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

Ada Maria Barone (Department of Mangement Studies, Goldsmiths University of London, London, UK)
Emanuela Stagno (Department of Strategy and Marketing, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK, and)
Carmela Donato (Department of Management and Business Administration, University G. D’Annunzio of Chieti and Pescara, Pescara, Italy)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 3 November 2023

Issue publication date: 29 February 2024




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.



Barone, A.M., Stagno, E. and Donato, C. (2024), "Call it robot: anthropomorphic framing and failure of self-service technologies", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 272-287.



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