The Power of Identity Cues in Text-Based Customer Service: Evidence from Twitter

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Publication History

Received: January 19, 2021
Revised: September 19, 2021; May 31, 2022; August 6, 2022
Accepted: September 21, 2022
Published Online as Articles in Advance: August 22, 2023
Published in Issue: September 1, 2023

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Text-based customer service is emerging as an important channel through which companies can assist customers. However, the use of few identity cues may cause customers to feel limited social presence and even suspect the human identity of agents, especially in the current age of advanced algorithms. Does such a lack of social presence affect service interactions? We studied this timely question by evaluating the impact of customers’ perceived social presence on service outcomes and customers’ attitudes toward agents. Our identification strategy hinged on Southwest Airlines’ sudden requirement to include a first name in response to service requests on Twitter, which enhanced customers’ perceived level of social presence. This change led customers to become more willing to engage and more likely to reach a resolution upon engagement. We further conducted a randomized experiment to understand the underlying mechanisms. We found that the effects were mainly driven by customers who were ex ante uncertain or suspicious about the human identity of agents, and the presence of identity cues improved service outcomes by enhancing customers’ perceived levels of trust and empathy. Additionally, we found no evidence of elevated verbal aggression from customers toward agents with identity cues, although a mechanism test revealed the moderating role of customers’ emotional states. Our study highlights the importance of social presence in text-based customer service and suggests a readily available and almost costless strategy for firms: signal humanization through identity cues.

Additional Details
Author Yang Gao, Huaxia Rui, and Shujing Sun
Year 2023
Volume 47
Issue 3
Keywords Social media, customer service, social presence, humanization, identity cue
Page Numbers 983-1014
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