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Can a chatbot with friendly cues improve customer

satisfaction?

An experiment on the influence of chatbot gender and friendly cues on the

attitude towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company and the customer

satisfaction.

Jeroen Caspar Seelt

10559671

Master’s Thesis

Graduate School of Communication

Master’s Program Communication Science

Supervisor: dr. T. B. Araujo

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1

Abstract

Chatbots increasingly replace human customer service agents as the first line of customer service, but the way they provide their service is different from a human customer service agent. This makes it increasingly relevant to find out what type of chatbot leads to a better result, a chatbot with friendly cues or a chatbot without friendly cues? A male chatbot, or a female chatbot? Previous studies have focused on the effects of friendliness and gender of human customer service agents, but very few focused on chatbots. By using a 2 (male vs. female) by 2 (friendly cues vs. no friendly cues) between-subjects experiment (N = 135) with a real world chatbot, this study explores the extent to which chatbot gender and friendly cues influence the attitude towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company and the customer satisfaction. Findings show friendly cues positively affect the attitude towards the chatbot and the customer satisfaction. However, gender was found to have no effect on the attitude

towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company or the customer satisfaction.

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Introduction

The use of chatbots is increasing rapidly (Drift, Audience, Salesforce, & Myclever, 2018), with Facebook reporting a 560% growth year-over-year in 2018 (‘’Chatbot Report 2018: Global Trends and Analysis’’, 2018). According to Dale (2016), chatbots are predicted to generate 623 billion dollars in sales in 2020. A chatbot is an artificially intelligent software application that simulates human-like conversations by allowing users to type questions and generate a relevant answer based on the input (Crutzen, Peters, Portugal, Fisser, & Grolleman, 2011). They can be used for a variety of purposes, such as selling products and helping

customers (Liu, Yan, Phau, Perez, & Teah, 2016). Several companies such as Domino’s Pizza, AliExpress and Alibaba have already replaced their human customer service agents with chatbots as the first line of customer service (Følstad, Nordheim, & Bjørkli, 2018). Since these companies have replaced their human customer service agents with chatbots and still want to satisfy their customers, the question is what type of chatbot characteristics will lead to the best outcomes (Liu et al., 2016). A chatbot with friendly cues or a chatbot without friendly cues? A male chatbot or a female chatbot?

One outcome that is of course very important for companies, is the customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction refers to the ‘’collective outcome of perception, evaluation and psychological reactions to the consumption experience with a product/service’’ (George & Kumar, 2014, p. 75). Previous studies have shown the customer satisfaction is affected by characteristics such as friendly cues and the gender of the customer service agent.

Studies have also shown that men receive higher service ratings than women, with everything else being constant and with raters from both sexes (Pinar, Wilder, Shaltoni & Stück, 2017; Snipes, Thomson, & Oswald, 2006). In the study of Pinar et al., students were asked to rate the instructional service quality of their instructor. The results showed, with everything else being constant, that male instructors received higher service quality ratings than female

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3 instructors. This indicates a bias in service ratings towards males, which has been found in several other studies with differing contexts as well (Hubert, Neale & Northcraft, 1987; Nieva & Gutek, 1980). This begs the question whether chatbot gender has the same influence when rating chatbots as it has when rating human customer service agents.

Besides the gender of the customer service agent, friendly cues also affect the customer satisfaction. Verhagen, van Nes, Feldberg and van Dolen (2014) defined the friendliness of their chatbot according to the definition of Price, Arnould and Deibler (1995): being polite, responsive, giving extra attention and creating mutual understanding. Liu et al. (2016) stated friendliness refers to the warmth and personal approachability of someone and includes having a nice attitude and making customers feel welcome. Based on these definitions, friendly cues is defined as elements of the chatbot which could be perceived to be friendly. When interacting with a human customer service agent, the friendliness of the agent is very important, since it can have a positive effect on the emotions of the customer and thus, positively influence the customer’s satisfaction (Hennig-Thurau, Groth, Paul & Gremler, 2006; Liu et al., 2016; Pugh, 2001). The same might be the case with a chatbot. Besides the customer satisfaction, friendly cues and the gender of the agent also affect the attitude towards the chatbot, which refers to one’s perception of the chatbot, and the attitude towards the company, which refers to one’s perception of the company (Sung & Lee, 2015).

The attitude towards the chatbot is also affected by perceived dialogue. Perceived dialogue refers to the extent to which the interaction with the chatbot is perceived to be a dialogue (Go & Sundar, 2019) and great levels of perceived dialogue positively affect the attitude towards the chatbot (Go & Sundar, 2019).

Customer satisfaction on the other hand, has been shown to be influenced by perceived warmth and perceived competence. Perceived warmth, which refers to the intent of the chatbot (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick & Xu, 2002) has been shown to be a significant predictor of

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4 service satisfaction (Smith, Martinez & Sabat, 2016). Perceived competence, which refers to the chatbot’s capability (Fiske et al., 2002) has been shown to improve customer’s satisfaction (Ganguli & Roy, 2013).

