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Authentic or Counterfeit Service? A Framework on the Complexity of AI Enabled Service Encounters
Authors: Stacey Robinsons (University of Alabama), Chiara Orsingher (University of Bologna, Italy), Linda Alkire (Texas State University), Arne De Keyser (EDHEC Business School), Mike Giebelhausen (Clemson University), Nadia Papamichail (Alliance Manchester Business School), Poja Shams (Karlstad University), Mohamed Sobhy Ahmed Hassan Temerak (Cairo University)
Advancements in technology are continually transforming service encounters. As companies move from traditional interactive voice response (IVR) systems to artificial intelligence (AI) powered chatbots and virtual assistants, service encounters are reshaped. Customers or employees are increasingly replaced as AI technology powers multiple customer service channels. Examples of AI enabled, non-face-to-face, service encounters are abundant across multiple industries, with banks, hotels, and retailers employing the technology. Customers checking into a hotel might interact with a chatbot via a mobile phone text, or AI might read and respond to a retailer’s customer complaint emails. Innovations in AI (i.e., Google Duplex) provide a service whereby a customer’s “virtual assistant” may call a restaurant to make a reservation.
The increasing infusion of AI in non-face-to-face service encounters suggests it must be beneficial for customers and employees. However, a closer look reveals a more complicated picture in which the benefits and the drawbacks of AI coexist. Our research focuses on this complexity. We propose a framework that examines the consequences infusing the service encounter with AI agents on customers, employees, and on the firm. We examine non-face-to-face encounters in which the customer or the employee are aware vs. unaware that they are interacting with an AI employee or customer.
We advance that consumers have ambivalent feelings towards the service experience when AI is present, and so have employees. Although popular press argues that by letting AI performing routine tasks, employees can handle complex activities and increase engagement in their daily work, there are likely drawbacks associated with AI presence. Employees might perceive that the AI is doing the core of their job, and that the AI receives credit for the service encounter.
Undoubtedly, the complexity of AI enabled service encounters will increase as AI technologies continue to evolve, and become progressively more humanlike. According to 2016 HubSpot Global AI Survey 63% of customers use AI without being aware they are interacting with AI, and not a human. Efforts to design AI in the form of disembodied agents that are difficult or impossible to delineate from human, and potential lack of awareness regarding the presence of AI in dyadic service exchanges, may be problematic. We advance that humanlike AI creates a counterfeit service encounter, if the consumer or employee, is unaware they are interacting with a non-human partner. Consequently, counterfeit encounters may negatively affect both the employee, and customer experience, as well as the level of trust towards the service firm.