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Customer response to interactional service experience: The role of interaction environment

Carmen-Maria Albrecht (Department of Quantitative Marketing and Consumer Analytics, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany)
Stefan Hattula (Marketing Department, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany)
Torsten Bornemann (Marketing Department, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany)
Wayne D. Hoyer (Department of Marketing, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Publication date: 17 October 2016



The purpose of this paper is to examine causal attribution in interactional service experiences. The paper investigates how triggers in the environment of a customer-employee interaction influence customer behavioral response to employees’ negative and positive affect. Additionally, it studies the role of sympathy and authenticity as underlying mechanisms of this relationship.


Two scenario-based experimental designs (N1=162; N2=138) were used. Videotaped scenarios served as stimulus material for the manipulation of two focal variables: the employee’s emotional display as either negative or positive and the availability of an emotion trigger in the interaction environment to convey the attribution dimension of cause uncontrollability. The emotion trigger’s visibility was varied in the two studies. Customer response was captured by buying intentions.


Customer responses are more favorable for both positive and negative interactional experiences when customers have access to information on cause uncontrollability (i.e. notice triggers in the interaction environment). Analyses reveal that these effects stem from feelings of sympathy for negative experiences and authenticity for positive experiences.


This research supports the relevance of causal attribution research on interactional service experiences, which have high-profit impact. Moreover, the findings underline the importance of the experience of fact in service interactions and thereby provide a more nuanced view on the discussion of whether service providers should use impression management strategies to engender customer satisfaction even when this behavior is “faked.”



All authors contributed equally to the paper. The authors thank Michel Pham, Donald R. Lehmann, Johannes Hattula, and Christian Schäfer for their helpful comments and suggestions for improvement. The authors also thank Karina Schröter, Jan Weyerer, and Julian Würth for research assistance. The HORNBACH Group contributed to the realization of this project with financial and technical support. The authors thank the Autonomy Fund of the University of Mannheim for financially supporting this research.


Albrecht, C.-M., Hattula, S., Bornemann, T. and Hoyer, W.D. (2016), "Customer response to interactional service experience: The role of interaction environment", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 704-729.



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