AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction


Conversational agents (CAs) have attracted the interest from organizations due to their potential to provide automated services and the feeling of humanlike interaction. Emerging studies on CAs have found that humanness has a positive impact on customer perception and explored approaches for their anthropomorphic design, which comprises both their appearance and behavior. While these studies provide valuable knowledge on how to design humanlike CAs, we still do not sufficiently understand this technology’s limited conversational capabilities and their potentially detrimental impact on user perception. These limitations often lead to frustrated users and discontinued CAs in practice. We address this gap by investigating the impact of response failure, which we understand a CA’s inability to provide a meaningful reply, in a service context. To do so, we draw on the computers are social actors paradigm and the theory of the uncanny valley. Via an experiment with 169 participants, we found that 1) response failure harmed the extent to which people perceived CAs as human and increased their feelings of uncanniness, 2) humanness (uncanniness) positively (negatively) influenced familiarity and service satisfaction, and 3) the response failure had a significant negative impact on user perception yet did not lead to a sharp drop as the uncanny valley theory posits. Thus, our study contributes to better explaining the impact that text-based CAs’ failure to respond has on customer perception and satisfaction in a service context in relation to the agents’ design.





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