This study will extend the existing literature in multiple areas. First, this study extends previous research by looking at how chatbot characteristics will (in)directly influence the attitude towards the company, instead of the emotional connection with the company (Araujo, 2018). Second, the relationship between friendly cues and the customer satisfaction has been studied numerous times before (Chu, Lee, & Chao, 2012; Gong & Yi, 2018; Kim & Lee, 2011; Liu et al., 2016; Park, Robertson, & Wu, 2004; Söderlund & Rosengren, 2010), but those studies focused on human customer service agents, while this study will focus on chatbots. Since the interaction with a chatbot is not the exact same as the interaction with a human customer service agent, it is important to know whether a friendly chatbot has the same effect as a friendly agent. Third, this study will also focus on the effect of friendly cues on the attitude towards the chatbot and the attitude towards the company. Research on chatbots with friendly cues exist (Verhagen et al., 2014), but it did not focus on the effect friendly cues have on the attitude towards the chatbot and the attitude towards the company. This is very relevant since instead of humans, chatbots now represent the company when interacting with customers. Fourth, previous research which studied the use of human-cues focused on the use of human avatars (Ciechanowski et al., 2019; Corti & Gillespie, 2016; Go & Sundar, 2019; Schuetzler et al., 2018), the use of a human name (Araujo, 2018) or animated avatars (Ciechanowski et al., 2019; Schuetzler et al., 2018), while this study will look at two other characteristics of a chatbot: friendly cues and chatbot gender. Fifth, this study will look at the mediating role of perceived competence and perceived warmth on the effect of chatbot gender. Many studies focused on the effect of the gender of the service provider on the service rating (Luoh & Tsaur, 2007; Mokhlis, 2012; Snipes et al., 2006), compared the ratings of

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5 male and female voices (Nass, Moon, & Green, 1997; Nelson, Signorella, & Botti, 2016) or studied the competence and warmth of both males and females (Ditonto, 2017; Ebert, Steffens, & Kroth, 2014; Eisenchlas, 2013; Fiske et al., 2002; Lin, Wang, Lin, Lin, & Johnson, 2011), but those studies focused on humans, whilst this study will focus on finding out if the same results are found for gendered chatbots. This is valuable information for a company since customers might prefer one gender over the other, which could lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction for example. Sixth, the study of Go and Sundar (2019) found that perceived dialogue has a positive effect on the attitude towards the chatbot and in this study the possible mediation effect of perceived dialogue on the relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot will be studied.

In summary, this study addresses the following question: To what extent do friendly cues and chatbot gender influence the attitudes towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company and the customer satisfaction?

Theoretical framework

Recent studies (Chung, Ko, Joung & Kim., 2018; Wu, Tsai, Hsiung, & Chen, 2015) found the interactions with customer service chatbots to be similar to interactions with human customer service agents in terms of influencing purchasing decisions, time saving, advice, parasocial benefits and perceptions of service quality and satisfaction. Similarly, chatbots and human customer service agents are equally effective when it comes to emotional, relational and psychological benefits (Ho, Hancock, & Miner, 2018).

These similarities can be partially explained by the Computers Are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm. This states that humans mindlessly apply the same social rules and stereotypes when interacting with a computer (which is similar to a chatbot) as they do when interacting with a human (Nass & Moon, 2000). For example, Kim and Sundar (2012) found participants

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6 exposed to a human-like chatbot reported a lower degree of perceived human-likeness, but they mindlessly applied social rules and attributed personal characteristics to a chatbot. A Study by Ho et al. (2018) also found the same disclosure processes and outcomes take place when participants interact with a chatbot, as they do when interacting with a human. Since humans mindlessly apply the same stereotypes and social rules to chatbots as they do to humans, it is highly likely a chatbot is judged in the same way as well.

One characteristic which improves the judgment of a human customer service agent is friendliness. The friendliness of the customer service agent affects the emotions of the customer in a positive way and thus, positively influences the customer’s satisfaction and customer commitment (Liu et al., 2016). This process is called emotional contagion.

Friendliness is defined as being polite, responsive, giving extra attention and creating mutual understanding (Price et al., 1995). It also refers to the warmth and personal approachability of someone and includes having a nice attitude and making customers feel welcome (Liu et al., 2016).

A study by Verhagen et al. (2014) found that a chatbot with friendly cues evokes feelings of personal, sociable and sensitive human contact, which in turn improves the customer

satisfaction. Liu et al. (2016) found a similar result in their study. Honest, friendly and authentic relationships between customers and the customer service agents are crucial for the customer to have a good experience. Furthermore, these customer service agents have to be courteous, helpful and trustworthy (Chung et al., 2018). Friendliness will generate a positive customer emotion through an emotional contagion process, which will then have a positive effect on customer evaluation (Liu et al., 2016), which leads to the following hypothesis:

H1A: A chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a chatbot without friendly cues.

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7 As discussed before, part of the definition of friendliness, is being responsive (Price et al., 1995). When a conversation is responsive, individuals will perceive greater levels of dialogue, which means the conversation is perceived to be similar to a human-to-human dialogue (Go & Sundar, 2019). Greater levels of perceived dialogue create the perception of a face-to-face conversation and are positively related to the attitude towards the chatbot (Go & Sundar, 2019), which leads to the following hypothesis:

H1B: Perceived dialogue partially mediates the relationship between friendly cues and the attitude towards the chatbot.

Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1988) found that a positive emotional display during service interactions has a positive effect on service quality ratings. Positive emotional display refers to employees showing positive emotions (Lam, Huang, & Janssen, 2010) and is similar to being friendly. Being friendly entails being polite, giving extra attention and showing interest in the customer (Price, 1995), which means the employee shows positive emotions.

