Self-service versus human interaction in private consumption: The moderating role of brand personality
The lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have accentuated our need as human beings to interact with other human beings. Students prefer face-to-face versus online1 instruction; we are biased against robots2 and crave authentic human interaction. But are humans likely to prefer human over nonhuman interaction in every situation? Lee, Park, and Kim’s article Self-service versus human interaction in private consumption: The moderating role of brand personality argues that the answer is no.
One setting in which we may prefer nonhuman interaction is private consumption (e.g., booking a secret trip with a lover) because interaction with a person may be uncomfortable. Lee and colleagues argue that this effect may be especially pronounced for underdog brands, as opposed to top-dog brands, as underdog brands are perceived as more human. The authors hypothesized that consumers in a private consumption context will have a more positive attitude toward service offered via self-serving technologies versus face-to-face, but only when the brand in question is an underdog.
To test this idea participants were randomly assigned to read a brand biography, depicting the brand as either an underdog (e.g., “Bank K began with the pioneer’s humble belief in providing honest financial services to local residents… [the bank] faced many challenges in competing with international banks…”) or a top dog (e.g., “Bank K is a well-known global brand … a member of the international bank association”). Then participants in each scenario read either a face-to-face (e.g., “A bank teller who oversees your account introduced a new personalized service …”) or self-serving technology scenario (e.g., “… a bank machine displayed a new personalized service…”). After, participants needed to indicate their willingness to use the new service. The results were consistent with the authors’ hypothesis: the participants in the underdog, self-service condition had higher willingness to use the new service than the underdog, face-to-face condition. There was no difference in willingness between the two top-dog conditions. In a second study, the authors replicated the findings with a different private consumption scenario, and again demonstrated that the consumers attitudes were more positive in the underdog self-service versus underdog face-to-face condition, but there was no difference between the top-dog conditions.
Apart from the obvious implications for underdog brands (if your business involves private consumption, get more self-service technology!), I found the implications of a need for a delicate balance between privacy and interaction with others appealing. Although we are social beings, there are situations where we want to keep away from the inquiring minds of others. In addition, the research findings raised some interesting questions for me: Could the effect be reversed if the self-serving technology is perceived as more human? How do the findings apply to social media sharing? Do we share our privacy online because the computer mediates and thus distances us from the minds of others? Or are there other factors at play? A good study, for me, is one that raises more questions than it answers, and the research by Lee et al. certainly meets this criteria.
1Gherheș, V., Stoian, C. E., Fărcașiu, M. A., & Stanici, M. (2021). E-learning vs. face-to-face learning: Analyzing students’ preferences and behaviors. Sustainability, 13(8), 4381. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13084381
Ana Stojanov | Associate Editor