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The development of self-service technologies, while intended to better serve customers by offering them autonomy, has created situations in which individuals may require additional help. The purpose of this paper is to explore perceptions of chat as an assistance channel, to identify its perceived role in a customer service environment.Design/methodology/approachIn all, 23 semi-structured interviews held with both chat and non-chat users assessed perceptions of chat in an assistance encounter. A thematic analysis was used.FindingsThe findings highlight a paradoxical perception of chat in a customer assistance context. On the one hand, customers perceive live chat as mainly beneficial in a customer service context, alleviating embarrassment, perceived threats and potential dissatisfaction linked to assistance requests. On the other hand, the elusive nature of a chat conversation interlocutor (human or artificial) adversely affects how customers interpret assistance from companies.Research limitations/implicationsThis research underscores the perceived threats of assistance encounters and shows the ambivalent role of chat in such a context. It also highlights chat’s specific features that make it a relevant medium for assistance requests.Practical implicationsThis study helps companies better understand customers’ perceptions of assistance requests and chat in that context. Companies can use the findings to develop better ways to address assistance needs and offer transparent and fully personalized human chat to provide an inclusive service.Originality/valueThis paper highlights the ambivalent role of chat as an assistance channel, easing assistance requests but also entailing a potential negative spillover effect, when negative chat perceptions of an artificial interlocutor have consequences.
Journal of Service Theory and Practice – Emerald Publishing
Published: Nov 21, 2019
Keywords: Service encounter; Chat; Media richness; Customer assistance
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