The market of service robot technologies and remote presence solutions is expected to grow continuously over the next ten years. Indeed, the ever growing developments in AI and associated robotic solutions are expected to have a major impact not only on the productivity of businesses, but also on the way they recruit and manage talent. As the use of robots is becoming more and more appealing for companies, it also raises new questions, such as what a proper and secure use of data collected during (and after) an interaction with a robot entails or the extent of the threat - real or not - towards human jobs.
In the world of hospitality, some of the applications will revolve around delivering service experiences via avatar robots, assisting hotel staff in their daily interactions with customers, and hence is raising new questions around how to properly design a customer experience that would maintain the level of quality a human staff has been trained to deliver.
A humanoid robot concierge operated by remote staff
EHL has been working on a project aiming to assess and improve the customer experience through a robot concierge solution. Led by the team of Associate Professor Reza Etemad-Sajadi and working with partners from heigvd (Professor Andrès Uribe's team) and Swiss company Avatarion, this Innosuisse-funded project uses a Pepper robot whose movements, gestures and conversation skills are controlled remotely via a real live agent, mimicking the behaviors of a human concierge.
The objective of this study was to evaluate how customers perceive the quality of service delivered when interacting with robot concierge as well as provide insights for service companies using an avatar as a concierge.
The tested solution was designed to provide a personalized service for potential guests via a Pepper robot. When the robot was not able to quickly and efficiently answer a question on its own, a human remote concierge was able to take over the interaction by controlling the gestures and answers to guests, balancing the "newness" of interacting with a robot for guests while preserving key aspects of a personal and human conversation.
Based on the evaluation survey done right after people interacted with Pepper, the team outlined some of the key findings their pilot unveiled.
The importance of emotional appeal
Pepper was gladly accepted by users and most of them were willing to use the robot in the future: as the voice of the robot sounds really "non-human", users who are interacting with it completely forget the idea that a human can control the interaction from another location.
To define the core aspects of service quality of our robot-based service should be evaluated upon, we measured the behaviors of our robot based on the 5 below service quality dimensions (adapted from the SERVQUAL model):
- Reliability (ability to perform the promised service dependably and precisely)
- Assurance (knowledge and courtesy of the robot and its ability to inspire confidence)
- Responsiveness (provide prompt service)
- Aesthetic/tangibles (visual, equipment)
- Empathy (individualized attention given to customers)
Although the robot-as-a-concierge was positively perceived across the five dimensions, the most important score appeared to be around the “aesthetic” of the experience, through a visually pleasing design and equipment. Beyond merely supporting typical engineering requirements to deliver a performant experience, good design can be used to establish the premises for a good human/robot relationship.
The study also unveiled that not only the aesthetic appeal of the interface has a major impact on how satisfied users turned out to be conversing with a robot but that people were able to develop empathy towards him during their interactions. As the robot is able to show feelings such as happiness, sadness, shyness etc., he was able to appeal to users' emotions - make them happy or make them laugh for instance - which set the grounds for a relatable - and reliable - interaction.
In terms of marketing, we know how important the emotional connection with guests is and the emotional appeal of any avatar-based interaction should be taken into account.
Several other dimensions, such as the ease of use, usefulness, social presence, scare of robots, etc., have also been measured.
One interesting result we observed was around the somewhat “innate” reluctance to use robots, partly due to the threatening nature of robot-based interactions for humans (part of the users indeed expressed concerns about the fact that robot might replace humans in the future). Even though the final score ranges in the middle of the results scale, this aspect should be taken into consideration when designing an avatar-based experience.
Although we know that new technologies can be very quickly obsolete and replaced by new ones, we found that the “usefulness” and “enjoyment” perceived by users interacting with the robot have a significant influence on their desire to use the robot in the future. Indeed, if the only goal is to increase service productivity with robots, the impact can turn out to be very negative for companies. To truly live up to the challenge of increasing the customer experience through robots, aspects pertaining to the human touch should be taken into consideration.
Hospitality robots in action
The hospitality industry has already taken some steps towards implementing robot-based solution to improve and/or complement the service experience it provides to guests. Here are a few example of hotels and restaurants using robots as part of their daily operations.
Henn na Hotel - Nagasaki, Japan - The world’s first robot-staffed hotel
- Multi lingual robots at front desk
- Robotic arm locker service
- Porter robot transporting luggage
- Facial recognition software to open doors
Spyce Kitchen - Boston, USA - A robotic-powered restaurant
- Robotic kitchen, capable to cook relatively complex meals
Bionic Bar - On the Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
- A pair of robots that can stir, shake and strain all types of cocktails
- Guests can select on a tablet predefined drink recipes or create their own beverage