How are technologies changing customer behaviour?



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Digitization How are technologies changing customer behaviour?

Published on 8.10.2020 by Prof. Dr. Anne Scherer, assistant professor for quantitative marketing at the University of Zurich

Consumers encounter new forms of technology every day in their interactions with companies. They’re increasingly interacting with machines instead of people. This change brings countless benefits for companies and consumers alike but will also lead to major changes in consumer behaviour in the long term.

The financial consultant? A robo-advisor. The fitness coach? A mobile app. The language tutor? A chatbot. Today, consumers are increasingly encountering machines instead of people in their interactions with companies. This change is appreciated by companies and consumers alike: costs can be lowered while productivity is increased, availability is improved and inconsistency in service is reduced. A number of studies highlight such consequences of technological change. But how will this change impact the perceptions and behaviour of consumers in the long term?

Current research shows that consumers perceive their interactions with machines differently than with humans and consequently react differently to them:

On the one hand, machines are seen as more neutral, objective and unbiased entities, whilst humans are subjective, biased and full of personal motives and intentions. Following this logic, the suggestion of a recommendation system can be based solely on the interests of the consumer, not the (possibly different) interests of the provider. A suggestion from a human advisor, by contrast, raises more suspicion. Consumers are far more likely to question the motives of the advisor and whether their own interests are being considered.

The result of these differences in perception? If a system is technically advanced, consumers are more likely to trust it than the human alternative. Instead of mistrusting machines and algorithms, the contrary is increasingly apparent: excessive faith in technology. The latest research refers to this as “algorithmic appreciation”.

On the other hand, consumers perceive machines as emotionless, lifeless interactants, which, unlike humans, cannot respond consciously. As a result, machines don’t become disappointed or annoyed if replaced by a new advisor after establishing a good relationship with a customer over many years; nor do machines think poorly about users if they divulge intimate or disagreeable information.

Variations in perception in this sphere also lead to different behavioural reactions: consumers are more willing to disclose their personal affairs to a machine and they won’t be worried about being seen as self-centred if they focus only on how they can benefit personally. When interactions are fully machine-based, changing to a new advisor is easier as there’s no “social contract” being broken, which is typical for human interactions.

Overall, it’s clear that consumers don’t interact with machines in the same way as they do with people. The way in which companies use or design new technologies thus has a significant influence on how consumers perceive, use and evaluate them.

Unfortunately, Connecta cannot be held as planned. Prof. Dr Anne Scherer would have been one of the 80 speakers. An alternative programme is available through Connecta TV, Doc and Talk – find out more at: www.swisspost.ch/connecta.

Prof. Dr Anne Scherer

Prof. Dr. Anne Scherer is an assistant professor for quantitative marketing at the University of Zurich. In her research she investigates how new technologies and their design impacts the mindset, perceptions and behaviour of consumers.

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