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The service triad: an empirical study of service robots, customers and frontline employees
Journal of Service Management  (IF11.768),  Pub Date : 2021-08-26, DOI: 10.1108/josm-10-2020-0372
Gaby Odekerken-Schröder, Kars Mennens, Mark Steins, Dominik Mahr


Recent service studies suggest focusing on the service triad consisting of technology-customer-frontline employee (FLE). This study empirically investigates the role of service robots in this service triad, with the aim to understand the augmentation or substitution role of service robots in driving utilitarian and hedonic value and ultimately customer repatronage.


In study 1, field data are collected from customers (n = 108) who interacted with a service robot and FLE in a fast casual dining restaurant. Structural equation modeling (SEM) is used to test hypotheses about the impact of service robots' anthropomorphism, social presence, value perceptions and augmentation opportunities in the service triad. In study 2, empirical data from a scenario-based experimental design (n = 361) complement the field study by further scrutinizing the interplay between the service robot and FLEs within the service triad.


The study provides three important contributions. First, the authors provide empirical evidence for the interplay between different actors in the “customer-FLE-technology” service triad resulting in customer repatronage. Second, the empirical findings advance the service management literature by unraveling the relationship between anthropomorphism and social presence and their effect on perceived value in the service triad. And third, the study identifies utilitarian value of service robots as a driver of customer repatronage in fast casual dining restaurants.

Practical implications

The results help service managers, service robot engineers and designers, and policy makers to better understand the implications of anthropomorphism, and how the utilitarian value of service robots can offer the potential for augmentation or substitution roles in the service triad.


Building on existing conceptual and laboratory studies on service robots, this is one of the first field studies on the service triad consisting of service robots – customers – frontline employees. The empirical study on service triads provides evidence for the potential of FLEs to augment service robots that exhibit lower levels of functional performance to achieve customer repatronage. FLEs can do this by demonstrating a high willingness to help and having excellent interactions with customers. This finding advocates the joint service delivery by FLE – service robot teams in situations where service robot technology is not fully optimized.