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How Robot Greeters Are Changing the Service Sector


Post March 26, 2021 by Kellan Zhang

How Robot Greeters Are Changing the Service Sector

What once only existed in sci-fi movies has now become commonplace. Robot greeters have been popping up in shopping malls, banks, hotels, public transportation and even hospitals over the past few years, and they are no longer just a gimmick. They can guide you to the nearest food court, scan barcodes on shopping items, dispense queueing numbers, take payment, or even tell a joke.

So, is now the time for your brand to embrace robot greeters? Here are some key things to consider.

The Ins and Outs of Robot Greeters

Though they are gaining popularity and acceptance, current designs of robot greeters are still in an early stage. Their “body parts” are either fixed or have limited movement. Some are semi-android (human-looking) to better appeal to customers, such as Mizuho Bank’s Humanoid Service Robot (HSR); while others still look like R2-D2 from Star Wars. Regardless of the way they look, there are some common elements that define robot greeters. Built-in cameras, microphones and touchscreens allow the robots to process visual, vocal and manual input from a customer. However, what is truly accelerating the capabilities of robot greeters is the advancement of Natural Language Processing (NLP), enabling machines to understand and respond to customers on a basic cognitive level.

Source: Finextra

How Can Robot Greeters Improve Your Customer Experience?

So, what can robot greeters do for your retail space? Well as part of your service staff, they are designed to greet, guide, assist, inform, and entertain customers, freeing up staff to focus on more personal, curated service. Such synergy between automated and human service providers is supported by a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which looked at the effects of service robots in around 860 nursing facilities in Japan. In contrast to the prevailing concern of robots taking away people’s jobs, the study found that the hospitals actually increased the number of nurses, staff retention rates, and work flexibility.

These electronic greeters are available 24/7, multilingual, responsive, always smiling and capable to handle an almost infinite amount of information. Their strength also lies in the fact that they can be “emotional” and “non-emotional.” Their “emotions” powered by AI algorithms allow them to interact on a cognitive level or even entertain customers such as telling jokes; while they also provide fuss-free services for those that would rather not interact with salespeople or robots.

Examples from the Commercial World

Retail: Navigation and Entertainment Robot Greeters

Retail giants have been some of the first to embrace robot greeters. It is easy to see why – at a competitive cost, a humanoid service robot not only refreshes customer experience by offering a modern touch of the latest technology but also presents itself as a way to differentiates a retailer from its competitors.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs has been spearheading some of the technology that we are now seeing more regularly – including service robots. The latest addition to their staff is called the LoweBot, which are “trained” to provide informative answers to simple questions regarding the store’s products and help customers navigate the store aisles more easily. By focusing on these tasks, the robots also free up their human colleagues to resolve more complicated issues.

Banks: Guidance and Smart ATM Bot

Bank staff are also getting more help from their robot counterparts. For example, a humanoid service robot named Pepper has started its commercial banking career at an HSBC branch in downtown Toronto, the first major bank to bring the customer service robot to Canada. Since it was first introduced in 2019, Pepper has been providing customers information on the bank’s products and services, directing them to the correct counters as well as greeting them and asking how they can help. Jeremy Balkin, Head of Innovation at HSBC comments, “We feel it’s about time the banking customer experience be just as fun and engaging.”

Source: CBC

While Pepper provides guidance and entertainment, Sberbasha at Sberbank in Russia actually conducts the day-to-day tasks of a teller – it can communicate with customers as well as complete non-cash transactions with a built-in ATM and POS terminal. Although it may seem like a small, portable ATM, the real innovation goes beyond the looks, as it can interact with customers using voices, gestures and movements.

Hospitality: Robotic Butler & Room Service Bot

It is no secret that COVID-19 continues to impact consumer behaviors. In the hotel business, robot greeters might be there to save the day, as they can offer non-touch butler services to travelers and business professionals around the globe.

What exactly does a futuristic stay-over feel like? Alibaba’s futuristic FlyZoo hotel has received lots of attention thanks to its robot-only services, which offer touchless check-in, payments, and automatic delivery services. A voice butler greets the guests and scans their faces or ID to verify their reservation while an R2D2-like robot delivers meals, toiletry, and clean towels. There are no keycards and everything is cashless. It features facial recognition doors, robotic arms at the bar, and even robots that deliver items to guest rooms. Other Alibaba robotic projects are also under development such as robots for bookstores and convenience stores.

In Japan, similar robot greeters are also found in COVID quarantine hotels. More than 10,000 such hotel rooms are reserved for medical use in order to relieve the resources of the medical system, according to Japan’s Health Ministry. Robot butlers greet their guests with warm phrases such as “I hope you recover soon” or “Please wear a mask.” Cleaning robots are also deployed to scrub certain “red zones,” which lowers the health risk to hotel staff and guests.

Limitations and the Way Forward

With a little help from their human colleagues, robot greeters have found their places in the services sector, just like their manufacturing robotic relatives have already done in factories. That said, they are still in the early stage of the application, adoption and designs. Let’s face it, some customers may be uncomfortable talking to a machine and still prefer a human touch; as the AI and NLP technology those robots use is still far from perfect. After all, how many “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Would you repeat the question?” could you hear before getting frustrated.

But just like our friend Pepper, who has found a place at the reception desk, other models are expected to be seen in more and more business scenarios. Perhaps it is our turn to greet them with open arms.