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How Anthropomorphic Design Cues and the Foot-in-the-Door Technique Affect User Compliance with Chatbots in Customer Self-Service
Authors: Martin Adam (TU Darmstadt, Germany), Michael Wessel (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark), Alexander Benlian (TU Darmstadt, Germany)
Recent technological advances in artificial intelligence have triggered a new hype around conversational agents (CAs) such as chatbots (i.e., written programs for turn-by-turn conversations with customers by means of textual or auditory inputs). These technological artefacts promise to be fast, convenient, and cost-effective technology-based self-service solutions to support customers in finding relevant information as well as performing routine tasks. Studies estimate that chatbots can reduce current global business costs of $1.3 trillion on 265 billion annual customer service calls by 30% (Reddy, 2017). In light of these technological advances, marketers need to rethink their service activities to meet contemporary customer expectations while achieving cost efficiency.
As user information processing is profoundly dependent on the presentation of information, the design of chatbots plays a vital role in influencing user decision-making. Though prior work on CAs offers valuable contributions, it focused primarily on embodied CAs with their majorly visual anthropomorphic design cues (i.e., physical appearance), whereas chatbots predominantly use verbal cues (e.g., language style) in their user interactions. Thus, with few exceptions, prior research has neglected the role of verbal cues in user interactions with disembodied CAs.
Moreover, with the rapid uptake of CAs as artificial sales and service personnel, the question arises whether previously abundantly used compliance tactics (i.e., intended influences that target user behavior) might be equally applicable in these new technology-based self-service settings. For instance, the continued-question procedure as a form of the foot-in-the-door compliance technique is characterized by a specific dialogue design of verbal interactions and has shown to be heavily dependent on the kind and number of requesters. Yet, although the application of anthropomorphic information agents seems to be a promising new field for research on compliance tactics, these tactics have been hitherto neglected.
Drawing on social response as well as commitment-consistency theory, we empirically examine through a randomized online experiment how verbal anthropomorphic design cues and the common foot-in-the-door compliance technique affect user request compliance with chatbots. Our results demonstrate that both anthropomorphism as well as the need to stay consistent significantly increase the likelihood that users comply with a request during chatbot interactions. Moreover, the results show that social presence mediates the effect of anthropomorphic design cues on user compliance.
Overall, this piece of research is an initial step towards better understanding the impact of CAs and contributes to the extant literature on the designs of customer self-service channels For platform providers and online marketers, especially for those who consider employing CAs in customer self-service, we provide promising generalizable and easily implementable design recommendations by validating the efficacy of anthropomorphic design cues and the foot-in-the-door technique in enhancing user compliance in the context of chatbots.