Purpose: This study investigates the role of source familiarity in moderating the effect of service adaptive behavior (SAB) on customer satisfaction. Applying the accessibility–diagnosticity framework and situated cognition theory as the theoretical basis, this research hypothesizes that when customers are familiar with the source that provides the service (i.e. brand familiarity for Study 1 and personal familiarity for Study 2), customer satisfaction responses to SAB would be more moderate than when customers are not familiar with the source. Two studies were conducted to test the hypotheses. Design/methodology/approach: Two experiments manipulating SAB and the brand name familiarity (Study 1) and personal familiarity with the service staff (Study 2) as the source familiarity were conducted. Customer satisfaction as a function of source familiarity was measured to test the hypothesis that source familiarity moderates the relationship between SAB and customer satisfaction. Findings: Compared to unfamiliar sources, familiar sources generated a more moderate response in customer satisfaction as a function of SAB. High familiarity with the brand and service staff induced top-down, memory-based processing that overrides external stimuli as the basis of satisfaction judgment; bottom-up, stimulus-based processing relying on SAB for judgment kicked in only when the source familiarity is low. Practical implications: From a practical point of view, this study indicates the importance of SAB, especially for brands with low awareness, and alludes to the comparative importance of relationship building in service delivery processes. Originality/value: This study contributes to the literature by validating the role of contextual factors in influencing the impact of SAB on customer satisfaction.
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