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Voice assistants are virtual service robots (Wirtz et al., 2018) and revolutionize the way consumers interact with their environment. According to Tractica (2016), the number of users of digital assistants has more than doubled between 2016 and 2018. Despite the high practical relevance, research on voice assistants is still in its infancy. Thus, our research investigates the impact of voice assistants on customer’s service perception and outcome attribution.
Research on brand humanization emphasizes the key role of anthropomorphism for developing a close consumer-brand relationship (Kim & Kramer, 2015). Anthropomorphism implies humanizing nonhuman objects by ascribing them with human-like features, personality traits and mind (Epley et al., 2008; Waytz et al., 2010). A brand persona, as a form of brand anthropomorphization (Dion & Arnould, 2015), impersonates human traits and presence even though it is invisible (Rossiter & Percy, 1987). Therefore, brands need to know if consumers prefer to interact with the non-brand-specific voice persona created by the OEM such as Alexa or with a brand-specific voice persona, which is created for a specific brand and may facilitate the consumer’s proximity to the brand. Nevertheless, research accentuates the adverse consequences of brand anthropomorphism such as the attribution of blame in the case of service failure. As consumers purchase goods and services to obtain consummatory affective gratification or for instrumental reasons (Batra & Ahtola,1991), the service evaluation can also be influenced by the service type (i.e. utilitarian or hedonic service). Based on the theory of social response (Nass & Moon, 2012) and attribution theory (Kelley, 1967), we investigate the impact of a brand-specific or non-brand-specific voice persona on consumer’s perception for both utilitarian and hedonic services.
Therefore, we conduct two laboratory experiments with a 2x2 between-subject design manipulating the type of persona (non-brand-specific OEM persona vs. brand-specific persona) and interaction quality (high vs. low) – one for an utilitarian and one for an hedonic service context. Perceived humanness, e.g. through human voice, is especially important for complex emotional-social tasks, whereas for the execution of functional tasks, a robot-delivered service would be sufficient (Wirtz et al, 2018). Thus, in the context of hedonic services, we expect the interaction with a brand-specific voice persona to increase consumer loyalty more than the interaction with the non-specific voice persona. However, we hypothesize that the impact of low interaction quality on loyalty is stronger for hedonic services when interacting with a brand-specific persona compared to a non-brand-specific persona.
To best of our knowledge, our study is the first to investigate the impact of the design of voice personas for voice assistants. Based on our results, we will derive managerial implications for brand managers and voice designers and suggest further research areas.