This is an excerpt from one of our latest academic articles (that was accepted by the Journal of Services Marketing).
Previous studies reported that interactive websites ought to be accessible, appealing, convenient, functional, secure and responsive to their users (Crolic et al., 2021; Hoyer et al., 2020; Kabadayi et al., 2020; Klaus and Zaichkowsky, 2020; Rosenmayer et al., 2018; Sheehan et al., 2020; Valtakoski, 2019). Online service providers are expected to deliver a personalized customer service experience and to exceed their consumers’ expectations at all times, to encourage repeat business and loyal behaviors (Li et al., 2017; Tong et al., 2020; Zeithaml et al. 2002).
Many service marketing researchers have investigated the individuals’ perceptions about price comparison sites, interactive websites, ecommerce / online marketplaces, electronic banking, and social media, among other virtual domains (Donthu et al., 2021; Kabadayi et al., 2020; Klaus and Zaichkowsky, 2020; Rosenbaum and Russell-Bennett, 2020; Rosenmayer et al., 2018; Valtakoski, 2019; Zaki, 2019). Very often, they relied on measures drawn from electronic service quality (e-SQ or e-SERVQUAL), electronic retail quality (eTailQ), transaction process-based approaches for capturing service quality (eTransQual), net quality (NETQual), perceived electronic service quality (PeSQ), site quality (SITEQUAL) and website quality (webQual), among others.
Technology adoption researchers often adapted TAM measures, including perceived usefulness and behavioral intentions constructs, among others, or relied on psychological theories like the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein and Ajzen, 195) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), among others, to explore the individuals’ acceptance and use of different service technologies, in various contexts (Park et al., 2007; Chen and Chang, 2018). Alternatively, they utilized IAM’s theoretical framework to investigate the online users’ perceptions about the usefulness of information or online content. Very often they examined the effects of information usefulness on information adoption (Erkan and Evans, 2016; Liu et al., 2017).
A review of the relevant literature suggests that good quality content (in terms of its understandability, completeness, timeliness and accuracy) as well as the sources’ credibility (with regard to their trustworthiness and expertise) can increase the individuals’ expectations regarding a business and its products or services (Cheung et al., 2008; Li et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2017). ELM researchers suggest that a high level of message elaboration (i.e., argument quality) as well as the peripheral cues like the credibility of the sources and their appealing content, can have a positive impact on the individuals’ attitudes toward the conveyors of information (Allison et al., 2017; Chen and Chang, 2018; Petty et al., 1983), could affect their intentions to (re)visit the businesses’ websites (Salehi-Esfahani et al., 2016), and may even influence their purchase intentions (Chen and Chang, 2018; Erkan and Evans, 2016).
This contribution differentiates itself from previous research as the researchers adapted key measures from ELM/IAM namely ‘information quality’ (Filieri and McLeay, 2014; Salehi-Esfahani et al., 2016; Shu and Scott, 2013; Tseng and Wang, 2016) and ‘source credibility’ (Ayeh, 2015; Leong et al., 2019; Wang and Scheinbaum, 2018) and integrated them with an ‘interactive engagement’ construct (McMillan and Hwang, 2002), to better understand the individuals’ utilitarian motivations to use the service businesses’ interactive websites. The researchers hypothesized that these three constructs were plausible antecedents of TAM’s ‘perceived usefulness’ and ‘intentions to use the technology’. Specifically, this research examines the direct effects of information quality, source credibility and interactive engagement on the individuals’ perceived usefulness of interactive website, as well as their indirect effects on their intentions to continue using these service technologies.
To the best of the researchers’ knowledge, there is no other research in academia that included an interactive engagement construct in addition to ELM/IAM and TAM measures. This contribution addresses this gap in the literature. The engagement construct was used to better understand the respondents’ perceptions about the ease-of-use of interactive websites, to ascertain whether they are captivating their users’ attention by offering a variety of content, and more importantly, to determine whether they consider them as responsive technologies.
This study sheds light on the travel websites’ interactive capabilities during an unprecedented crisis situation, when businesses received higher volumes of inquiries through different channels (to change bookings, cancel itineraries and/or submit refund requests). At the same time, it identified the most significant factors that were affecting the respondents’ perceptions and motivations to continue using interactive service technologies in the future.
