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Delivering warmth by hand: customer responses to different formats of written communication

Xingyao Ren (Department of Marketing, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)
Lan Xia (Department of Marketing, Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA)
Jiangang Du (Department of Marketing, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 12 January 2018

Issue publication date: 13 March 2018




The effect of different formats of message delivery has received little theoretical and empirical examination. This research focuses on the effect of written relational communication formats used by service providers. This study aims to answer three questions: Do different formats of written communications (i.e. handwriting and print) influence customer perceptions (i.e. feelings of warmth) of service firms? What are the mediators of these influences (i.e. perceived effort and psychological closeness)? And under what conditions do they occur (i.e. what is the contextual factor)?


One field study and three laboratory studies were conducted to provide a comprehensive understanding of the role of format in written communication.


Handwritten messages are more effective than print messages in building relationships in a service context because they elicit stronger feelings of warmth because of both the perception of greater effort and feelings of greater psychological closeness to the service provider. However, the presence of handwriting fails to deliver feelings of warmth when the quality of core services is low.

Practical implications

Service providers can effectively use handwritten communication to signal effort and create psychological closeness for relationship building with their key customers only when the quality of core services meets customer expectations.


First, the research differentiates the formats of written relational communication (handwritten vs print), and links communication formats with feelings of warmth, which is an important factor for impression and relationship formation in the practice of services marketing. Second, based on cognitive-experiential self-theory, this research demonstrates the dual mediators underlying the effect of handwriting (vs print) on warmth: perceived effort and psychological closeness. Third, it identifies the quality of core service as a boundary condition for the effect of handwritten communication.



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant [number 71672093, 71572082]; [the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities] under Grant [number NKZXB1448]; [Tianjin Social Science Foundation] under Grant [number TJGL16-002]; and [the Fund of Asia Research Center in Nankai University] under Grant [number AS1506].


Ren, X., Xia, L. and Du, J. (2018), "Delivering warmth by hand: customer responses to different formats of written communication", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 223-234.



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