University of Oulu

Magnus Söderlund, Eeva-Liisa Oikarinen & Teck Ming Tan (2022) The hard-working virtual agent in the service encounter boosts customer satisfaction, The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research,

The hard-working virtual agent in the service encounter boosts customer satisfaction

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Author: Söderlund, Magnus1,2; Oikarinen, Eeva-Liisa3; Tan, Teck Ming3
Organizations: 1Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden
2Marketing Department, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Marketing, Management and International Business, Oulu Business School, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.7 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Informa, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-04-27


Virtual agents (VAs) are used increasingly as representatives of the firm in retail and service settings — particularly in online environments. Existing studies indicate that the customer’s experience is enhanced if VAs resemble humans, which seems to imply that what has been learned over the years in research about the influence of the human employee’s behavior on customer satisfaction may be applicable also to VA behavior. This study explores one factor, effort, which has a positive impact on customer satisfaction when it characterizes the human employee in service encounters. Although a VA (i.e., a computer program) cannot experience effort, it was assumed that human sensitivity to other humans’ effort, and a tendency to anthropomorphize non-human agents, would make human customers susceptible to effort-expending signals when they interact with a VA. To examine this assumption, data were collected from customers who had been interacting with existing VAs. The results indicate that three specific behaviors (engaging in personal conversation, listening, and display of warmth) boost the customer’s perceptions of VA effort, and that perceived VA effort has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

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Series: International review of retail, distribution and consumer research
ISSN: 0959-3969
ISSN-E: 1466-4402
ISSN-L: 0959-3969
Issue: Online first
DOI: 10.1080/09593969.2022.2042715
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 512 Business and management
Copyright information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.