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With rapidly changing service landscapes, the need to understand, manage and design better customer service experiences (CSE) becomes inevitable for service managers and researchers alike. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) are reshaping the service industry and require new methods to understand their impact on CSE (Wirtz et al., 2018).
While these technologies accelerate the pace of innovations, it remains questionable to what extent customers are ready to adopt and change their behavior. In particular, new technologies are changing the traditional servicescape for all actors, postulating customers to connect novel information to existing knowledge and make sense of this new environment. This CSE formation is a critical moment since it not only determines the customer’s current experience, but through its semantic storage also impacts future experiences.
While a large body of literature in service and marketing has investigated the role of CSE within both on- and offline servicescape, the process of connecting sensory information in form of stimuli in novel and unfamiliar servicescapes such as the interaction with emerging technologies, yet needs to be explored. These unfamiliar servicescapes require a higher cognitive involvement from customers, who create knowledge and understanding by linking sensory information within these servicescapes to existing experiences. To date, research has investigated the influence of the servicescape on customer perceptions and behavior (Bitner 1992; Nguyen 2006), however the actual sense-making process remains vaguely understood.
The goal of this paper is therefore to contribute to the servicescape literature by: (1) integrating and deepen the understanding of the role of sensory stimuli in shaping CSE in an increasingly technology-driven service environment; (2) to uncover the concept of sensory perception within novel servicescapes determined by emerging technologies; and (3) to establish a conceptual framework that integrates prior servicescape and experience research, to better understand, manage and improve CSE in these novel servicescapes.
The authors find that existing studies usually focus on CSE as an outcome that is determined by customer perceptions, rather than investigating the actual sense-making process and formation of CSE. In addition, analysing a large body of literature outside the service and marketing domain (i.e. from psychology, neuroscience, and computer science) allows to generate a more comprehensive picture on this sense-making process. In particular, the conceptual framework shows the connection between sensory stimuli encountered in novel servicescape and their comparison to and integration with existing knowledge fragmentations that are stored in customer memories.
Managerially, the findings of this paper helps service organizations understand the role of sensory stimuli in a digital environment and hopefully guides them to leverage and design new technologies in such a way that customers require less cognitive effort to understand and adopt to these novel servicescapes.