The service quality, which is positively affected by the display of positive emotions, has been proven to affect the attitude towards a company in a positive way (Kant & Jaiswal, 2017; Wu, 2014; Yang, Hsieh, Li, & Yang, 2012). A study by Engel, Tran, Pavlek, Blankenberg and Meyer (2013) found that employee friendliness also has a positive effect on brand

perceptions. This makes it highly likely the same will be the case for company attitude. Based on the preceding, it is to be expected that being friendly will positively affect the attitude towards the company, which leads to the following hypothesis:

H2: A chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a chatbot without friendly cues.

Söderlund and Rosengren (2010) found that a positive emotional display in service

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8 (2016), who stated customer satisfaction is mostly dependent on the behavior of the service employee. Being friendly is similar to showing a positive emotion, because being friendly entails being polite, giving extra attention and showing interest in the customer (Price, 1995), which means the employee shows positive emotions. Friendly cues will also generate a positive customer emotion through an emotional contagion process, which will then have a positive effect on customer evaluation and thus, customer satisfaction (Liu et al., 2016). Besides that, multiple studies have found that service perception is positively related to customer satisfaction (Chu et al., 2012; Gong & Yi, 2018; Park et al., 2004). If a chatbot is perceived as friendly, it is highly likely it will lead to a positive perception of the service provided, which will then lead to a satisfied customer. A chatbot with friendly cues is expected to lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction, resulting in the following hypothesis:

H3: A chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a chatbot without friendly cues.

According to the attitude theory (Eagly & Mladinic, 1989), society perceives men to be agentic, which means they are perceived to be competent, assertive, independent, masterful and achievement oriented. Woman are perceived by society to be communal, which means they are perceived to be friendly, warm, unselfish, sociable, interdependent, emotionally expressive and relationship oriented. This is due to the stereotypical belief in society that women should be warm and caring, while men should be strong and agentic (Prentice & Carranza, 2002). A study by Ebert et al. (2014) also found that women are associated with warmth, which stems from women traditionally being perceived as the homemakers, which is associated with being warm, but not competent. Men are stereotypically perceived as

competitive and independent, which leads to men being perceived as competent (Asbrock, 2010; Fiske et al., 2002).

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9 Part of the dimensions of social judgement, which is how humans are judged socially, are competence and warmth (Lin et al., 2011). This corresponds with the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) of Fiske et al. (2002), which states stereotypes can be captured by two

dimensions: warmth and competence. They argue a high score on one of those dimensions is often paired with a low score on the other dimension.

Multiple experiments have found these stereotypes to occur in customer service as well. Male voices for example, are rated higher in terms of competence than female voices (Nelson, Signorella, & Botti, 2016) and Snipes et al. (2006) found, with all else being equal, male service providers receive a higher service rating than female service providers.

The stereotypical belief in society that women are perceived to be warm has led to some virtual assistants being given a female name, such as Siri and Alexa, because of their stereotypical feminine tasks, such as service work (Hester, 2017; Weber, 2005).

Humans mindlessly apply the same stereotypes and social rules when interacting with a computer (Nass & Moon, 2000), as they would when interacting with a real human. This is referred to as the Computers Are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm. Based on the CASA paradigm it is to be expected that chatbots will be judged based on the same gender stereotypes and social expectations that exist in society, which leads to the following hypothesis:

H4: A male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a female chatbot.

Service quality, which refers to the efficiency and effectiveness of the service provided (Chu et al., 2012), has been shown to positively influence the image of a company (Kant & Jaiswal, 2017; Park et al., 2004; Wu, 2014; Yang et al., 2012). The image of a company is a

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10 & Kotler, 1991), which means it is partially constructed out of the attitude towards the

company. Since service quality has a positive effect on company image, which is thus

partially constructed out of the attitude towards the company, and men receive higher service quality ratings than women (Snipes et al., 2006), it is to be expected that a male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a female chatbot. This leads to the following hypothesis:

H5: A male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a female chatbot.

Multiple studies have found service quality is positively related to customer satisfaction (Chu et al., 2012; Gong & Yi, 2018; Mokhlis, 2012; Park et al., 2004) and men have been found to receive higher service ratings than women (Snipes et al., 2006). More importantly, a study by Hekman et al. (2010) found that women received significantly lower customer satisfaction ratings than men, with performance being held constant. This result was due to customer bias. Based on the CASA paradigm, it is to be expected the same results will be found for gendered chatbots, which leads to the following hypothesis:

H6: A male chatbot will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a female chatbot.

Two different views emerge from the literature on what type of characteristic of a customer service agent improves customer satisfaction. One view states competence will improve customer satisfaction and the other view states warmth will improve customer satisfaction. Therefore, both views will be tested in this study.

According to customers, competence is the second most important aspect customer service employees should have when handling customer complaints (Delcourt, Gremler, De Zanet, & van Riel, 2017; Gruber, 2011). If customer service employees are competent, customer satisfaction is highly likely to increase, because the customer service employee has handled

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11 the complaint in a satisfactory way. Multiple studies have also found the perception of service quality can be improved by more competent employees (Ganguli & Roy, 2013; Wu et al., 2015). This means competence is an important characteristic of a customer service employee. Since the stereotypical belief in society is that men are perceived to be more competent than women (Eisenchlas, 2013; Fiske et al., 2002), this leads to the expectation that the

relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is partially mediated by perceived competence. Therefore, the following hypothesis has been created:

H7: Perceived competence partially mediates the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction.

