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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Robots at work: People prefer—and forgive—service robots with perceived feelings

Yam, K. C, Bingman, Y. E. et. al.
Journal of Applied Psychology. 
Advance online publication. 


Organizations are increasingly relying on service robots to improve efficiency, but these robots often make mistakes, which can aggravate customers and negatively affect organizations. How can organizations mitigate the frontline impact of these robotic blunders? Drawing from theories of anthropomorphism and mind perception, we propose that people evaluate service robots more positively when they are anthropomorphized and seem more humanlike—capable of both agency (the ability to think) and experience (the ability to feel). We further propose that in the face of robot service failures, increased perceptions of experience should attenuate the negative effects of service failures, whereas increased perceptions of agency should amplify the negative effects of service failures on customer satisfaction. In a field study conducted in the world’s first robot-staffed hotel (Study 1), we find that anthropomorphism generally leads to higher customer satisfaction and that perceived experience, but not agency, mediates this effect. Perceived experience (but not agency) also interacts with robot service failures to predict customer satisfaction such that high levels of perceived experience attenuate the negative impacts of service failures on customer satisfaction. We replicate these results in a lab experiment with a service robot (Study 2). Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

From Practical Contributions

Second, our findings also suggest that organizations should focus on encouraging perceptions of service robots’ experience rather than agency. For example, when assigning names to robots or programming robots’ voices, a female name and voice could potentially lead to enhanced perceptions of experience more so than a male name and voice (Gray et al., 2007). Likewise, service robots’ programmed scripts should include content that conveys the capacity of experience, such as displaying emotions. Although
the emerging service robotic technologies are not perfect and failures are inevitable, encouraging anthropomorphism and, more specifically, perceptions of experience can likely offset the negative effects of robot service failures.