Customer service experience of AI-based organisational frontlines

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Technological change, particularly the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), is challenging traditional structures of organisational frontlines, especially in the service sector. Customers are increasingly interacting with machines that, although not human, display intelligence and other human-like behaviours. Hence, understanding how customers experience the service when interacting with these intuitive AI-based organisational frontlines is important for organisations. Drawing on social exchange, use and gratification, and anthropomorphism theories, this research adopted a qualitative interpretivist approach to examine the role of intelligent virtual assistants as frontline employees. More specifically, the research examined their potential contribution to enhancing service encounters, while preserving the social and emotional aspects of interacting with human employees. To this end, 31 semi-structured interviews were conducted with users of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant around the world. To enhance data credibility, Leximancer was also used to examine 12,941 comments drawn from 81 YouTube videos whose content mentioned these intelligent assistants. The research findings illustrate that when customers engage with intelligent assistants, anthropomorphic features, like voice recognition and mannerism, affect the type of gratifications (e.g., utilitarian, hedonic, and social) that users experience. Findings also suggest gratifications experienced diverge from previous research. This research also identifies that AI evokes a strong sense of social presence which gives customers the illusion of interacting with a human rather than a machine. In turn, this influences the formation and development of relationships between customers and AI-based frontline employees leading to enhanced customer engagement and building rewarding customer experiences. This research contributes to current knowledge on organisational frontline studies by expanding use and gratification, social exchange, and anthropomorphism theories as well as the human-to-machine relationship literature. Nevertheless, AI and intelligent assistants are developing so rapidly that this may affect the results of this research by already ameliorating the customer experience of the offered service through the application of more advanced intelligent assistants.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Otago
  • Garry, Tony, Supervisor
  • Biggemann, Sergio, Supervisor
Award date26 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


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