Journal of the Association for Information Systems


We present a study of synchronous, text-based chat communications between customers and customer service representatives (CSRs), and examine the process of coordinating perspectives through perspective making and perspective taking to build shared understanding of context. Using a cultural hermeneutic lens and its four contextual relations, we studied more than 4400 chat messages generated during a two-year period. Successful coordination of perspectives occurred in eighty percent of the exchanges, in spite of conversational incoherence introduced by the chat technology. When coordination of perspectives between customers and CSRs failed, it was due to one or a combination of three factors: the customer's inability to successfully communicate intention, lack of customer/CSR shared understanding of reference about what was being discussed, and/or misinterpretation of each other's identities. This suggests that technology solutions to reduce conversational incoherence may not be of as much value as improving how people articulate intention and create shared reference. Finally, we demonstrate that contextual relations in cultural hermeneutics offer an analytic device and vocabulary to discern exactly what is missing when technology-mediated communication breaks down.