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The hard-working virtual agent in the service encounter boosts customer satisfaction

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Abstract

Virtual agents (VAs) are used increasingly as representatives of the firm in retail and service settings – particularly in online environments. Existing studies indicate that the customer’s experience is enhanced if VAs resemble humans, which seems to imply that what has been learned over the years in research about the influence of the human employee’s behavior on customer satisfaction may be applicable also to VA behavior. This study explores one factor, effort, which has a positive impact on customer satisfaction when it characterizes the human employee in service encounters. Although a VA (i.e., a computer program) cannot experience effort, it was assumed that human sensitivity to other humans’ effort, and a tendency to anthropomorphize non-human agents, would make human customers susceptible to effort-expending signals when they interact with a VA. To examine this assumption, data were collected from customers who had been interacting with existing VAs. The results indicate that three specific behaviors (engaging in personal conversation, listening, and display of warmth) boost the customer’s perceptions of VA effort, and that perceived VA effort has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

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Purpose This paper aims to assess the impact of perceived effort related to packaging on overall product evaluations. Perceived effort, defined as the consumer’s perceptions of how much manufacturer effort that lies behind an offer, is assumed to contribute to evaluations by signaling unobservable characteristics of an offer. Design/methodology/approach Three between-subjects experiments were conducted with soft drink bottles, which were subject to variation in perceived effort. Findings The results show that perceived effort was positively associated with overall evaluations. The results also show that the impact of perceived effort was mediated by product quality perceptions, which indicates that effort signals quality. Originality/value Perceived effort has to date not been examined in the packaging literature. The present findings thus imply that models of packaging characteristics and their impact on consumers would benefit from including the effort aspect.
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In movies, robots are often extremely humanlike. Although these robots are not yet reality, robots are currently being used in health care, education, and business. Robots provide benefits such as relieving loneliness and enabling communication. Engineers are trying to build robots that look and behave like humans and thus need comprehensive knowledge not only of technology but also of human cognition, emotion, and behavior. This need is driving engineers to study human behavior toward other humans and toward robots, leading to greater understanding of how humans think, feel, and behave in these contexts, including our tendencies for mindless social behaviors, anthropomorphism, uncanny feelings toward robots, and the formation of emotional attachments. However, in considering the increased use of robots, many people have concerns about deception, privacy, job loss, safety, and the loss of human relationships. Human-robot interaction is a fascinating field and one in which psychologists have much to contribute, both to the development of robots and to the study of human behavior. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology Volume 68 is January 03, 2017. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
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This essay builds on and expands the domain of the burgeoning literature on the human prosumer and the process of prosumption. Just as the prosumer and prosumption are finally getting the attention they have always deserved, a dramatic technological change – the rise of smart prosuming machines – is taking place that is reducing the importance of the human prosumer. While the impact of these machines on producers (here conceived of as prosumers-as-producers) has long been obvious, what has changed the most is the explosion, and the growing impact, of these machines on consumers (or prosumers-as-consumers). A number of examples are offered of smart prosuming machines for humans. The latter are often unaware of the prosumption being done by smart machines, especially on the Internet. While smart prosuming machines offer many advantages, the danger lies in the replacement of human by non-human technologies and the control exercised by them. This is especially the case on the Internet of Things where many smart prosuming machines function, interrelate, and operate as autonomous, self-organizing devices.
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The paper investigates the effects that consumer-perceived sender expense and effort might have on brand perceptions. More specifically, it extends the marketing signal literature to advertising by including both sender expense and effort, and by including both positive and negative effects. A quantitative analysis of 4,000 consumers' perceptions of creativity award winning, effectiveness award winning and non-award winning advertisements finds that advertisements with higher-than-average perceived expense and effort have positive impacts on brand attitudes, brand interest and word-of-mouth (WOM), while advertisements with lower-than-average perceived expense have corresponding negative impacts.
