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Largely due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the customer service capabilities of robots have been appreciated and their benefits are all the more made clear. Although service robots have already existed even before the aforementioned pandemic, the increase in demand for these intelligent customer service robots is only now booming. According to the International Federation of Robotics World Robotics, service robots have a 37% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).
With the changing of the customer services landscape, updated service research, and newfound robotics technology specifically for service robots, let’s do a deep dive into customer service robots and how they can contribute to various service industries.
As the service sector and global landscape rapidly change, so does the expected service quality from service encounters. However, challenges such as labor shortages, rising costs, supply chain interruptions, and most recently, health hazards, can prove to be a hindrance in achieving the service quality and customer satisfaction that management would want to meet. Hence, the use of service robots in performing customer service tasks.
Using robotic technology and robot services for business solutions is not a new concept. It’s a common practice for businesses to make use of industrial robots to help with manufacturing and warehousing. However, employing service robots alongside human employees and engaging in customer-robot interaction is somewhat still of a novelty for many.
While service robots may seem to be purely for entertainment purposes at first glance, they actually provide plenty of benefits and advantages to the whole service experience and if done right, the customer experience.
Service robots can either be classified as humanoid robots or non-humanoid robots. It is not necessary for service robots to be human-like robots, meaning to have facial features and expressions similar to humans, but having human attributes can help customers get a more positive attitude towards them.
Essentially, service robots are made for human interaction in a professional sense. May it be interacting with human employees or directly with customers, service robots will first and foremost perform customer service tasks to ultimately assist humans. With the help of robotic technology and artificial intelligence, service robots can gauge the task complexity of the job at hand in order to attain the service quality needed.
There are various ways service robots are used and employed in the service context.
Robot service interactions with individuals or families are mostly for companionship. With the main goal of providing customer satisfaction, a service robot used in this setting is tasked to assist humans with personal needs and reasons. This can be in the form of home cleaning, home care, entertainment, psychological comfort, or remote care to a certain extent. Instead of public customers in retail stores or restaurants, the customers of a personal service robot would be those at home.
Robotic services in the industrial setting are perhaps the most common kind. The use of service robots to help assist human employees and customers can be found in various industrial branches and sectors. Depending on the customer services needed, a service robot will be assigned accordingly.
A service robot employed in the retail business and industry will be able to assist human employees with in-store operations. New technologies of a service robot in retail can also provide service research and customer data that can be beneficial to the business to help improve service quality and customer satisfaction.
The robotic service provided in hotels and hospitality management is by way of enhancing and personalizing the overall customer experience. Common service robots in this industry are self-service kiosks for quick and easy check-in processes and human-robot butlers to serve food directly to rooms.
A service robot in the restaurant and food industry functions like any other service provider. Much like regular service employees, service robots here can take orders, deliver food, and greet customers at front-of-house. A service robot working in this industry may also accumulate customer data which later on can be used to improve customer experiences, the menu of a restaurant, or how the business is running.
Service robots in the healthcare industry are growing in popularity for plenty of reasons. They are able to assist doctors in performing surgeries that may be too complex and small for the naked eye to see and they can also handle routine logistical tasks.
On the side of human employees and workers, service robots help alleviate some of the physical demands and tasks. They can clean and set up hospital rooms, track the inventory of medicine, place orders, and transport supplies.
On the side of customers, service robots can provide a safer and more sanitized environment for them. This assures them that they are given the highest level of care and safety as soon as they step inside the hospital or clinic, which improves the overall customer experience and service quality.
With the rise of e-commerce and online shopping, service robots are helping with industrial automation applications and services to help prevent employees from feeling burnt out. Plenty of service robots are able to do routine logistic tasks and order fulfillment. There are also service robots that go straight to customers to make deliveries.
Service robots can also acquire customer data in the logistics industry and use this in improving customer engagement, customer loyalty, and customer services with the help of their artificial intelligence and new technologies.
Service robots in the military are now growing rampant. New technologies, especially artificial intelligence, prove service robots not only advantageous to have in the military but also logical. With the combination of computer science, mechanical engineering, and more, service robots can help patrol communities, navigate, assist in disaster relief, and explore dangerous areas that humans may not be able to do alone.
Service robots are able to help and improve customer services in plenty of ways. From customers, staff, and up to the managerial sector, they can provide a sustainable competitive advantage for all, namely in four major ways.
With the shortage of labor, rapid turnaround of employees, and generally rising costs, service robots are seen as labor savings with many managerial implications. Unlike a human employee, a service robot can work 24/7 without sick or vacation leaves filed. They are also able to perform a wide array of tasks that may be too great for one human to fulfill. Instead of managers hiring a number of human employees, they may opt to purchase one service robot instead but still achieve the same (or better) service quality.
Such is the case with self-service kiosks. Although it may not be too obvious that these are service robots, self-service kiosks found in retail stores actually fall in this category. Self-service kiosks became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as customers interact and engage less with human staff to prevent the spreading of the virus.
