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Friend or foe? Chat as a double-edged sword to assist customers

Marion Sangle-Ferriere (ESCP Europe Business School, London, UK)
Benjamin G. Voyer (ESCP Europe Business School, London, UK)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 28 October 2019

Issue publication date: 21 November 2019




The development of self-service technologies, while intended to better serve customers by offering them autonomy, has created situations in which individuals may require additional help. The purpose of this paper is to explore perceptions of chat as an assistance channel, to identify its perceived role in a customer service environment.


In all, 23 semi-structured interviews held with both chat and non-chat users assessed perceptions of chat in an assistance encounter. A thematic analysis was used.


The findings highlight a paradoxical perception of chat in a customer assistance context. On the one hand, customers perceive live chat as mainly beneficial in a customer service context, alleviating embarrassment, perceived threats and potential dissatisfaction linked to assistance requests. On the other hand, the elusive nature of a chat conversation interlocutor (human or artificial) adversely affects how customers interpret assistance from companies.

Research limitations/implications

This research underscores the perceived threats of assistance encounters and shows the ambivalent role of chat in such a context. It also highlights chat’s specific features that make it a relevant medium for assistance requests.

Practical implications

This study helps companies better understand customers’ perceptions of assistance requests and chat in that context. Companies can use the findings to develop better ways to address assistance needs and offer transparent and fully personalized human chat to provide an inclusive service.


This paper highlights the ambivalent role of chat as an assistance channel, easing assistance requests but also entailing a potential negative spillover effect, when negative chat perceptions of an artificial interlocutor have consequences.



This paper forms part of a special section “Services marketing for impact; ANZMAC 2017 Conference Special Issue”.


Sangle-Ferriere, M. and Voyer, B.G. (2019), "Friend or foe? Chat as a double-edged sword to assist customers", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 438-461.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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