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Together We Can Deliver: Frontline Employees and Robots Joining Forces
Authors: Gauri Laud (University of Tasmania, Australia), Sanjit Kumar Roy (University of Western Australia, Australia), Chatura Ranaweera (Lazaridis School of Business, Wilfrid Laurier University), Cheryl Leo (Murdoch University), Sima Sedighadeli (Monash University)
The rapid development of artificial intelligence and corresponding novel digital technologies and devices such as smartphones, advanced robotics, intelligent agents and the internet of things are fundamentally altering the interplay between customers, employees and service firms (e.g. Schwab, 2017; Wirtz et al., 2018). Although service researchers emphasize the benefits of robotic infusion for customers, limited knowledge exist about how it will change the service workplace for frontline employees (FLEs) (Wirtz et al. 2018; Subramony et al. 2018). Acceptance of such technology begins with acknowledging robots as dynamic actors in service ecosystems, ones that have a social presence labelled, automated social presence (ASP). ASP is defined as machines that make consumers feel they are in the company of another social entity (Van Doorn et al., 2017). Emerging research suggests that service robots can work in conjunction with, or even fully substitute, human FLEs (Van Doorn et al., 2017; Marinova et al., 2017). In other words, service robots may be perceived as a co-creation partner that can work interactively with FLEs to create value. Yet the factors that may impact these perceptions of ASP among FLEs are still unknown. To address this gap, our study proposes a conceptual model that indicates the co-creation orientation of FLEs collaboration with ASPs will impact performance outcomes and well-being of both employees and customers.
Drawing on value co-creation, service operations and behavioural research (Bowen, 2016; Karpen et al., 2015), we define FLEs’ ASP co-creation orientation as an individual’s tendency to adopt a predictable behaviour towards the ASP during a co-creation encounter. We propose seven fundamental co-creation orientations, namely; interaction, learning, ethical, relational, empowerment, developmental, innovative and concerted. Understanding FLEs’ ASP co-creation orientation can reveal their assumptions, values, behaviours and artefacts when co-creating with the ASP.
We propose that FLEs’ strong ASP co-creation orientation will enable both service delivery efficiency and customised service experiences. To deliver both efficiency and customization will require an ambidextrous skill set. Consequently, we propose ambidextrous capability (Ting et al., 2018) as the mechanism that translates ASP co-creation orientation into performance outcomes. FLEs who work together with robots to create value will leverage their ambidexterity to positively influence both employee and customer level outcomes.
The study is ongoing. It contribute theoretically to highlight the significance of each FLE-ASP co-creation orientation for creating meaningful service experiences. Furthermore, the model proposes a novel mediating mechanism of FLEs ambidextrous capability with ASP, and moderating function of the technology’s perceived complimentary/substitute role. From a managerial perspective, practitioners can activate appropriate co-creation orientations that maximise cooperation with service robots through retraining and retooling of FLEs. The study will also help robotics design to further FLEs engagement with a service robot as a co-creating social entity.