Q: How does wearable technology change how I’m perceived by others, especially in a customer service situation?
A: However, they have a psychological effect, and it may not benefit men to wear them in a customer service situation.
Lots of customer service positions have been incorporating wearable technology into their processes. This may include headsets with microphones, smart watches, or Bluetooth phones.
However, some psychological theories suggest that when technology is combined with people, there is something called a “technology objectification effect.”
- What is the technology objectification effect? When a person is perceived as being “fused” with technology, they may appear to be less human – basically, they are more of an object or more machine-like.
- (think of it as the “Borg Effect” if you’re a Trekker)
- This, combined with some other biases and stereotypes, may mean that a customer service representative who wears technology on their body might be having a psychological effect on the people they interact with.
- This effect might be particularly important when a customer service employee makes a mistake?
A group of hospitality industry researchers from Temple University and Pennsylvania State, supported by a grant from the Marriott Corporation, sought to determine what effect, if any, wearable technology has on perceptions of customer service.
The results were published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management in 2015.
The researchers recruited 120 participants to do a survey.
- Google Glass/success
- Google Glass/fail
- No tech/success
- No tech/fail
- Participants were asked to imagine that they are being checked into a hotel by a female front desk employee who was either wearing Google Glass, or not (participants were randomly selected to either have Google Glass in the encounter or not).
- A picture of the employee and the scene was provided to enhance the realism of the imagined encounter, and the participants were talked through the scenario verbally.
- Randomly, the hotel employee either completed the task successfully in a short amount of time (success), or took a long time to find the reservation and failed to do so at the end (fail).
- In the end, there were four types of encounter:
- Finally, participants were asked to fill out a customer service survey where they shared their opinions about the encountered. The questions they answered were:
Whether they were satisfied.
Whether they think the hotel agent did a good job.
Whether they will choose this hotel again in the future.
Whether this hotel will be their first choice in the future.
- Not surprisingly, people rated the encounter as less satisfying when the employee failed to find the reservation.
- However, technology seemed to soften this effect. It was found that the wearable technology (Google Glass) actually improved the service encounter (higher satisfaction AND higher intention to return) when the employee failed to find the reservation. In other words, the customer didn’t rate the failure as quite so bad when technology was involved.
- When the customer service agent successfully found the reservation, the technology didn’t make a difference.
So that means that if you’re a customer service agent, you should wear technology, right? Because if you screw up, people are more forgiving if you are wearing technology?
- Not so fast!
The researchers gathered a new group of 120 participants and conducted the same study with one major difference: the hotel agent was a man instead of a woman.
In other words, the man who is wearing technology is perceived less than human and almost machine-like. In this case, even a successful encounter is going to seem like a process with a machine rather than an encounter with a human.
The researchers wondered whether certain biases toward genders might change the effect.
Based on previous research, the researchers suggested that perhaps there is a stereotype about women – that they are incompetent with technology.
Thus, if a woman tries to use technology and fails, people are more forgiving, because they wouldn’t expect a woman to get it right in the first place. I know, totally sad – but stereotypes are with us all the time.
So in the case of a man wearing technology, it doesn’t really enhance the encounter – people expect men to use technology right. When the man successfully processes the reservation, it might just cause a technological objectivity effect.
And that’s exactly what they found.
When the male hotel agent failed to find the reservation, people were less satisfied and said they were less likely to return to the hotel in the future. Wearing technology didn’t help soften the effect (like it did with the female employee).
But when the hotel agent successfully found the reservation, Google Glass actually DECREASED the customer’s satisfaction in the encounter.
The researchers’ theory was correct – being successfully “processed” by a male employee wearing technology had a less-than human feel to it, and was thus less satisfying.
The results of this experiment seem to confirm that there is a Technology Objectification Effect for men (but not women).
This effect means that customer service agents who wear technology and interact with customers are perceived as more machine-like.
This reduces customer satisfaction and likelihood that a customer will return in the future.
The Bottom Line: Men, if you want to create a warm and welcome customer service encounter, you should probably keep wearable technology to a minimum (if it is possible). Even if you do a good job, you might be perceived as more machine-like and less warm.
If you have to wear technology as part of the job, then you might need to compensate for the machine-like perception by being especially warm and engaging.
Wu, L., Fan, A., & Mattila, A. S. (2015). Wearable technology in service delivery processes: The gender-moderated technology objectification effect. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 1-7. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431915001280