Denied by an (Unexplainable) Algorithm: Teleological Explanations for Algorithmic Decisions Enhance Customer Satisfaction

73 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020 Last revised: 6 Feb 2022

See all articles by Geoffrey Tomaino

Geoffrey Tomaino

INSEAD - Singapore

Hisham Abdulhalim

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; Intuit Inc

Pavel Kireyev


Klaus Wertenbroch

INSEAD - Marketing

Date Written: February 04, 2022


Automated algorithmic decision-making has become commonplace, with firms implementing either rule-based or statistical models to determine whether to provide services to customers based on their past behaviors and characteristics. In response, policymakers are pressing firms to explain these algorithmic decisions. However, many of these algorithms are “unexplainable” because they are too complex for humans to understand. Moreover, legal or commercial considerations often preclude explaining algorithmic decision rules. We study consumer responses to goal-oriented, or “teleological,” explanations, which present the purpose or objective of the algorithm without revealing mechanism information that might help customers reverse (or prevent future) service denials. In a field experiment with a technology firm and in several online lab experiments, we demonstrate the effectiveness of teleological explanations and identify conditions when teleological and mechanistic explanations can be equally satisfying. Whereas the epistemic value of explanations is well established, we study how explanations mitigate the negative impact of service denials on customer satisfaction. Yet in situations where companies do not want to, or cannot, reveal the mechanism, we find that teleological explanations create equivalent value through the justifications they may offer. Our results thus show that firms may benefit by offering teleological explanations for unexplainable algorithm behavior.

Keywords: Algorithms, Customer Relations, Digital Interactions, Explanations, Mitigation, XAI

JEL Classification: M30, M31, M38, O32, O33

Suggested Citation

Tomaino, Geoffrey and Abdulhalim, Hisham and Kireyev, Pavel and Wertenbroch, Klaus, Denied by an (Unexplainable) Algorithm: Teleological Explanations for Algorithmic Decisions Enhance Customer Satisfaction (February 04, 2022). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2022/07/MKT, Available at SSRN: or

Geoffrey Tomaino

INSEAD - Singapore ( email )


Hisham Abdulhalim

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology ( email )

Technion City
Haifa 32000, Haifa 32000

Intuit Inc ( email )

Pavel Kireyev

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex


Klaus Wertenbroch (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Marketing ( email )

1 Ayer Rajah Ave.
Singapore, 138676


Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics