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Interpersonal exchanges between customers and frontline service employees increasingly involve the use of technology, such as point-of-sale terminals, tablets, and kiosks. The present research draws on role and script theories to demonstrate that customer reactions to technology-infused service exchanges depend on the presence of employee rapport. When rapport is present during the exchange, the use of technology functions as an interpersonal barrier preventing the customer from responding in kind to employee rapport-building efforts, thereby decreasing service encounter evaluations. However, during service encounters in which employees are not engaging in rapport building, technology functions as an interpersonal barrier, enabling customers to retreat from the relatively unpleasant service interaction, thereby increasing service encounter evaluations. Two analyses using J.D. Power Guest Satisfaction Index data support the barrier and beneficial effects of technology use during service encounters with and without rapport, respectively. A follow-up experiment replicates this data pattern and identifies psychological discomfort as a key process that governs the effect. For managers, the results demonstrate the inherent incompatibility of initiatives designed to encourage employee–customer rapport with those that introduce technology into frontline service exchanges.


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© American Marketing Association (AMA). Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.