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Engaging Customers along the Smart Services Journey - A Network Perspective
Authors: Bieke Henkens (Ghent University and KU Leuven, Belgium), Katrien Verleye (Ghent University), Bart Larivière (KU Leuven and EMLYON Business School)
Smart services – which are services provided by or to smart, connected objects with the ability to sense and communicate – are increasingly being adopted in myriad industries. An illustration concerns smart fridges allowing customers to consult fridge inventories and make shopping lists via an app and order items through the fridge directly at connected grocery stores. Smart service literature has focused primarily on conceptualizing smart services and its technical aspects, thereby referring to the Internet-of-Things defined as the network that connects smart objects, users, service providers, and other actors during the delivery of smart services through sensors and smart technology. To date, extant research merely focused on the implementation of smart services from a provider perspective, while the customer acceptance and adoption only recently gained attention. To better understand the long-term implications of offering smart services to customers, the present study aims to provide insight into customer engagement defined as customers’ interactive, cocreative experiences with the network of actors along the smart services journey. Drawing on social exchange theory and self-serving bias, we investigate how this type of customer engagement is influenced by the level of service smartness defined as the degree to which customer participation is required for the delivery of services. Specifically, the level of service smartness is inversely related to the level of customer participation, considering that a higher (lower) level of smartness implies customers to participate in less (more) tasks in the smart services journey. Along this journey, customers may interact with not only smart object providers (e.g., smart fridge brand) but also service partners at different points in time (e.g., telecom providers in the pre-purchase phase and grocery stores in the (post-)purchase phase). As such, customers may show engagement towards the network of actors involved in the smart services journey. To investigate our research objective, we conduct scenario-based surveys with validated scales and items. This research contributes to the smart service and engagement literature in three important ways. First, by adopting an engagement perspective along the smart services journey, we gain insights into long-term benefits (engagement) beyond short-term gains (adoption). Second, we contribute the literature by focusing on networks and complex ecosystems, considering the introduction of an engagement perspective in a smart service context entailing multiple actors involved in the smart services journey. Third, we gain insights into the level of customer participation linked to the level of smartness of the serviceand its implications on customer engagement. This research helps managers to gain insights in how the level of service smartness impacts customer engagement towards a multitude of actors along the smart services journey, thereby enabling managers to enhance customer engagement by advancing smart service designs and by managing their position towards other actors.