University of Oulu

Soderlund, M., Oikarinen, E.-L., & Tan, T. M. (2021). The happy virtual agent and its impact on the human customer in the service encounter. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 59, 102401.

The happy virtual agent and its impact on the human customer in the service encounter

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Author: Soderlund, Magnus1; Oikarinen, Eeva-Liisa2; Tan, Teck Ming2
Organizations: 1Centre for Consumer Marketing (CCM), Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, SE-113 83, Stockholm, Sweden
2Oulu Business School, P.O. Box 4600, 90014, University of Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2021
Publish Date: 2020-12-11


Few existing virtual agents (VAs) that customers interact with in service encounters can experience emotions, but they can be (and often are) designed so that they appear to have this capability. The purpose of this study was to assess VAs’ display of happiness in service encounters when the only means they have to express themselves is the text that they transmit. Linguistic elements that influence the perceived happiness of a (human) sender of text messages were identified in a pilot study, and they were used to manipulate VA display of happiness in two experiments. In addition, a field study was carried out to capitalize on customers’ existing experience of service encounters with VAs in bona fide commercial settings. The experiments showed that VA text manipulated to signal VA happiness boosts overall VA evaluations, and the field study showed that perceived VA happiness is positively associated with overall VA evaluations. Taken together, the findings indicate that we humans are so hardwired for interactions with other humans that we react to VA display of happiness in ways that resemble our reactions when we are exposed to happy humans. The findings also provide designers of VAs and service marketers with a set of easily implemented linguistic elements that can be employed to make VAs appear happy in service encounters.

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Series: Journal of retailing and consumer services
ISSN: 0969-6989
ISSN-E: 1873-1384
ISSN-L: 0969-6989
Volume: 59
Article number: 102401
DOI: 10.1016/j.jretconser.2020.102401
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 512 Business and management
Copyright information: © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (