Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine causal attribution in
interactional service experiences. The paper investigates how triggers
in the environment of a customer-employee interaction influence customer
behavioral response to employees' negative and positive affect.
Additionally, it studies the role of sympathy and authenticity as
underlying mechanisms of this relationship.
Design/methodology/approach - Two scenario-based experimental designs
(N1 = 162; N2 = 138) were used. Videotaped scenarios served as stimulus
material for the manipulation of two focal variables: the employee's
emotional display as either negative or positive and the availability of
an emotion trigger in the interaction environment to convey the
attribution dimension of cause uncontrollability. The emotion trigger's
visibility was varied in the two studies. Customer response was captured
by buying intentions.
Findings - Customer responses are more favorable for both positive and
negative interactional experiences when customers have access to
information on cause uncontrollability (i.e. notice triggers in the
interaction environment). Analyses reveal that these effects stem from
feelings of sympathy for negative experiences and authenticity for
Originality/value - This research supports the relevance of causal
attribution research on interactional service experiences, which have
high-profit impact. Moreover, the findings underline the importance of
the experience of fact in service interactions and thereby provide a
more nuanced view on the discussion of whether service providers should
use impression management strategies to engender customer satisfaction
even when this behavior is ``faked.''