Customers’ reactions to self-service technology failure: attributions of blame and coping strategies

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Self-service technologies (SSTs) are transforming the way a service is produced and delivered to its customers. The role of the customer changes from a passive receiver to an active producer of his own service. When a SST fails, there are no service employees around to immediately recover the service outcome. This paper seeks to understand how customers react when they experience SST failure and who they hold accountable for the failure, considering their high involvement in the co-creation process. The current research is based on an online experimental design, where 3 types of SST failure: technology, process and design, from 2 industries: airlines and active footwear, were manipulated. The scenarios were followed by a web survey that measured customers’ attributions of blame for the failure as well as their coping strategies. A sample of 374 responses was gathered and analyzed using PLS-SEM. The research findings show that customers hold the company responsible when they experience technology failure or design failure. When the attribution is external, SST users tend to confront the company or disengage with the service. In the case of a process failure, customers tend to take on more responsibility for the faulty outcome than in the other 2 SST failure types. Internal attribution links with coping mechanisms such as planful problem solving, acceptance and disengagement. The findings have important implications for service managers. First of all, companies need to understand the different phases where a SST can fail and plan for more thorough and complete design of their services. Also, relevant recovery strategies should be implemented according to the attribution type and to the coping mechanisms applied by customers. The originality of the current research stays in the novel approach of investigating failure in a new and emerging service context: self-service technologies. Moreover, customers’ reactions to 3 types of SST failure (technology, process, design) is researched with the help of attribution theory and coping strategies, taken from the theory of stress and coping.
Thesis advisor
Falk, Tomas
Kajalo, Sami

service failure, self-service technologies, attribution theory, coping with failure, SSTs, SST failure, technology failure, service design failure, service process failure, locus of attribution, coping strategies, stress management, PLS SEM
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