A study by Smith et al. (2016) found that perceived warmth is a significant predictor of service satisfaction, which is relatively similar to customer satisfaction. Since women are stereotypically perceived by society to be warm, whereas men are not (Ebert et al., 2014), it is to be expected perceived warmth partially mediates the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction, which leads to the following hypothesis:

H8: Perceived warmth partially mediates the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction.

Several studies (Moshavi, 2004; Pinar et al., 2017) have found that customers are more

satisfied with a customer service employee from the opposite sex than with a customer service employee from the same sex. According to Moshavi (2004) this was due to good customer service being associated with flirtation, which leads to a more positive perception of the service provided. This leads to the expectation that the effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot will be stronger when participants judge a chatbot from the opposite sex, as compared to participants judging a chatbot from the same sex. Based on the preceding, the following hypothesis has been created:

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12 H9: The effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot will be stronger for a

participant that interacts with a chatbot from the opposite sex.

Methodology

This study used a 2 (male vs. female) x 2 (friendly cues vs. no friendly cues) between-subjects design.

Sample

A total of 143 participants took part in the experiment. Of those participants, 21 had not received a code from the chatbot. If the time they started with the questionnaire matched the time a conversation with a chatbot was started, they were given that particular conversation code. As a result of that, 13 participants were included, because they were matched with a conversation and 8 participants were excluded, because their time did not match any conversation. In total, 135 participants were used for the analysis. The total sample of this study (N = 135) consists of people between the ages of 19 to 61 years old. The average participant was 25.9 years old (SD = 7.43). Participants were recruited via messages on Facebook, LinkedIn and personal contacts. Of the participants, 66.7% was female, 31.9% was male and 1.5% would rather not disclose their gender. A bachelor’s degree was completed by 54.8% of the participants, 37% completed a master’s degree, 7.9% completed high school and .7% completed a doctorate degree. The distribution of the participants per condition can be found in Table 1.

Participants were randomly assigned to any of the four conditions and the conditions were manually added to the dataset, based on the conversation code provided.

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13 Table 1.

Distribution of participants over conditions

Chatbot gender

Male Female

Friendly cues Friendly cues No friendly cues 30 31 34 40 Procedure

The first screen of the survey contained information related to the study. The second screen contained the informed consent, with which participants had to agree to proceed. The participants were first asked some questions regarding their demographics and their current attitude towards the company. After that, the participants were instructed to speak to the chatbot, as if they were on the company’s website. They were instructed to request a new product, because they received a damaged product. They were instructed to not spend more than 3 minutes speaking to the chatbot and had to proceed after that time, regardless of the completion of the task. The participants then answered questions regarding their attitude towards the chatbot, their attitude towards the company and the customer satisfaction. The order of the statements was randomized for each question. An example of a conversation can be seen in Figure 1. For the complete list of questions used in the questionnaire, see Appendix I.

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14 Figure 1. Example of conversation with female chatbot with friendly cues

Stimuli

The chatbot used in this study was manipulated in two ways: both the friendly cues and the chatbot gender were manipulated. The chatbot with friendly cues greeted users in a nice way (e.g. ‘Hi, my name is John! How can I help you?’) and gave elaborate answers (e.g. ‘I am so sorry to hear that! That should not happen. What kind of product is it?’). The chatbot without friendly cues greeted users in a simple way (e.g. ‘Hi.’) and gave short answers (e.g. ‘What kind of product?’).

One version of the chatbot had a male name: John and one version had a female name: Emma. These names appeared at the top of the screen and at the bottom of every message the chatbot sent.

Measurement

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15 Gender. To measure if the manipulation for chatbot gender was successful,

participants were asked ‘’If you had to assign a gender to the chatbot you just talked to, what gender would it be?’’. This item was measured using a 7-point scale ranging from female to male.

Friendly cues. To measure if the manipulation check for friendly cues was successful, a scale by Tsai and Huang (2002) with three items was used (M = 4.79, SD = 1.68, α = .95). The participants were asked to what extend they agreed with the following statements: ‘’The chatbot provided the service in a friendly manner’’, ‘’The chatbot appeared enthusiastic about helping me’’ and ‘’The chatbot treated me nicely’’. These items were measured with a 7-point Likert scale. A factor analysis showed only one component (2.73) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Outcome Variables

Perceived warmth. Perceived warmth was measured with a 3-item scale which

assessed the chatbot’s warmth, generosity and kindness (Aaker, Vohs, & Mogilner, 2010)(M = 4.63, SD = 1.59, α = .92). These items were measured with 7-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A factor analysis showed only one component (2.57) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Perceived competence. Perceived competence was measured with a 3-item scale,

which assessed the chatbot’s competence, effectiveness and efficiency (Aaker et al., 2010)(M = 5.34, SD = 1.45, α = .93). These items were measured with 7-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A factor analysis showed only one component (2.63) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Perceived dialogue. Perceived dialogue was measured with a 5-item scale (Sundar,

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16 to what extent they agreed with statements such as ‘I felt like I was engaged in an active dialogue with the chatbot’ and ‘the chatbot responded quickly to my inputs and requests’. The items were measured with a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A factor analysis showed only one component (3.00) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Attitude towards the chatbot. Attitude towards the chatbot was measured with a