In sum, this research confirmed that the respondents were evaluating the quality of information that is featured in interactive websites. The findings reported they were well acquainted with the websites’ content (e.g. news feeds, product information, differentiated pricing options, images, video clips, and/or web chat facilities). The researchers presumed that the respondents were well aware of the latest developments. During COVID-19, a number of travel websites have eased their terms and conditions relating to cancellations and refund policies (EU, 2020), to accommodate their customers. Online businesses were expected to communicate with their customers and to clarify any changes in their service delivery, in a timely manner.
The contribution clarified that online users were somehow influenced by the asynchronous content that is featured in webpages. Therefore, service businesses ought to publish quality information to satisfy their customers’ expectations. They may invest in service technologies like a frequently answered questions widget in their websites to enhance their online customer services, and to support online users during and after the sales transactions. Service businesses could integrate events’ calendars, maps, multi-lingual accessibility options, online reviews and ratings, high resolution images and/or videos in their interactive websites, to entertain their visitors (Cao and Yang, 2016; Bastida and Huan, 2014).
This research underlines the importance for service providers to consistently engage in concurrent, online conversations with customers and prospects, in real-time (Buhalis and Sinarta 2019; Chattaraman et al., 2019; Rihova et al., 2018; Harrigan et al., 2017). Recently, more researchers are raising awareness on the provision of live chat facilities through interactive websites or via SNSs like WhatsApp or Messenger (Camilleri & Troise, 2022). Services businesses are expected to respond to consumer queries, and to address their concerns, as quickly as possible (McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2019), in order to minimize complaints.
AI chatbot technologies are increasingly enabling service businesses to handle numerous interactions with online users, when compared to telephone conversations with human customer services representatives (Adam et al., 2021; Hoyer et al., 2020; Luo et al., 2019; McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2019; Van Pinxteren et al., 2019). The most advanced dialogue systems are equipped with features like omnichannel messaging support, no code deployment, fallback options, as well as sentiment analysis. These service technologies are designed to improve the consumers’ experiences by delivering automated smart responses, in an efficient manner. Hence, online businesses will be in a better position to meet and exceed their customers’ service expectations. Indeed, service businesses can leverage themselves with a responsive website. These interactive technologies enable them to improve their positioning among customers, and to generate positive word-of-mouth publicity.
Limitations and future research avenues
This study has included a perceived interactivity dimension, namely an ‘interactive engagement’ construct within an information adoption model. The findings revealed that the respondents believed that the websites’ engaging content was a significant antecedent of their perceptions about the usefulness of interactive websites. This study also reported that the interactive engagement construct indirectly affected the individuals’ intentions to revisit them again.
In conclusion, the authors recommend that future researchers validate this study’s measures in other contexts, to determine the effects of interactive engagement on information adoption and/or on the acceptance and usage of online technologies. Further research is required to better understand which attributes and features of interactive websites are appreciated by online users. Recent contributions suggest that there are many benefits for service businesses to use conversational chatbots to respond to online customer services. These interactive technologies can offer increased convenience to consumers and prospects (Thomaz et al., 2020), improved operational efficiencies (Pantano and Pizzi, 2020), reduced labor costs (Belanche et al., 2020), as well as time-saving opportunities for customers and service providers (Adam et al., 2021).
Prospective empirical research may consider different constructs from other theoretical frameworks to examine the individuals’ perceptions and/or attitudes toward interactive websites and their service technologies. Academic researchers are increasingly relying on the expectancy theory/expectancy violation theory (Crolic et al., 2021), the human computer interaction theory/human machine communication theory (Wilkinson et al., 2021), the social presence theory (Tsai et al., 2021), and/or the social response theory (Adam et al., 2021), among others, to investigate the customers’ engagement with service technologies.
Notwithstanding, different methodologies and sampling frames could be used to capture and analyze primary data. For instance, inductive studies may investigate the consumers’ in-depth opinions and beliefs on this topic. Interpretative studies may reveal important insights on how to improve the efficacy and/or the perceived usefulness of interactive service technologies.