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Are we Forever Chasing Rainbows? Measuring the Impact of Telepresence and Complexity of Virtual Reality on Hedonic Adaptation in Service Experiences
Authors: Daniel Zimmermann (Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany)
Nowadays, customers are constantly searching for experiences in service consumption (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). Based on the theory of hedonic adaptation, however, individuals adapt to a positive stimulus in a way that emotional altitude of the effect decreases over time, reducing the effect of favourable circumstances (Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999). Thus, managing services to provide new experience has become one essential strategic component in an area where hedonic experiences are the basis for value creation (Higgins, 2006; Verhoef et al., 2009). The prerequisite for successful management of experiences, however, is the understanding of the creation and its influencing variables (Klaus & Maklan, 2012).
In order to manage and enhance service experiences, many providers are integrating digital technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) into their service delivery process (Barrett, Davidson, Prabhu, & Vargo, 2015). In the case of VR, defined as “a communication medium that seeks to perfect an immersive experience of being present in a three-dimensional environment, allowing interaction in real-time” (Zimmermann, 2018, p. 14), researchers have limited insights into how consumers immerse into VR and how differently they are affected by the virtual experience (Papagiannidis, See-To, & Bourlakis, 2014). Therefore, and relating especially to telepresence, the research project investigates whether (1) VR can entirely reface a service experience to avoid hedonic adaptation, (2) telepresence is able to absorb the hedonic adaptation in repetitive service usage and (3) whether complexity of the VR design influences the evaluation of a service experience over time.
Two studies were conducted in the context of a hedonic service experience (i.e. a water park), where visitors were able to experience the same service (i.e. a waterslide) both with and without the usage of VR. In a first, qualitative study 23 interviews have been analyzed by the means of a qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2010) to find that participants indeed experienced the original service entirely new when adding a virtual environment and hence avoiding the effect of hedonic adaptation. The second study comprised a longitudinal experiment with a 2x2 between-subject design with 151 participants. Firstly, the results prove that VR allowed customers to avoid hedonic adaptation through novelty. Furthermore it showed that even during repetitive usage of VR, hedonic adaptation was absorbed by an increasing level of telepresence, keeping the level of enjoyment constantly high. Lastly, the effect of complexity in the VR design influenced the effect of hedonic adaptation. The studies contribute to the current service research on the meaning of new technologies and experiences in services (Lemon & Verhoef, 2016; Barrett et al., 2015) and the findings allow managers to renew an existing experience through telepresence to overcome the process of hedonic adaptation and thus support the customers on their chase of rainbows.