Service sweethearting is a customer-oriented and relational behavior in which frontline employees give free or discounted service that is value experiencing to customers in a given context. Although extant research provides valuable knowledge about the antecedents and consequences of service sweethearting, it is unclear how service sweethearting behaviors enhance or undermine customers’ value perception of service offerings. Therefore, this study employs in-depth interviews with customers receiving service sweethearting from frontline employees in multiple service industries to explore the value construction and destruction mechanisms of service sweethearting in the value co-creation process. Our findings show that service sweethearting is comprised of two modes: calculative and prosocial service sweetheartings. A research model of service sweethearting value construction and destruction processes also emerged from our qualitative data analysis. This model proposes that both calculative and prosocial sweethearting behaviors enhance the perceived value of service offerings when they are unexpected to customers. However, service sweetheartings would undermine the value of service offerings in certain contexts.
frontline service employee, service sweethearting, service-dominant logic, value co-creation process, value-in-context