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This research shows that brand anthropomorphization increases the perceived unfairness of price increases and the perceived fairness of price decreases. First, analyzing a household panel data set, the authors demonstrate the real-world consequences of brand humanization on consumers' price sensitivity. Second, building on the theoretical premise that fairness judgments depend on consumer focus on the self versus others, they find that brand humanization enhances perceived unfairness of price increases for agency-oriented consumers, who tend to maximize their own self-interests. However, for communion-oriented consumers, who generally consider the needs of others, brand humanization increases perceived fairness of both price increases and decreases. Furthermore, because consumers' focus on the self versus others also depends on relationship goals, the nature of consumer-brand relationships interacts with agency-communion orientation to influence the effect of brand humanization on perceived price fairness. For example, exchange relationship norms reduce the power of brand anthropomorphization to enhance perceived fairness of price changes for communion-oriented consumers. In contrast, the communal nature of these relationships makes both agency- and communion-oriented consumers infer greater positive intent from a humanized (vs. nonhumanized) brand, thus leading to a more positive effect of brand humanization on price fairness for price decreases.
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This essay describes differences between papers that contain some theory rather than no theory. There is little agreement about what constitutes strong versus weak theory in the social sciences, but there is more consensus that references, data, variables, diagrams, and hypotheses are not theory. Despite this consensus, however, authors routinely use these five elements in lieu of theory. We explain how each of these five elements can be confused with theory and how to avoid such confusion. By making this consensus explicit, we hope to help authors avoid some of the most common and easily averted problems that lead readers to view papers as having inadequate theory. We then discuss how journals might facilitate the publication of stronger theory. We suggest that if the field is serious about producing stronger theory, journals need to reconsider their empirical requirements. We argue that journals ought to be more receptive to papers that test part rather than all of a theory and use illustrative rather than definitive data.
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The science of AI is concerned with the study of intelligent forms of behaviour in computational terms. But what does it tell us when a good semblance of a behaviour can be achieved using cheap tricks that seem to have little to do with what we intuitively imagine intelligence to be? Are these intuitions wrong, and is intelligence really just a bag of tricks? Or are the philosophers right, and is a behavioural understanding of intelligence simply too weak? I think both of these are wrong. I suggest in the context of question-answering that what matters when it comes to the science of AI is not a good semblance of intelligent behaviour at all, but the behaviour itself, what it depends on, and how it can be achieved. I go on to discuss two major hurdles that I believe will need to be cleared.
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By performing tasks traditionally fulfilled by service personnel and having a humanlike appearance, virtual customer service agents bring classical service elements to the web, which may positively influence customer satisfaction through eliciting social responses and feelings of personalization. This paper sheds light on these dynamics by proposing and testing a model drawing upon the theories of implicit personality, social response, emotional contagion, and social interaction. The model proposes friendliness, expertise, and smile as determinants of social presence, personalization, and online service encounter satisfaction. An empirical study confirms the cross-channel applicability of friendliness and expertise as determinants of social presence and personalization. Overall, the study underlines that integration between technology and personal aspects may lead to more social online service encounters.
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We review a programme of research on the attribution of humanness to people, and the ways in which lesser humanness is attributed to some compared to others. We first present evidence that humanness has two distinct senses, one representing properties that are unique to our species, and the other—human nature—those properties that are essential or fundamental to the human category. An integrative model of dehumanisation is then laid out, in which distinct forms of dehumanisation correspond to the denial of the two senses of humanness, and the likening of people to particular kinds of nonhuman entities (animals and machines). Studies demonstrating that human nature attributes are ascribed more to the self than to others are reviewed, along with evidence of the phenomenon's cognitive and motivational basis. Research also indicates that both kinds of humanness are commonly denied to social groups, both explicitly and implicitly, and that they may cast a new light on the study of stereotype content. Our approach to the study of dehumanisation complements the tradition of research on infrahumanisation, and indicates new directions for exploring the importance of humanness as a dimension of social perception.