace. For
example, the importance employee attitudes have been recognised, with social and
interpersonal skills already featuring within vocational education and training (see
Westwood, 2004). However, the under-appreciation of aesthetic and self-presentation
skills means that it has tended to be neglected. We would suggest this neglect should
be addressed, especially for those entering the labour market for the first time or for the
unemployed who are seeking to re-enter the labour market (see, for example, Lindsay
and McQuaid, 2004; Nickson et al., 2003). In an environment where service employees
are increasingly, in Zeithaml and Bitners (2003, p. 318) words, walking billboards,
instilling awareness of the importance of self-presentation is crucial, both to maintain
the employability of individuals but also to ensure that they act as the desired physical
embodiment of the company.

Notes
1. Pettinger (2002) notes there is often a distinction between mass/mid-market fashion retailers,
who will frequently have a literal corporate uniform, which the employee must wear and
which clearly marks them out as employees; and high fashion retailers, where employees
will often model current stock and consequently may be potentially indistinguishable from
consumers. Pettinger describes this as the difference between uniform and model
companies, such that the former often employs aesthetised labour, while the latter are more
overtly creating a style with the use of the aesthetic labour of their front-line personnel.
2. Articles 8, 10 and 14 of the Human Rights Act, respectively confer the right to respect for Importance of
private life, freedom of expression, and rights relating to discrimination, all of which could
conceivably impact on aspects of dress and appearance regulations in the workplace. attitude and
appearance

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