Not only did these self-service kiosks and service robots help in minimizing the risk of infection among customers and human employees, but they also helped in managing the load of human labor. Without the help of human service staff, these service robots allowed customers to punch in their items and pay as they go.
Ultimately, they were able to help in cutting down costs — possible costs for health insurance, increase in salary, and more.
Although service robots should not be seen as smart objects that will replace humans and take over our jobs, one cannot deny the fact of how helpful they are in boosting the efficiency of service outcomes. As service robots are made to assist us in our human jobs, they help complete tasks in a more efficient and quick way. Albeit service failures may still occur and the occasional glitches and updates may happen, service robots can still perform automated tasks in a quick and accurate manner.
The service quality that robots can give is excellent due to uptime. In the following manner on how customers evaluate human employees with regard to their customer services, robots are also evaluated by tech teams. However, due to uptime, newer models of service robots have smart monitoring tools that will help troubleshoot potential glitches and problems that may occur.
In the conceptual model of things when it comes to customer service, this helps service robots to consistently improve their performance to better improve the way they treat and serve customers. In that sense, managers and businesses are assured that customers are being served rightly so by the service robots.
Through a centralized system, service robots can track and gather customer data, activity, and sentiments. The collected customer data will help not only help service robots provide customers with the service they expect, but it can also help managers and businesses make decisions on how to improve their products, services, and systems. Overall, this will help in achieving customer loyalty.
Aside from using customer data to improve service quality, the data collection done by service robots can also help managers keep track of their inventory. They can alert the managers when a certain item or product is running low and a new shipment order must be placed.
With the new technology and artificial intelligence of service robots, they are able to provide many capabilities and business methods that can help both customers and managers.
Human-robot interaction may still be quite the novelty for plenty. After all, customers still need to get used to robot interactions as a norm in the customer service process. Prior research shows that a customer experiences challenges if technology readiness for robot interactions seems to be intimidating and complex.
In that sense, a 2022 study in the International Journal of Hospital Management shares that customers are more likely to interact with and welcome robots in the service industry if they are human-like leaning towards the feminine side. Taking this into consideration, the “human touch” with service robots must still be present to get customer acceptance.
Call centers are becoming prevalent in using service robots in their processes. As employees in call centers often interact with customers and talk to them on the phone, the advantages of using a service robot to help with answering inquiries are great. However, if a service robot lacks the human touch and empathy in answering or conversing with customers, it may lose them.
On the other hand, for quick and straightforward interactions with customers, robots can be quite useful and even preferred by many. Customers get to save time as the robots tend to be more direct with answers as opposed to dealing with agents in call centers.
Of course, robots cannot replace humans when it comes to forming emotional connections, which can also help in the overall experience of customers. These smart AI beings can still provide customers with a different kind of service. There are customers who find these robots delightful surprises yet highly functional.
As service robots are programmed to follow systems and processes to help assist employees and customers, they are designed to be error-free as much as possible. For that reason, industries such as call centers tend to employ robots to help with simple transactions and interactions with customers.
Automated chatboxes and systems are often met by customers who have inquiries about companies, businesses, and brands. There are times customers would feel frustrated because of the auto-generated responses and so, this is where service robots come in. While they cannot replace humans entirely, they do provide some level of empathy and efficiency that customers look for. On the side of employees, these robots are able to help protect them from abusive customers and burnout.
Businesses have the option to customize how these robots will respond to customers and perform certain tasks based on their needs. Since they are programmed, it is quite easy for robots to learn things right away and be trained in a certain manner that is to the liking of a business’s customers and such.
One of the benefits that service robots can give is the capability to quickly identify problems and issues with customers and the business based on the data collected. Customers can be kept happy and satisfied because of preventive measures done by the robot. A robot can keep track of complaints from customers and quickly assess what needs to be done to help improve how they are serviced.
With more new technology coming in, employing service robots in other professional services and fields can be seen in the nearby future. Here are other ways how robots can service customers and businesses based on their capabilities.
Robots can collect data that will help marketers formulate campaigns and messages to help capture the attention of customers, grow sales, and gain leads.
While this will fall more under the “novelty” side of things, a service robot can be used by HR specialists and companies to attract employees in the tech, robotics, and engineering industry.
Once programmed, a service robot can help in training employees during orientation. This will help current employees focus their energy and time on their individual tasks and workload instead of training new hires or interns.
Similar to how a service robot is used in call centers, it can also be used for inside sales. Should a sales agent have questions and need data to be pulled up, then a service robot can quickly and accurately provide this.
A service robot can act as a secretary in the sense that it can organize and take appointments, manage backlogs, perform digital registrations, and more.
With the continued advancement in robotics and technology, one can only expect service robots to make more waves in the customer service industry. We would not be surprised if we also start seeing them in more industries to assist humans in various tasks.