When Humanoid Service Robots Can Elicit Compensatory Consumer Responses: An Examination of Moderating Effects
Humanoid service robots are an emerging reality that will increasingly replace human service providers in numerous industries (Harris, Kimson, and Schwedel 2018). Accordingly, customer–humanoid encounters in the marketplace are not as futuristic as they might seem, and they represent a primary area for innovation in services and shopper marketing (Van Doorn et al. 2017). Although technology continuously influences customer service experiences (e.g., Giebelhausen et al. 2014; Huang and Rust 2013; Meuter et al. 2005), the emergence of humanoid robots is among the most dramatic evolutions in the service realm, and it is already underway.
To date, human reactions to robots have largely been empirically studied in the field of robotics. However, specific reactions to humanoid versus human service providers have not been widely examined (empirically). Furthermore, empirical studies of service robots from a customer perspective in commercial service settings are scarce. Therefore, it remains unclear whether humanoid service robots (compared with human employees) will trigger positive or negative consequences for service consumers and companies. It would also be important to understand what types of consumption-related behaviors humanoid service robots might evoke among consumers.
In this research, we report the results of a series of studies that use multiple distinct HSRs as stimuli and provide multiple contributions to the service literature. First, our research is among the first in service research to test empirically how customers respond to HSRs. We show that interacting with HSRs (vs. humans) both increases consumers’ discomfort with the service provider and elicits compensatory consumption (e.g., increased food intake). Second, we reveal important aspects of the process driving the compensatory effect. Consistent with the notion that a robot’s highly human-like appearance can backfire, we find that HSRs trigger discomfort, which functions as a mediator linking HSRs and customers’ responses (i.e., decreased favorability toward the robot but increased food intake). Third, after demonstrating our basic effect, this research identifies boundary conditions of the compensatory responses that HSRs elicit. Specifically, we investigate the moderating roles of social belongingness, types of food, and anthropomorphizing the robot as boundary conditions of the adverse response to HSRs. Taken together, these studies not only extend theoretical insights into the impact of technology on customer service experiences but also offer actionable managerial implications with regard to humanoid service robots.
Keywords: service, technology, robots, food, anthropomorphism, belonging, compensatory consumption