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Augmented Empathic Capacity: A New Perspective for Raising Prosocial Interactivity and Customer Engagement in the Automated Service Era
Authors: Mathieu Lajante (Laval University, Canada), Philip Jackson (Laval University, Canada)
The rise of automated service technologies (AST) offers an opportunity for service personalization, while simultaneously capitalizing on the benefits of service automation. However, this technological shift in service also upsets firm-customer interactions, and its net effect on customer engagement is still under scrutiny.
Here, we posit that AST may have a negative impact on customer engagement by degrading empathy. On the one hand, AST elicit loss in human interactions, which decreases the ability to share customers’ affective and mental states—the affective dimension of empathy. On the other hand, AST rely on computer-based solutions, which increases the ability to decode customers’ affective and mental states—the cognitive dimension of empathy. However, decoding without sharing affective and mental states can lead to egocentric behaviors solely aligned with the firm’s benefits, which we argue are reminiscent of those of a psychopathic individual: antisocial, lacking consideration for customers’ well-being, devoid of guilt. In the end, the firm’s psychopathic behaviors will negatively affect customer engagement. This potential threat highlights the importance of redefining the boundaries of empathy in the AST era.
Based on a neuroscience perspective, we introduce a new model—the augmented empathic capacity—which describes the firm’s capacity not only to decode, but also to share customers’ affective and mental states, in order to develop prosocial interactivity and an altruistic relationship. The model describes two routes that stem from the two main components of empathy: the socio-affective route and the socio-cognitive route. Since both routes are jointly required for the evaluation of customers’ affective and mental states, the model is executed by trained employees in empathic intelligence.
The socio-affective route relies on two emotional connection systems: a bottom-up and a top-down system. The bottom-up system refers to the establishment of a customer advisory group where customers share their affective and mental states, whereas the top-down system refers to the deployment of empathic squads in the field to “feel the heat” of in situ customers’ experience.
The socio-cognitive route relies on artificial intelligence applications throughout the customers’ journey to mentalize their affective and mental states through their emotional expression and motivators. Emotional expression refers to emotion labelling by means of sentiment mining and multi-modal emotional recognition such as facial expression and vocalization, whereas emotional motivators refer to the cognitive appraisal of emotion-eliciting events during customers’ experience.
The joint evaluation of the socio-affective and the socio-cognitive routes of empathy enables to deploy an empathic chain value—the roadmap for promoting prosocial interactivity and an altruistic relationship. Accordingly, the augmented empathic capacity model considers ATS as the firm’s prosocial, altruistic response to leverage customer engagement. Broadly, the augmented empathic capacity model suggests a promising avenue for improving customer relationship management in the AST era.