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

Magnus Söderlund*, Eeva-Liisa Oikarinen, Teck Ming Tan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102401
Peer-reviewed scientific journalJournal of Retailing and Consumer Services
Publication statusPublished - 04.12.2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • service encounters
  • virtual agents
  • display of emeotions
  • happiness


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