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Service robots, customers and service employees: what can we learn from the academic literature and where are the gaps?

Vinh Nhat Lu (College of Business and Economics, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
Jochen Wirtz (National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore)
Werner H. Kunz (College of Management, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Stefanie Paluch (RWTH Business School, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany)
Thorsten Gruber (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Antje Martins (UQ Business School, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)
Paul G. Patterson (School of Marketing, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 7 April 2020

Issue publication date: 31 July 2020




Robots are predicted to have a profound impact on the service sector. The emergence of robots has attracted increasing interest from business scholars and practitioners alike. In this article, we undertake a systematic review of the business literature about the impact of service robots on customers and employees with the objective of guiding future research.


We analyzed the literature on service robots as they relate to customers and employees in business journals listed in the Financial Times top 50 journals plus all journals covered in the cross-disciplinary SERVSIG literature alerts.


The analysis of the identified studies yielded multiple observations about the impact of service robots on customers (e.g. overarching frameworks on acceptance and usage of service robots; characteristics of service robots and anthropomorphism; and potential for enhanced and deteriorated service experiences) and service employees (e.g. employee benefits such as reduced routine work, enhanced productivity and job satisfaction; potential negative consequences such as loss of autonomy and a range of negative psychological outcomes; opportunities for human–robot collaboration; job insecurity; and robot-related up-skilling and development requirements). We also conclude that current research on service robots is fragmented, is largely conceptual in nature and focused on the initial adoption stage. We feel that more research is needed to build an overarching theory. In addition, more empirical research is needed, especially on the long(er)-term usage service robots on actual behaviors, the well-being and potential downsides and (ethical) risks for customers and service employees.

Research limitations/implications

Our review focused on the business and service literature. Future work may want to include additional literature streams, including those in computer science, engineering and information systems.


This article is the first to synthesize the business and service literature on the impact of service robots on customers and employees.



This paper was accepted and presented at The 10th SERVSIG conference at IÉSEG School of Management, Paris in 2018. It was subsequently invited to the SERVSIG Special Section of JSTP. SERVSIG Co-chairs Linda Alkire and Bart Lariviere guest edited this special section.The first and second authors contributed equally to this manuscript.


Lu, V.N., Wirtz, J., Kunz, W.H., Paluch, S., Gruber, T., Martins, A. and Patterson, P.G. (2020), "Service robots, customers and service employees: what can we learn from the academic literature and where are the gaps?", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 361-391.



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Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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