4-item scale (Sung & Lee, 2015)(M = 5.04, SD = 1.24, α = .83). The participants had to evaluate the chatbot on four opposites, such as unfavorable – favorable and bad – good. The items were measured with a 7-point scale. A factor analysis showed only one component (3.73) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Attitude towards the company before the manipulation. This study used the

company IKEA to measure the attitude towards the company, because IKEA is a well-known and popular company. Pre-existing attitude towards the chatbot was measured with a 4-item scale (Sung & Lee, 2015)(M = 5.92, SD = 0.97, α = .92). The participants had to evaluate the company on four opposites, such as unfavorable – favorable and bad – good. The items were measured with a 7-point scale. A factor analysis showed only one component (3.26) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

Attitude towards the company after the manipulation. To measure the attitude

towards the chatbot after the manipulation a 4-item scale was used (Sung & Lee, 2015)(M = 5.72, SD = 1.15, α = .96). The participants had to evaluate the company on four opposites, such as unfavorable – favorable and bad – good. The items were measured with a 7-point scale. A factor analysis showed only one component (3.61) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

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Customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction was measured with a 6-item scale

(Oliver & Swan, 1989)(M = 5.31, SD = 1.53, α = .97). The participants had to evaluate their experience on six opposites, such as poor choice – wise choice and unhappy – happy. The items were measured with a 7-point scale. A factor analysis showed only one component (5.31) and all questions loaded in the same factor.

More detailed information on the construction of the scales can be found in Appendix II.

Pre-test

A pre-test was performed to validate the manipulations beforehand. A total of N = 22 participants took part in the pre-test. To measure if the manipulation check for friendly cues was successful, a scale from Tsai and Huang (2002) was used (α = .98). An independent samples t-test confirmed that participants who interacted with a chatbot with friendly cues perceived it as friendlier (M = 5.95, SD = 1.10) than participants who interacted with a chatbot without friendly cues (M = 3.04, SD = 1.50). This difference is significant t (20) = -5.24, p < .001, CI = [-4.07, -1.75], d = 2.22.

An independent samples t-test confirmed that participants who interacted with a male chatbot mostly assigned the male gender to the chatbot (M = 2.60, SD = 1.58) whereas participants who interacted with the female chatbot mostly assigned the female gender to the chatbot (M = 5.83, SD = 1.57). This difference is significant t (20) = 4.77, p < .001, CI = [1.82, 4.65], d = 2.04.

Results Randomization check

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18 A randomization check was performed to validate the randomization of age, participant gender, highest degree completed and nationality over the four conditions. All randomizations were successful. For detailed results, see Appendix III.

Manipulation Check

Friendly cues. An independent samples t-test confirmed that participants who

interacted with a chatbot with friendly cues perceived the chatbot friendlier (M = 5.45, SD = 1.70) than participants who interacted with a chatbot without friendly cues (M = 4.18, SD = 1.43). This difference is significant t (133) = -4.72, p < .001, CI = [-1.80, -0.74], d = .81.

Manipulation check chatbot gender. An independent samples t-test confirmed that

participants who interacted with a male chatbot mostly assigned the male gender to the chatbot (M = 2.93, SD = 1.60) whereas participants who interacted with the female chatbot mostly assigned the female gender to the chatbot (M = 5.27, SD = 1.78). This difference is significant t (133) = 7.95, p < .001, CI = [1.75, 2.92], d = 1.38.

Hypotheses Testing

Friendly cues, chatbot gender and attitude towards the chatbot. Hypothesis 1A

stated that a chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a chatbot without friendly cues. Hypothesis 4 stated that a male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a female chatbot. To test both hypotheses, a two-way Analysis of Variance was performed to determine whether friendly cues or chatbot gender had an effect on the attitude towards the chatbot and whether there is an interaction effect. Attitude towards the chatbot was used as the dependent variable and Chatbot gender and Friendly cues as the fixed factors.

Results showed that friendly cues had a small, significant effect on attitude towards the chatbot. The attitude towards the chatbot of the participants who spoke to a chatbot with

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19 friendly cues was more positive (M = 5.54, SD = 0.21) than the attitude towards the chatbot of participants who spoke to a chatbot without friendly cues (M = 4.65, SD = 0.20). Chatbot gender had no significant effect on attitude towards the chatbot and no significant interaction effect was found between friendly cues and chatbot gender. Detailed information on the results can be found in Table 2.

Table 2.

Results of Analysis of Variance for chatbot gender and friendly cues on attitude towards the chatbot.

DV: Attitude towards the chatbot

IV: Friendly cues F (1, 131) = 9.35, p = .003, η2 = 0.07 With friendly cues (n = 64) M = 5.54, SD = 0.21

Without friendly cues (n = 71) M = 4.65, SD = 0.20

IV: Chatbot gender F (1, 131) = 0.12, p = .735

Male (n = 61) M = 5.14, SD = 0.21

Female (n = 74) M = 5.04, SD = 0.20

IV: Interaction Friendly cues * Chatbot gender F (1,131) = 0.84, p = .362 Friendly cues/male (n = 30) M = 5.72, SD = 0.31 Friendly cues/female (n = 34) M = 5.35, SD = 0.29 No friendly cues/male (n = 31) M = 4.57, SD = 0.30 No friendly cues/female (n = 40) M = 4.73, SD = 0.27

This means Hypothesis 1A, stating that a chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a chatbot without friendly cues, is supported. This also means Hypothesis 4, stating that a male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a female chatbot, is not supported.

