The Robert Johnston Award recognizes researchers in the service discipline. Journal of Service Management was delighted to announce this year’s award winners (papers published in 2022) at the Frontiers in Service Conference in Maastricht. Please join us in congratulating the winners of the outstanding paper awards for their contribution to JoSM and to the service field. Additionally, there are four highly commended papers and three best reviewers.

Best Paper Award

Odekerken-Schröder G., Mennens K., Steins M., and Mahr D. (2022) The service triad: an empirical study of service robots, customers and frontline employees

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.
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.

Highly Commended Awards

Pitardi V., Wirtz J., Paluch S., & Kunz W.H. (2022) Service robots, agency and embarrassing service encounters

Extant research mainly focused on potentially negative customer responses to service robots. In contrast, this study is one of the first to explore a service context where service robots are likely to be the preferred service delivery mechanism over human frontline employees. Specifically, the authors examine how customers respond to service robots in the context of embarrassing service encounters.
This study employs a mixed-method approach, whereby an in-depth qualitative study (study 1) is followed by two lab experiments (studies 2 and 3).
Results show that interactions with service robots attenuated customers’ anticipated embarrassment. Study 1 identifies a number of factors that can reduce embarrassment. These include the perception that service robots have reduced agency (e.g. are not able to make moral or social judgements) and emotions (e.g. are not able to have feelings). Study 2 tests the base model and shows that people feel less embarrassed during a potentially embarrassing encounter when interacting with service robots compared to frontline employees. Finally, Study 3 confirms that perceived agency, but not emotion, fully mediates frontline counterparty (employee vs robot) effects on anticipated embarrassment.
Service robots can add value by reducing potential customer embarrassment because they are perceived to have less agency than service employees. This makes service robots the preferred service delivery mechanism for at least some customers in potentially embarrassing service encounters (e.g. in certain medical contexts).
This study is one of the first to examine a context where service robots are the preferred service delivery mechanism over human employees.

Mozafari N., Weiger W.H., & Hammerschmidt M. (2022) Trust me, I’m a bot – repercussions of chatbot disclosure in different service frontline settings

Chatbots are increasingly prevalent in the service frontline. Due to advancements in artificial intelligence, chatbots are often indistinguishable from humans. Regarding the question whether firms should disclose their chatbots’ nonhuman identity or not, previous studies find negative consumer reactions to chatbot disclosure. By considering the role of trust and service-related context factors, this study explores how negative effects of chatbot disclosure for customer retention can be prevented.
This paper presents two experimental studies that examine the effect of disclosing the nonhuman identity of chatbots on customer retention. While the first study examines the effect of chatbot disclosure for different levels of service criticality, the second study considers different service outcomes. The authors employ analysis of covariance and mediation analysis to test their hypotheses.
Chatbot disclosure has a negative indirect effect on customer retention through mitigated trust for services with high criticality. In cases where a chatbot fails to handle the customer’s service issue, disclosing the chatbot identity not only lacks negative impact but even elicits a positive effect on retention.
The authors provide evidence that customers will react differently to chatbot disclosure depending on the service frontline setting. They show that chatbot disclosure does not only have undesirable consequences as previous studies suspect but can lead to positive reactions as well. By doing so, the authors draw a more balanced picture on the consequences of chatbot disclosure.

Aksoy L., Buoye A.J., Fors M., Keiningham T.L., & Rosengren S. (2022) Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics do not serve services customers: a missing link between sustainability metrics and customer perceptions of social innovation

The purpose of this paper is to highlight challenges for service firms communicating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts to customers. Specifically, it focuses on the relationship between ESG metrics and reporting and customer perceptions of social innovativeness.
The empirical material comprises three years of data (2018–2020) covering more than 100 firms from three sources: (1) Social Innovation Index (Sii), which is collected as part of the American Innovation Index (Aii), (2) Bloomberg Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) ESG and (3) Datamaran.
ESG metrics and reporting do not suffice to explain customer perceptions of social innovativeness. Rather, a firm’s industry plays the prominent role in affecting these perceptions where service firms are at a disadvantage as customers perceive services as less socially innovative compared to goods.
While ESG metrics and reporting provide important information for investors and regulators, they are not reflected in customers’ perceptions of firms’ social innovativeness, and services are at a disadvantage relative to goods. Therefore, services researchers and managers must advance their knowledge regarding how to better link ESG metrics and report to customers’ perceptions.
The paper offers a first large-scale, cross-industry investigation of how ESG metrics and reporting impact customer perceptions of social innovativeness, leading to a research agenda on communication of ESG.

Lariviere B., & Smith E.G. (2022) People–planet–profits for a sustainable world: Integrating the triple-P idea in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms

Numerous requests to also take care of people (i.e. societal impact) and planet (i.e. environmental impact) in addition to making profits (i.e. economic impact) urge service firms to rethink their marketing. In this paper, the authors therefore develop an organizing framework that integrates the people–planet–profits – also referred to as the “Triple-P” – concept in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms.
This paper uses a conceptual approach that is rooted in the service marketing, marketing strategy and communication literature.
The foundations of marketing strategy (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019) and the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985) guide both academics and practitioners regarding (1) why the Triple-P idea should be part of a company’s marketing strategy, (2) how people and planet could play an important role in the implementation stage by integrating the Triple-P concept in the service marketing mix and (3) what impact could be achieved and evaluated by closing the five gaps identified by the Gaps model, while fostering a people–planet–profits mindset.
The authors also identify areas for future research on this important topic.
Transformative value (people and planet) without profits is not attractive to firms. Profit-making organizations are in the best position to transform the world in a societal and environmental rewarding way.
The Triple-P affects the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of firms and contributes to a better, sustainable world.
Marketing evolves from traditional over service and digital to transformative. Therefore, it is crucial to embrace transformative challenges in combination with economic returns, resulting in a new sustainable service era for marketers and managers.

Best Reviewer Awards

– Sara Leroi-Werelds (UHasselt, Belgium)
– Khanh Le Khanh (Lancaster University, UK)
– Aku Valtakoski (Linköping University, Sweden)

Previous JoSM (Robert Johnston) Awards
– 2014
– 2015
– 2016
– 2017
– 2018
– 2019