Bears Business Brief: Customer satisfaction: The impact of human versus technological encounters

By: Christina Simmers

Christina Simmers headshot
Christina Simmers

Customer service plays an important role in the impression a company makes on a customer and the overall satisfaction of that customer. This applies to all companies, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit, service-oriented or selling tangible goods. Customers form their impressions of a company with each encounter they have with the company.  In the mind of the customer, the encounter is the service or is part of the value derived from the product.

Easy access to technological convenience has given customers more ways to interact with a company than only interacting with a human (e.g. salesperson, volunteer). Self-service technology (e.g.  automated teller machines, pay-at-the-pump gasoline, grocery self-checkout lines, E*Trade, online ticketing) provides more choices for the customer and more outreach opportunities for the company. Technology has also increased the number of encounters the customer has with a company. Satisfaction with each individual encounter accumulates to form overall satisfaction. Overall satisfaction determines the customer’s future behavior with the company. Both human encounters with the company and technological encounters with the company are important for determining customer satisfaction, but which one has more weight? What is the impact of human versus technological encounters on the customers’ overall satisfaction with the company?

To investigate these questions, we conducted research, looking at millennials and their use of bank services. We chose this group because they have grown up with the internet and are the most tech-savvy customers. We examined the relationships among employees, customers and technology because they are critical linkages in determining the success of a company. In the study, the teller represented the human encounter and online banking represented the technological encounter. Both types of encounter satisfaction (human and technology) were found to predict overall satisfaction, showing that both types of encounters are important. However, we found that the technological encounter held more weight.

So what are the implications of this research? Technological encounter satisfaction has a greater impact on overall service satisfaction than does the human encounter satisfaction. However, the human element is not to be ignored, as both human and technological encounters predict overall satisfaction. Rising dependence on technology and the increase in the number of technological encounters increases the importance of satisfaction with technological encounters on overall satisfaction with a company. Customers can now interact with a company via multiple channels. Companies should continue to invest in their employees — who have direct contact with customers through training and re-training — in order to improve their customers’ overall satisfaction. With a higher emphasis on technology, the human touch becomes even more important in the recovery of a technological service failure. Companies should also pay special attention to their online presence, making it as easy and pleasant as possible for customers to interact with the company and complete transactions. Companies without an online presence may want to create one. An interesting area for future research will be to look beyond a company’s online presence and research how mobile apps impact customers’ overall satisfaction in its interactions with a company.

Christina S. Simmers, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Missouri State University. Her areas of specialization include consumer behavior, promotion issues and cross-cultural comparison.

This article appeared in the March 5, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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