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20

Friendly cues, chatbot gender and attitude towards the company. Hypothesis 2

stated that a chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a chatbot without friendly cues. Hypothesis 5 stated that a male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a female chatbot. To test both hypotheses, a repeated-measures Analysis of Variance was performed, to determine whether friendly cues or chatbot gender had an effect on the attitude towards the company. Attitude towards the company before the manipulation and Attitude towards the company after the manipulation were used as the within-subjects variables and Friendly cues and Chatbot gender were used as the between-subjects factors.

Results showed friendly cues had no significant effect on the attitude towards the company. Chatbot gender also had no significant effect on the attitude towards the company and no significant interaction effect was found between friendly cues and chatbot gender. More detailed information on the results can be found in Table 3.

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21 Table 3.

Results of Analysis of Variance for chatbot gender and friendly cues on attitude towards the company.

DV: Attitude towards the company

IV: Friendly cues F (1, 131) = 1.08, p = .301 With friendly cues (n = 64) M = 5.92, SD = 0.12 Without friendly cues (n = 71) M = 5.74, SD = 0.11

IV: Chatbot gender F (1, 131) = 0.21, p = .651

Male (n = 61) M = 5.87, SD = 0.12

Female (n = 74) M = 5.79, SD = 0.11

IV: Interaction Friendly cues * Chatbot gender F (1,131) = 0.32, p = .570 Friendly cues/male (n = 30) M = 6.00, SD = 0.17 Friendly cues/female (n = 34) M = 5.83, SD = 0.16 No friendly cues/male (n = 31) M = 5.73, SD = 0.17 No friendly cues/female (n = 40) M = 5.75, SD = 0.15

This means Hypothesis 2, stating that a chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a chatbot without friendly cues, is not supported. This also means Hypothesis 5, stating that a male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a female chatbot, is not supported.

Friendly cues, chatbot gender and customer satisfaction. Hypothesis 3 stated that a

chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a chatbot without friendly cues. Hypothesis 6 stated that a male chatbot will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a female chatbot. To test both hypotheses, a two-way Analysis of

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22 Variance was performed, to determine whether friendly cues or chatbot gender had an effect on customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction was used as the dependent variable and Friendly cues and Chatbot gender as the fixed factors.

Results showed friendly cues had a small, significant effect on customer satisfaction. The level of customer satisfaction of participants who spoke to a chatbot with friendly cues (M = 5.68, SD = 1.49), was higher than the level of customer satisfaction of participants who spoke to a chatbot without friendly cues (M = 4.98, SD = 1.51). Chatbot gender had no significant effect on customer satisfaction and no significant interaction effect was found between friendly cues and chatbot gender. More detailed information on the results can be found in Table 4.

Table 4.

Results of Analysis of Variance for chatbot gender and friendly cues on customer satisfaction.

DV: Customer satisfaction

IV: Friendly cues F (1, 131) = 7.25, p = .007, η2 = 0.05 With friendly cues (n = 64) M = 5.68, SD = 1.49

Without friendly cues (n = 71) M = 4.98, SD = 1.51

IV: Chatbot gender F (1, 131) = 0.19, p = .667

Male (n = 61) M = 5.39, SD = 0.19

Female (n = 74) M = 5.28, SD = 0.18

IV: Interaction Friendly cues * Chatbot gender F (1,131) = 0.03, p = .875 Friendly cues/male (n = 30) M = 5.77, SD = 0.28 Friendly cues/female (n = 34) M = 5.61, SD = 0.26 No friendly cues/male (n = 31) M = 5.02, SD = 0.27 No friendly cues/female (n = 40) M = 4.95, SD = 0.24

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23 This means Hypothesis 3, stating that a chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a chatbot without friendly cues, is supported. This also means Hypothesis 6, stating that a male chatbot will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a female chatbot, is not supported.

Friendly cues, attitude towards the chatbot and perceived dialogue. Hypothesis 1B

stated that the relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue. To test this hypothesis, Model 4 of Hayes PROCESS was used

(Hayes, 2013). Attitude towards the chatbot was used as the Y variable, Friendly cues was used as the X variable and Perceived dialogue was used as the mediator.

Results showed friendly cues had a significant, positive effect on perceived dialogue, F (1, 133) = 0.69, p = .001, CI = [0.27, 1.09]. Perceived dialogue had a significant, positive effect on attitude towards the chatbot, F (2, 133) = 0.99, p < .001, CI = [0.82, 1.16]. Friendly cues had no significant direct effect on attitude towards the chatbot, F (2, 133) = 0.19, p = .363. The indirect effect of perceived dialogue on attitude towards the chatbot was 0.67.

This means Hypothesis 1B, stating that the relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue, is supported.

Chatbot gender, customer satisfaction and perceived competence and warmth.

Hypothesis 7 stated that the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived competence Hypothesis 8 stated that the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived warmth. To test both hypotheses, Model 4 of Hayes’ PROCESS was used (Hayes, 2013). Customer satisfaction was used as the Y variable, Chatbot gender was used as the X variable and Perceived competence and

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24 Results showed chatbot gender had no significant effect on perceived competence, F (1, 133) = 0.22, p = .394. Perceived competence had a significant, positive effect on customer

satisfaction, F (3, 133) = 0.63, p < .001, CI = [0.52, 0.74]. Chatbot gender had no significant effect on perceived warmth F (1, 133) = -0.06, p = .835. Perceived warmth had a significant, positive effect on customer satisfaction, F (3, 133) = 0.38, p < .001, CI = [0.28, 0.48]. The total direct and indirect effects can be found in Table 5.

