Academics are increasingly concerned about how AI and service robots are shaking up the business world (Chang and Kim, 2022; Haenlein et al., 2022; Hollebeek et al., 2021). Most studies have examined the likelihood of service robots replacing human service personnel, and research into the robot characteristics that customers care about has focused on the one-on-one interactions between customers and robots. However, less studies have explored how the interaction between customers and service personnel affects the customers’ intentions and general experiences of receiving services from service robots.
In this study, we explored the contexts in which customers require robot services from the perspective of integrated services. Specifically, we examined the contexts in which robots can compensate for the skills that human service personnel lack to provide the highest quality of service to customers. We assumed that the customers’ attachment styles with service personnel either strengthen or weaken their perceptions of the usefulness, social capability, and appearance of robots, which in turn affect their perceptions of the quality of robot services and their intentions to replace human service personnel with service robots. Attachment styles, which originated from attachment behavior theory (Bowlby, 1979), refer to people’s adjustment of their own behavior to establish relationships with their primary caregivers during childhood according to the messages that such caregivers convey to them. Ainsworth et al. (1978) divided attachment styles into three types: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Attachment styles are relevant to specific interpersonal relationships.
Mende, Bolton, and Bitner (2013) applied the theory of attachment styles to examine the relationship between business companies and customers. The results obtained indicated that customers with avoidant attachment styles consider certain companies untrustworthy and themselves as undeserving of favor from service personnel. They may also believe that they can look after themselves and do not need help from companies. Customers with anxious attachment styles exhibit uncertainty toward their self-worth and are unsure of whether companies would provide them with the help they need in a timely manner because the behaviors of others are unpredictable. Consequently, they have a low sense of control toward the services provided by companies. To provide high-quality services, these relationships between customers and service personnel can be supplemented using robots. The research framework is presented in Fig. 1.
A questionnaire was distributed to the customers of service companies that use service robots. The respondents were confirmed to have received robot services before the questionnaire, such as hotel tours, store services, smart ordering services, and hospital services. A total of 345 responses were received, 58% and 42% of which were provided by female and male respondents, respectively. In total, 40.9% of all respondents were aged 21–30, and 73.3% had received college or university education (see Table 1). Regarding the reliability and validity of the responses, all the questionnaire dimensions exhibited Cronbach’s α higher than 0.88, average variance extracted no lower than 0.65, and factor loadings attaining the level of significance. Discriminant validity analysis (Table 2) indicated that the square root of the average variance explained for each dimension was higher than the correlation coefficient between each pair of dimensions, indicating satisfactory overall variable reliability and validity.
3. Findings and conclusions
Regression analysis revealed the following results (see Table 3):
(1) The usefulness, social capability, and appearance of robots reinforce the quality of their services, which in turn increases the customers’ intentions to replace human service personnel with service robots. Thus, H1–H4 are supported (p < 0.01). Customers using service robots care about whether these robots provide services with an increased efficiency, answer questions appropriately, and are attractive.
(2) Customer attachment avoidance considerably reinforces the effect of robot usefulness and social capability on the quality of their services but weakens that of their appearance on the quality of their services. Accordingly, H5 is partially supported (p < 0.01). In other words, the usefulness and social capability of service robots are required aspects for human service personnel to deal with customers with attachment avoidance. However, more attractive robots are regarded as more questionable in terms of the quality of their services.
(3) Customer attachment anxiety considerably weakens the effect of robot appearance on the quality of their services but does not substantially weaken that of their usefulness and social capability on the quality of their services. Thus, H6 is partially supported (p < 0.01). Customers with attachment anxiety are unlikely to be concerned about the appearance of service robots. Accordingly, appearance may not be a robot feature complementary to human service personnel.
This study explored how service robots complement human service personnel in providing a satisfactory customer experience from the perspective of integrated services and the relationship between customers and service personnel. According to various perspectives, the attachment styles of customers with service personnel substantially affect their perceived importance of the quality of robot services, including their usefulness, social capability, and appearance. Business owners should note that customers who have avoidant attachment styles with human service personnel are particularly sensitive to the usefulness and social capability of service robots; that is, instead of the appearance of robots, they are more concerned about whether robots can efficiently solve their problems, hence compensating for the lack of efficiency in human service personnel. The results of this study provide a key reference to academics and service industries for improving their customers’ service experience by using robots or artificial intelligence with customer-centered thinking. Promoting the interactions among customers, human service personnel, and service robots is of utmost importance.