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The Interactive Effect of the Feature Types and Styles of Robotic Service Providers on Social Cognition of Customers
Authors: Yu-Shan (Sandy) Huang (Northern Michigan University), Nobuyuki Fukawa (Missouri University of Science and Technology), Barry J. Babin (Louisiana Tech University)
The new applications of robotic technologies are expected to create a $1.5 billion market by 2019 (Business Insider 2015). Rapidly emerging robotic technologies have not only challenged the traditional frontline encounters (Parasuraman and Colby 2015), but also transformed customer service experiences (van Doorn et al. 2017). Despite those potential impacts of robotic technology, some robotic service providers (RSPs) have been introduced merely as a novel promotional tool rather than substitutes of service associates. For example, Mandarin Oriental hotel in Las Vegas recently introduced a humanoid RSP, named Pepper, to provide hotel information (utilitarian features) and to entertain its guests by dancing and telling a story (hedonic features) (Jones 2017). Once the novelty of RSP wears off, marketers may not know how to utilize RSPs strategically as substitutes of service associates. Recent study suggests that RSP feature types (utilitarian vs. hedonic features) are critical determinants of customers’ willingness to try a humanoid RSP, while this is not the case for a non-humanoid RSP (Fukawa and Huang 2018). However, we have not yet understood the underlying cognitive mechanism of this interaction effect of the feature types (utilitarian vs. hedonic) and RSP styles (humanoid vs. non-humanoid) on the willingness to try. In this paper, we aim to understand how social cognition may possibly mediate this interaction effect.
Social cognition reflects how individuals interpret information about a social entity (Fiske and Macrae 2012). As RSPs become more humanlike, customers may perceive them more as a social entity and see RSPs warmer, and more competent (Van Doorn et al. 2017; Kim, Park, and Sundar 2013). The warmth and competence are two dimensions of social cognition (Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick 2008; Fiske, Cuddy, and Glick 2007). While warmth is associated with RSPs being caring, competence is associated with RSPs being skilful (van Doorn et al. 2017). Because the perception of warmth is rooted in affective traits and affective experiences are closely associated with hedonic values (Chattalas and Takada 2013; Chattalas, Kramer, and Takada 2008), hedonic features of RSPs are more likely to trigger warmth perception than competence perception. On the other hand, because the perception of competence captures functionality of an entity and functionality is closely related to utilitarian values (Chattalas and Takada 2013), utilitarian features of RSPs are more likely to produce competence perception than warmth perception. In addition, we expect this effect of RSP feature types on social cognition to be moderated by the RSP styles and to explain the interaction effect on the willingness to try RSPs. Overall, this research provides implications for researchers and practitioners interested in understanding the application of robotic technology in frontline encounters.