Call it robot: anthropomorphic framing and failure of self-service technologies

Barone, Ada Maria; Stagno, Emanuela and Donato, Carmela. 2024. Call it robot: anthropomorphic framing and failure of self-service technologies. Journal of Services Marketing, 38(3), pp. 272-287. ISSN 0887-6045 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The purpose of this paper is to test the effect that anthropomorphic framing (i.e. robot vs automatic machine) has on consumers’ responses in case of service failure. Specifically, the authors hypothesize that consumers hold an unconscious association between the word “robot” and agency and that the higher agency attributed to self-service machines framed as robots (vs automatic machines) leads, in turn, to a more positive service evaluation in case of service failure.

The authors have conducted four experimental studies to test the framework presented in this paper. In Studies 1a and 1b, the authors used an Implicit Association Test to test for the unconscious association held by consumers about robots as being intelligent machines (i.e. agency). In Studies 2 and 3, the authors tested the effect that framing technology as robots (vs automatic machines) has on consumers’ responses to service failure using two online experiments across different consumption contexts (hotel, restaurant) and using different dependent variables (service evaluation, satisfaction and word-of-mouth).

The authors show that consumers evaluate more positively a service failure involving a self-service technology framed as a robot rather than one framed as an automatic machine. They provide evidence that this effect is driven by higher perceptions of agency and that the association between technology and agency held by consumers is an unconscious one.

This paper investigates a novel driver of consumers’ perception of agency of technology, namely, how the technology is framed. Moreover, this study sheds light on consumers’ responses to technology’s service failure.

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'This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact'


self-service technology, robots, service failure, agency, framing

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


15 October 2023Accepted
3 November 2023Published Online

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Date Deposited:

13 Nov 2023 11:31

Last Modified:

16 May 2024 15:02

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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