Due to the rapid digital transformation, service robots are increasingly replacing human service agents (Lewnes, 2021). As a particular form of service robot powered by natural language processing to simulate human conversations (either written or spoken) (Hoyer et al., 2020), chatbots have been put in the spotlight – due to the need for fast contactless online customer service (Stoilova, 2021). They can be implemented on a website, in a messenger, in a mobile App, in a robot, or elsewhere providing users with assistance and information through text, voice (e.g., Siri and Alexa), and a novel way – video. As the first touchpoint for customers on 7/24, service chatbots are widely adopted by firms for saving costs and improving online service. However, when issues get more complex and require individual attention or recovery service, human employees still need to be involved in supporting the problem-solving process with their emotional and social skills. Research reveals that not all applications in service delivery are widely adopted or successful (Davenport et al., 2020). In some cases, the statements suggesting the benefits of chatbots are “self-evident” (Alami et al., 2020). The changes in consumer behaviour and the challenges of service strategies have raised the need for research (Lu et al.,2019). From a theoretical perspective, a comprehensive understanding of consumers’ perceptions of service chatbot adoption is required (Gursoy et al., 2019).
We review the most well-known theories and the most frequent independent variables used in technology adoption studies (see Appendix A). Regarding service chatbots’ adoption, current literature arguably falls short in at least three research areas. First, traditional technology adoption models, such as TAM and UTAUT, were well developed but in the context of technologies whose features and abilities are vastly different from modern AI (Artificial Intelligence) (Lu et al., 2019). Some critical factors are inappropriate for investigating service robots, for instance, perceived ease of use and effort expectancy. Service chatbots possessing human intelligence powered by AI will not hinder adoption (Gursoy et al., 2019), as consumers do not need to learn how to operate chatbots. This limitation suggests that updated constructs and models are required to understand service chatbots’ adoption, i.e., Performance Efficacy (Lu et al., 2019). Beyond the ability to perform a task (i.e., usefulness), performance efficacy addresses specific areas where service chatbots are more competent than human agents (i.e., accuracy and efficiency). Second, prior studies mainly investigated from a technology perspective to understand consumer behaviour. However, adoption is influenced by not only technology characteristics, but also user characteristics (i.e., innovativeness). Drawing on the Diffusion of Innovation Theory and Social Identity Theory, the greater strength of identity makes consumers more sensitive to information relevant to identity, more likely to adopt identity-relevant products and more likely to engage in behaviours that directly implicate the identity (Reed et al., 2012). Consumer innovativeness sheds light on the individual differences when considering service targeting and positioning. Third, scholars call for research on consumer responses to different service types (Paluch and Wirtz, 2020), given service tasks can be distributed between human and robots. According to the Task Technology Fit theory, individuals will adopt a technology based on matching the task requirement and technology characteristics (Goodhue and Thompson, 1995). It is possible that, although consumers perceive technology as being advanced, they do not adopt it if they think it is unfit for their task and cannot improve their performance (Junglas et al., 2008). Little research has been conducted concerning consumers’ perceptions on task technology fit of chatbot services.
In line with the research gaps in the literature, this ongoing research brings TAM, DOI and TTF theories into the chatbot service domain for the first time, aiming to investigate consumers’ perception of service chatbots adoption. An integrated research model (Fig. 1) was proposed to test the key determinants: Perceived Performance Efficacy, Consumer Innovativeness, Trust, Perceived Autonomy, and Perceived Task Technology Fit. Prior usage experience and knowledge of chatbots were control variables. All measurement items were adapted from literature to ensure reliability and measured on a 5-point Likert scale to enable flexibility and prevent the target audience from being too neutral and overwhelmed (Colman et al., 1997).
Fig.1 Research model
This study employed a survey to collect data for examining the research model. A total of 360 responses were collected in January 2022, and 356 responses were identified as valid and then used for data analysis. Structural Equation Modelling was used to test the research model based on the systematic process developed by Hair et al. (1998). We used software SPSS 27 and Amos 27 as data analysis tools.
The initial findings of this ongoing research mostly support the significant effects of the proposed model of consumers’ service chatbot adoption. The results theoretically contribute to the knowledge of Technology Adoption and Task Technology Fit theories in the service marketing domain. Performance efficacy has the strongest and most direct effect on the intention of service chatbot adoption. Whether a chatbot’s performance can meet consumers’ expectations is the most critical factor of adoption in online service. Most importantly, the study confirms the effect of perceived task technology fit on chatbot adoption for the first time. Findings suggest consumers have their preconceived belief on the appropriateness of tasks for service chatbots. The research also found more evidence on the relationship between consumers’ innovative characteristics and adoption behaviour. Surprisingly, prior knowledge and usage experience of chatbots don’t hinder the intention of service chatbot adoption in this study. For practical implications, findings benefit marketing practitioners in deciding on effective service technology strategies for improving consumers’ online service experience. When firms develop and implement service chatbots, they must be aware of consumers’ higher expectations of AI performance. Despite consumers’ concern on chatbot performance, firms still can provide satisfying chatbot services by targeting the right consumers and delivering the right service tasks. For those consumers who are inclined to resist the adoption of new technologies, firms must provide different service options for them to avoid service failure.