Guest article by Jonas Heller, finalist of the SERVSIG Best PhD Dissertation Award.

Service experiences nowadays are at the peak of transformation, changing constantly at the fasted pace imaginable. The digital transformation of service offerings and experiences is bringing unprecedented change for almost every industry around the globe. Every new technology has the potential to impact service frontlines from a company’s as well as customer’s perspective, yet it is often difficult for companies to identify which technology can be most beneficial for their service environment. Michel Porter might give us a hint, as he said in May 2020 “Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology whose time has come”.

In my PhD at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, I investigated what aspect of Augmented Reality (AR) influence different decision-making processes of customers at the service frontline. In three essays my dissertation aims to contribute to build knowledge and provide insights to academics and service providers on the potential that AR can have for marketing and service as a discipline. 

In the first essay, I draw on mental imagery theory and postulate that the two distinct cognitive stages of mental imagery, namely imagery generation and imagery transformation, can be replaced by aspects of AR. AR thus helps consumers to offload the otherwise internal processes of imagery generation and transformation onto the AR-enabled device. I argue that offloading aspects of mental imagery onto the technology increases WOM about the service provider. In four experiments and one field study across different service settings, my findings show that providing consumers with AR that allows for imagery generation and transformation increases positive WOM intentions towards the service provider. This process is explained through easing the imagination processes, that in turn increase the consumer’s decision comfort. Furthermore, I reveal boundary conditions from a consumer (processing style) and product (product contextuality) perspective. 

In the second essay, I theorise that multisensory-AR (m-AR) behaviour is an active inference process. Specifically, I argue that AR allows consumers to control holograms through different sensory control modalities and that m-AR can provide feedback via different sensory modalities. I investigate two sensory control modalities, namely virtual touch and voice control, as well as the presence or absence of auditory feedback. The study demonstrates that virtual touch control (as opposed to voice control) significantly reduces mental intangibility and subsequentially improves decision comfort in consumers, thus not only contributing to literature of both streams, but also connecting these in the context of sensory service marketing and retailing. 

In the third manuscript, I take an engagement-centric approach to address the problem of consumers not engaging with AR-enabled service automation. I disassemble the Technology-Enabled Engagement Process (TEEP) for AR in automated service encounters and conceptualise AR as a service engagement platform that returns tangibility to the digitised service encounter. This is done by combining the concept of user engagement from the HCI literature with consumer engagement in the service literature to provide a deeper understanding between interactive qualities of technology and engagement. I contribute to theory by disentangling the TEEP specifically for AR-enabled service automation starting from interactive qualities, via spatial presence, to psychological and behavioural engagement. Conceptually I propose that interactive qualities are crucial to initiate the engagement process of AR-enabled service automation. Second, and unique to AR, I propose that spatial presence mediates the quality of AR-enabled service automation, resulting in perceived tangibility in the otherwise digitised service encounters. Third, I conceptualise a novel pathway to the psychological experience of customer engagement in the form of customers’ emotional and cognitive engagement with a service. Last, I conceptualise value-in-use as a critical pivot that emerges from cognitive and emotional engagement and subsequentially leads to behavioural engagement towards the service or service provider.

Jonas Heller
Post-doctoral researcher, Brightlands Institute for Smart Society (BISS), Maastricht University (NL).
Augmented Research group member.

Photo credit: UNIBOA.