In today’s transparent and often ultra-competitive environment, business and reputation of service spread like wildfire. It is crucial to look into enhancing customer experience more than ever before. Numerous well-established conglomerates maintain a conventional perspective that human services remain the top priority for consumers. While this viewpoint holds some validity, the contemporary consumer often places a higher premium on swiftness and enhanced efficiency in service delivery. The service robot technology sector has experienced significant growth in recent years thanks to innovative companies looking to differentiate themselves. Pudu’s Bellabot among the more popular and versatile service bot has seamlessly integrated into guest experiences across hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments worldwide. More recently, Segway, renowned transportation and vehicle manufacturer has developed their own versatile and nimble service robotics. The enduring presence of self-service automated kiosks signifies that robots are here to stay, and they represent the future of customer service.
The service robot technology sector has experienced significant growth in recent years. Pudu’s Bellabot among the more popular and versatile service bot has seamlessly integrated into guest experiences across hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments worldwide. More recently, Segway, renowned transportation and vehicle manufacturer has developed their own versatile and nimble service robotics. The enduring presence of self-service automated kiosks signifies that robots are here to stay, and they represent the future of customer service.
The advantages offered by service robots are evident. They are immune to the transmission of airborne viruses and immune to burnout due to repetitive tasks or human interactions. These robots possess the potential to reduce operational costs, enhance efficiency, and automate mundane and time-consuming responsibilities. Unlike their human counterparts, robots are available for duty 24/7, without the need for sick leave, holidays, or paid time off. This ensures that the hotel front desk or car rental service is consistently staffed, catering to the convenience of customers.
However, realizing these benefits hinges on the careful design and implementation of service robots. If not executed thoughtfully, both customers and human coworkers may be hesitant to engage with these technological assets. The introduction of robot technology should not be a mere novelty; instead, it should be seamlessly integrated to provide tangible value to customers while supporting the efforts of employees. Striking the right balance between automation and human interaction is crucial in ensuring the successful adoption and implementation of service robots
Robots Engineered for Practicality, Not Just Novelty
The advent of robots in the service industry is gaining momentum, particularly in Asia where they have become relatively commonplace. Recent analysis of online customer satisfaction ratings in the hospitality sector reveals intriguing insights. Interactions with service robots predominantly elicit positive emotional responses. Guests appreciate the presence of these anthropomorphized robots, finding them endearing and welcoming, especially when serving as hosts, and a source of fascination and delight, particularly among children, when delivering room service.
Undoubtedly, novelty plays a significant role in shaping customer perceptions of service robots. However, the question arises: will this fascination persist as robots become as ubiquitous as cash registers and front desks? Beyond their novelty factor, what truly resonates with guests is their functionality.
Functionality stands out as the most critical element in human-robot interactions and profoundly influences the overall customer experience. Placing robots in service roles often raises expectations of seamless, efficient, and error-free performance. Yet, like any technology, robots are not immune to glitches or the occasional user error, which can lead to frustration.
A Case in Point: Self-Checkout Kiosks
A parallel can be drawn with the introduction of self-checkout kiosks, initially aimed at enhancing efficiency and cost reduction. Major retailers like Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Panera Bread have replaced cashiers with automated kiosks. However, as self-checkout kiosks became commonplace, they gradually fell out of favor with customers due to challenges in using the technology and the loss of personalized services like bagging groceries.
Recognizing Emotions and Routing Interactions
In the realm of customer service, call centers dealing with high call volumes and routine inquiries have long relied on chatbots and automated systems capable of gauging the emotional tone of a customer’s voice. For instance, Aida, a virtual assistant in a Swedish bank, can assist with straightforward transactions, leaving more complex tasks to human agents. Importantly, Aida can detect customer frustration and seamlessly transfer the conversation to a human agent when necessary.
However, it’s crucial not to overburden human service employees by subjecting them to interactions solely with abusive customers, as this can lead to burnout and high turnover rates. One potential role for service robots could be as “bouncers” safeguarding against abusive or derogatory customers. The ability to distinguish between customers experiencing technological frustration and those engaging in abusive behavior can aid human employees and facilitate a harmonious collaboration between humans and robots.
Embracing the Evolution
Over time, as service robot technology becomes more pervasive and ingrained in everyday life, the initial novelty will inevitably wane. To ensure the enduring success of robots in customer service, it is imperative to strike a delicate balance between harnessing their benefits and preserving a human touch.
Matching Robots to Customers and Tasks
The acceptance of robot service interactions hinges on both psychological readiness and technical preparedness. While humanoid robots have long been familiar in Asia, gaining customer acceptance remains a formidable challenge in the United States.
Companies must carefully evaluate whether service robots align with their business model. Industries offering highly personalized client services that rely on rapport, trust, and creative problem-solving may not be the ideal fit for service robots. Conversely, sectors characterized by standardized and automated services, such as cash register transactions and hotel check-ins, are more conducive to robot integration.
Demographics also play a pivotal role. Customer confidence and willingness to interact with robots are key determinants of a successful interaction. Younger, predominantly male consumers tend to be more receptive to robot interactions. Other customers may doubt their ability to interact effectively with robots or question the robots’ functional capabilities. Companies must consider when technology may become more cumbersome than helpful if it fails to meet the needs of the majority of customers.
Human Guides in Robot Interactions
The effective management of customer-robot service interactions necessitates the presence of human employees. They serve as guides, helping customers navigate interactions with robots when required. It’s essential not to replicate the model of self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, where customers are left to perform all tasks independently, excluding human services entirely. Instead, a synergy between robots and coworkers is the most effective approach.
Robots Introduced as Coworkers, Not Replacements
The integration of robots into customer service can be met with both relief and apprehension among human employees. While robots can alleviate monotonous tasks and reduce customer mistreatment, employees may harbor concerns about the functionality of robots, fearing job displacement.
Afunture Solutions, a robot service and supply company based in Vancouver British Columbia Canada is a robotic specialist that consults on machinery in the service and cleaning realms. The emphasis is to create a ‘co-bot’ environment where humans are assistants to customers and robots are assistants are workers, both playing vital roles in the service and hospitality eco-system. Learn more here
Clear communication is vital. Human employees play an indispensable role in ensuring the successful integration of new technologies into business operations. They humanize robots for customers, oversee robot functionality, and step in when expectations are not met. Moreover, their comfort level in interacting with robots serves as a model for customers who might initially be skeptical.
Managers should emphasize that the objective is not to replace humans but to integrate robot and human labor seamlessly to optimize the customer experience. Effective communication about robot technology, its capabilities, and its limitations is essential. Offering reward programs for technology training and expertise can motivate employees to embrace the change. Additionally, managers should highlight how technology can shield employees from tedious tasks and difficult customers while making interactions more enjoyable.
Inevitably, some front-line jobs that are standardized and routine may transition to robots, such as grocery cashiers or hotel front-desk clerks. However, the multifaceted nature of human interactions implies that humans will continue to be indispensable, even in these automated roles. When employees realize that their tasks become more engaging, with robots handling monotonous responsibilities or challenging customers, the collaboration between humans and robots may lead to more enjoyable working environments.
this article is written with sourced article from the HBR: https://hbr.org/2023/03/robots-are-changing-the-face-of-customer-service