Table 5.

Results of PROCESS analysis on mediation of competence and warmth.

IV and DV Mediation variables

Indirect effect Total effect Direct effect

IV: chatbot gender .11 (.22) .02 (.14) DV: customer satisfaction Perceived competence .14 (.15) [-.17, .43] Perceived warmth -.02 (.10) [-.24, .18]

Note. * = p < .05, ** = p < .01, *** = p < .001. Unstandardized regression coefficients are given, with standard errors in parenthesis. Confidence intervals (95%) are provided for indirect effects.

This means Hypothesis 7, stating that the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived competence, is not supported. This also means

Hypothesis 8, stating that the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived warmth, is not supported.

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25

Chatbot gender, attitude towards the chatbot and perceived dialogue. Hypothesis

9 stated that the effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot will be stronger for a participant that interacts with a chatbot from the opposite sex. To test this hypothesis, a two-way Analysis of Variance was performed, to determine whether the effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot is moderated by the gender of the participant. Attitude towards the chatbot was used as the dependent variable and Chatbot gender and Participant gender were used as the fixed factors.

Results showed no significant interaction effect between chatbot gender and participant gender, F = 0.36, p = .551.

This means Hypothesis 9, stating that the effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot will be stronger for a participant that interacts with a chatbot from the opposite sex, is not supported.

Table 6 summarizes the results of the hypotheses testing.

Table 6

Summary of the results.

Hypothesis Result

Hypothesis 1A: A chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a chatbot without friendly cues.

Supported

Hypothesis 1B: The relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue.

Supported

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26 positive attitude towards the company than a chatbot without

friendly cues.

Hypothesis 3: A chatbot with friendly cues will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a chatbot without friendly cues.

Supported

Hypothesis 4: A male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot than a female chatbot.

Not supported

Hypothesis 5: A male chatbot will lead to a more positive attitude towards the company than a female chatbot.

Not supported

Hypothesis 6: A male chatbot will lead to a higher level of customer satisfaction than a female chatbot.

Not supported

Hypothesis 7: The relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived competence

Not Supported

Hypothesis 8: The relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction is mediated by perceived warmth.

Not Supported

Hypothesis 9: The effect of chatbot gender on attitude towards the chatbot will be stronger for a participant that interacts with a chatbot from the opposite sex.

Not Supported

Discussion

The main research question of this study was as follows: To what extent do friendly cues and chatbot gender influence the attitudes towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company and the customer satisfaction?

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27 The results show friendly cues had a significant, positive effect on the attitude towards the chatbot. Participants who interacted with a chatbot with friendly cues rated the chatbot more positive than participants who interacted with a chatbot without friendly cues. Verhagen et al. (2014) found that the friendliness of a virtual customer service agent (VCSA) evokes feelings of personal, sociable and sensitive human contact, which then positively affect service

encounter satisfaction. This study extends those findings in two ways. First, this study extends their findings to a direct effect on chatbot attitudes, instead of a mediated effect on customer service satisfaction. Second, this study used a chatbot which is less similar to a human customer service agent than the VCSA Verhagen et al. (2014) used.

Participants who interacted with a chatbot with friendly cues were also more satisfied with the service provided, which corresponds to results found by Verhagen et al. (2014) and Liu et al. (2016) who both found that friendly cues evoke positive emotions which in turn have a positive effect on customer satisfaction. Liu et al. (2016) found that the friendliness of a human customer service agent results in an emotional contagion process which improves customer satisfaction. This study extends the findings of Verhagen et al. (2014) to a direct effect on customer satisfaction, instead of an indirect effect. It also extends the research of Liu et al. (2016) by finding the same results for chatbots.

The relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue. Participants who interacted with a chatbot with friendly cues perceived their interaction with the chatbot to be more similar to a human-to-human conversation than participants who interacted with a chatbot without friendly cues, which led to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot. Go and Sundar (2019) found that perceived dialogue mediates the relationship between message interactivity and attitude towards the website, while this study found perceived dialogue mediates the relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the website. Message interactivity refers to the extent to which one actor in a

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28 conversation acknowledges what the other says. The findings of this study might be due to the fact that when a chatbot contained friendly cues, it gave more elaborate answers, which might have led to the participants perceiving the chatbot as acknowledging their input, which led to greater levels of perceived dialogue.

The results also showed that chatbot gender had no significant effect on the attitude towards the chatbot, the attitude towards the company or the customer satisfaction. These findings are not in line with the results of Snipes et al. (2006), who found that male customer service agents are rated more positively than female customer service agents. The findings of the present study might be due to the relatively new and ongoing gender equality advancements, in which gender stereotypes are challenged. Future studies could investigate if gender

stereotypes mediate the relationship between chatbot gender and attitude towards the chatbot, attitude towards the company and customer satisfaction. If gender stereotypes are

disappearing from society, the relationship would not be mediated by gender stereotypes.

Furthermore, no moderation effect was found for participant gender on the relationship between friendly cues and attitude towards the chatbot, which contradicts the opposite gender bias, found by Moshavi (2004) and Pinar et al. (2017). This could be due to the fact that one cannot flirt with a chatbot, which was why humans preferred a customer service agent from the opposite sex.

