Are robots the future of customer service?
Imagine taking a trip from Geneva to San Jose, with a transfer in Indianapolis. This journey is a surprising opportunity to meet some interesting customer service agents. There’s just one catch, they aren’t human, they’re robots. Each of the three agents takes a different approach to customer service and modern technology. Each gives a unique insight into the direction of social robotics.
At the Geneva airport, a nameless robot made by Bluebotics, the company that created the first mobile espresso machine is ready to assist travelers. The Geneva airport’s customer service representative rolls around autonomously and features a bucket-shaped chassis, a post with large touchscreen interface and a light inscribed with an i, the universal symbol for information. The built-in interface provides a pain-free way of getting directions for airport facilities such as currency exchanges, restrooms, and ticket purchase locations. The touch screen interface removes human language barriers.
The Indianapolis airport offers a slightly different experience. The robot is currently named “Double Robot” after the manufacturers company Double Robotics . This front line customer service agent is actually a wifi powered segway-like bot. The robot can be remotely navigated through the airport, seeking customers that appear to be looking for help. Visually, Double Robot’s predominant feature is a large screen, which works as a virtual display. The screen features the likeness of Brian Eckstein, director of airport guest services. Using telepresence technology, an airport representative can talk to people directly through the screen. The virtual agent can monitor the airport and communicate with passengers seeking directions or other information.
To see the most recent and perhaps most advanced robot, a traveler would have to swing by Orchard Hardware services in San Jose. Their customer service robot, “OSHbot” works as a greeter and will directly interact with the stores guests. This multilingual robot is programmed to speak Spanish and English.
OSHbot is clearly a machine, although it has a friendly appearance and is reminiscent of what a Star Wars fan would expect a robot to look like. The robot has two screens built into its sturdy chassis, and has a built in 3-d scanner. The scanner allows a customer to bring an item in, and have it scanned. The robot can then check the store’s inventory. If the item is in stock, the robot can lead the guest directly to the location of the replacement item. For customers that are reluctant to interact with store personnel, or are just technophiles, the experience can be very positive.
The OSHbot has other features including the ability to remotely contact expert personnel, a complete inventory database, product searching capabilities and the ability to dock with a charging station. It is capable of fielding simple questions in two languages, and is expected to add more languages over time. The bot is the result of a collaborative venture between Kyle Nel, the head of the Innovative Labs division of Lowe’s hardware and Marco Mascarro. Mr. Mascarro is the CEO of Fellow Robots and previously worked on humanoid exploration and rescue technology robots in Japan.
All of these robots have received generally positive customer response. The operators of these pilot projects are studying the interactions and working on how to improve the human interaction factor. It appears, after a long day of shopping and traveling, some people simply prefer to interact with robots.
While this trio is at the front lines of customer service, it is clear that interest in deploying this technology is the start of a much larger presence of robots in day to day life. The inevitable march of progress in robotics has moved from the factory floor to the store front. Fortunately, these robots haven’t replaced humans. In fact, both Oshbot and Double Robot have built in capabilities to reach human experts when higher level interaction is required.