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Empathy for service: benefits, unintended consequences, and future research agenda

Liliana L. Bove (Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 24 April 2019

Issue publication date: 2 May 2019

3240

Abstract

Purpose

Empathy is a core characteristic of helping and caring interactions and thus is fundamental to service. Yet, to date, service marketing literature has focused on a restricted view of the value of empathy as it leads to improved service quality perceptions and successful sales outcomes. The aim of this paper is to provide a review of the empathy literature and the dispositional and situational factors affecting it, so as to further explore its potential benefits and limitations for service.

Design/methodology/approach

A summative review of the empathy literature uncovers cause–effect relationships and their potential boundary conditions. Theoretical propositions set an agenda for future research on empathy for service that breaks new ground.

Findings

Empathy can reduce anti-social, revenge, discrimination and unethical behaviors in service settings. It can also improve value-in-context experiences for users of service innovations. Notwithstanding its potential benefits, empathy can diminish the objectivity and performance of service providers when experienced at extreme levels. Empathy can also serve as an ingratiation influence tactic and can be detrimental to the target in embarrassing service contexts.

Originality/value

This paper suggests propositions for future research to advance theory and managerial practice on the use of empathy to improve service outcomes for interacting actors. It also alludes to the potential dark side of empathy when experienced at excessive levels or when used to manipulate.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author greatly thanks Han Ung and Kristian Causovski for their assistance with the literature search.

Citation

Bove, L.L. (2019), "Empathy for service: benefits, unintended consequences, and future research agenda", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 31-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-10-2018-0289

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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