Mitigating the Negative Effects of Customer Anxiety through Access to Human Contact

51 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2019 Last revised: 13 Apr 2022

See all articles by Michelle A. Shell

Michelle A. Shell

Boston University - Department of Operations and Technology Management; Harvard Business School

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School

Date Written: April 6, 2022

Abstract

It is a well-established result in social psychology that when people feel anxious, they seek advice from others. However, increasingly companies that operate in high-anxiety settings (like financial services, health care, and education) are deploying self-service technologies (SSTs), through which anxious customers transact without human contact. The impact of customer anxiety on service relationships is neither well understood, nor consistently factored into service design. In this paper, one field experiment and four laboratory experiments, conducted in financial service contexts, to document the negative effects of anxiety on customer choice satisfaction, firm trust, and long-term engagement, and explore the impact of giving self-service consumers the option to interact with a person. In a field experiment conducted within the context of a credit union’s loan approval process, a reminder of unfettered access to a loan officer increases the probability of closing of approved loans by 24% over baseline rates, suggesting that access to human contact can improve long-term service engagement. Laboratory participants in an online investing simulation who are made to feel anxious — whether due to market downturns or by watching an unrelated video clip — are less satisfied with their choices and report lower levels of trust in the firm. However, only when anxiety was related to the task do we find that providing participants with the opportunity to interact with an expert, or even another participant, dampens anxiety’s negative effects on choice satisfaction and, by extension, firm trust.

Keywords: anxiety, self-service, empirical operations, behavioral operations

Suggested Citation

Shell, Michelle A. and Buell, Ryan W., Mitigating the Negative Effects of Customer Anxiety through Access to Human Contact (April 6, 2022). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 19-089, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3328971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3328971

Michelle A. Shell (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Operations and Technology Management ( email )

6175152123 (Phone)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Wyss Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-515-2123 (Phone)

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan Hall 429
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-496-6918 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hbs.edu/rbuell

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