No mediation effects were found for perceived competence and perceived warmth on the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction. These results is not in line with the results of Delcourt et al. (2017) and Gruber (2011) who found that customers perceive competence to be the second most important aspect a customer service agent can have when handling complaints. These results are also not in line with results of Lin et al. (2011), who found that people prefer low-competence and warmth over

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high-29 competence and low-warmth, but this study found neither of those profiles were preferred over the other.

The findings that perceived competence and perceived warmth do not mediate the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction, might also be due to the ongoing gender equality advancements, in which stereotypes are challenged. If participants’ judging is not based on stereotypes, warmth and competence will not mediate the relationship between chatbot gender and customer satisfaction, because neither of the genders will be perceived as more competent or warm than the other.

Implications

This study has two valuable practical implications. Implementing friendly cues in a chatbot can be very beneficial for a company, since it will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot and a higher level of customer satisfaction.

Companies could also use the finding that the effect of friendly cues on attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue. It is therefore appealing for companies to create a chatbot which makes their customers perceive the interaction with the chatbot as a real conversation, since it will lead to a more positive attitude towards the chatbot.

Limitations

This study has several limitations. First, this study featured a repeated measures design for company attitudes. However, participants already had a certain attitude towards that company, which means their attitude was harder to change. Future studies could use a non-existing company and a single measure design to investigate if the same results are found. Second, the sample of this study contained mostly university students, who are relatively well educated compared to the general population and represent a small and specific sample. It is therefore hard to generalize the results to the general population. Future studies should investigate if the

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30 same result are applicable to other parts of the general population. Third, the product used in this experiment was a closet, which is a low involvement product. This means participants might have been indifferent to the problem proposed for the interaction with the chatbot. For future studies it would be worthwhile to find out if the results would change with a high involvement product, such as a new smartphone. It would also be interesting to change the scenario of the experiment to, for example, asking technical questions about a product, instead of asking for a new product. This could possibly change the mediating effect of warmth and competence, because men might be perceived as more competent with regards to technical issues.

Limitations aside, this study proved that friendly cues have a positive effect on the attitude towards the chatbot and the customer satisfaction and that the relationship between friendly cues and the attitude towards the chatbot is mediated by perceived dialogue. Both of which are important practical implications.

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Appendix

Appendix I: List of Questions in Questionnaire

1. What’s your age? (If the participant is under 18, the survey ends) …

2. What’s your gender? a. Male

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39 c. Would rather not tell

3. Which country are you from? ..

4. What is the highest degree or level of school you have completed? a. Less than high school

b. High school (or similar secondary school degree) c. Bachelor’s degree (or similar college degree) d. Master’s degree

e. Doctorate degree f. Other: ….. 5. Please evaluate Ikea:

See scale for ‘attitude towards the company’

Now imagine you ordered a PAX closet from IKEA, but when you received it, it was damaged, multiple panels were broken into pieces. You go to their website and see this chat window. You want to receive a new product and speak to the chatbot to get it done.

At the end of the conversation, the chatbot will provide you with a conversation code, which you have to fill out below the chat window.

The conversation should last no longer than 3 minutes. If you are not able to request a new product within that time, please proceed with the survey anyway.

Please initiate the conversation yourself.

The order number is: 628406

The address you want the product sent to is: 607 18th street, Union City (Here, the chatbot was shown)

(41)

40 6. What was the conversation code the chatbot provided to you?

The participants were then asked some questions, which can be found in Table 7.

Table 7.

Scales used in questionnaire.

Variable name Items Source

Chatbot gender manipulation check

If you had to assign a gender to the chatbot you just talked to, what gender would it be? (7-point scale)  Male - Female - Friendly cues manipulation check

Based on the conversation you just had with the chatbot, please indicate to what extent you agree with these statements:

(7-point Likert scale, strongly disagree – strongly agree)

 The chatbot provided the service in a friendly manner  The chatbot appeared

enthusiastic about helping me  The chatbot treated me nicely

(Tsai & Huang, 2002)

Perceived warmth and perceived competence

Please rate the chatbot on these character traits:

(42)

41 (7-point Likert scale, strongly disagree

– strongly agree)  Warmth  Generosity  Kindness  Competence  Effectiveness  Efficiency Attitude towards the

company

Please evaluate Ikea: (7-point scale)

 Unfavorable-favorable  Bad-good

 Dislike-like  Negative-positive

(Sung & Lee, 2015)

Attitude towards the chatbot

Based on the conversation you just had with the chatbot, please rate the chatbot: (7-point scale)  Unfavorable-favorable  Bad-good  Dislike-like  Negative-positive

(Sung & Lee, 2015) Original scale is used for attitude towards the company

Customer satisfaction Please rate your interaction with the chatbot:

(43)

42 (7-point scale)

 Dissatisfied-satisfied  Displeased-pleased  Poor choice-wise choice  Poor job-good job  Disgusted-contended  Unhappy-happy

Perceived dialogue Please indicate to what extent you agree with the following statements about the chatbot:

(7-point Likert scale, strongly disagree – strongly agree)

 I felt like I was engaged in an active dialogue with the chatbot

 My interactions with the chatbot felt like a back and forth conversation

 I felt like the chatbot and I were involved in a mutual task  The chatbot responded quickly

to my inputs and requests  The chatbot was efficient in

responding to my activities

(Sundar, Bellur, Oh, Jia, & Kim, 2016b)

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