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

42 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2019

See all articles by Michelle A. Shell

Michelle A. Shell

Harvard Business School

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School

Date Written: February 11, 2019

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, two laboratory experiments and one field experiment, conducted in financial service contexts, 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. Participants engaged in an online investing simulation who are made to feel anxious due to market downturns are less satisfied with their choices and report lower levels of trust in the firm. 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. Interestingly, we find that very few participants who are offered the option to interact with a person take advantage of the opportunity, which is consistent with the idea that it is the mere availability of human contact that mitigates anxiety’s deleterious effects. Finally, in a field experiment conducted with a credit union’s self-service term loan approval process, the incorporation of access to human contact increased customer loan acceptance by 16%, suggesting that access to human contact can improve long-term service engagement.

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 (February 11, 2019). 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)

Harvard Business School ( email )

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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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