Half human, half machine - augmenting service employees with AI for interpersonal emotion regulation

Alexander P. Henkel*, Stefano Bromuri, Deniz Iren, Visara Urovi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose With the advent of increasingly sophisticated AI, the nature of work in the service frontline is changing. The next frontier is to go beyond replacing routine tasks and augmenting service employees with AI. The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether service employees augmented with AI-based emotion recognition software are more effective in interpersonal emotion regulation (IER) and whether and how IER impacts their own affective well-being. Design/methodology/approach For the underlying study, an AI-based emotion recognition software was developed in order to assist service employees in managing customer emotions. A field study based on 2,459 call center service interactions assessed the effectiveness of the AI in augmenting service employees for IER and the immediate downstream consequences for well-being relevant outcomes. Findings Augmenting service employees with AI significantly improved their IER activities. Employees in the AI (vs control) condition were significantly more effective in regulating customer emotions. IER goal attainment, in turn, mediated the effect on employee affective well-being. Perceived stress related to exposure to the AI augmentation acted as a competing mediator. Practical implications Service firms can benefit from state-of-the-art AI technology by focusing on its capacity to augment rather than merely replacing employees. Furthermore, signaling IER goal attainment with the help of technology may provide uplifting consequences for service employee affective well-being. Originality/value The present study is among the first to empirically test the introduction of an AI-fueled technology to augment service employees in handling customer emotions. This paper further complements the literature by investigating IER in a real-life setting and by uncovering goal attainment as a new mechanism underlying the effect of IER on the well-being of the sender.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-265
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2020


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Customer service interactions
  • Interpersonal emotion regulation goal attainment
  • Affective well-being
  • Augmented service employees
  • Voice emotion recognition
  • WORK


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