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

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalInternational Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)388-404
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • the service encounter
  • customer satisfaction
  • employee effort
  • virtual agents


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