If you’ve stayed at the Hennna Hotel in Japan, you might have been checked in by a robot that operates the front desk without human supervision. If you’ve shopped at a Lowe’s Home Improvement store, you might have been assisted by the LoweBot, which helps consumers locate products while also managing the store’s shelf inventory. How might such service robots influence customers’ frontline experiences in the future?
A team of researchers recently wanted to learn how service outcomes such as satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement are affected when robots have a “high automated social presence”—that is, when they appear more like humans. The researchers include Jenny van Doorn of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands; Martin Mende of Florida State University in Tallahassee; Stephanie Noble of the University of Tennessee Knoxville; John Hulland of the University of Georgia in Athens; Amy L. Ostrom of Arizona State University in Tempe; Dhruv Grewal of Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts; and J. Andrew Petersen of Pennsylvania State in University Park.
The team posits that different kinds of robots will be required in different service settings. For instance, robots that participate in communal relationships—such as those providing nonmonetary services, including healthcare—should seem kind, warm, and responsive. On the other hand, robots participating in exchange relationships—such as those carrying out transactions at a bank—should primarily display competence. “Customers have tendencies toward one or the other mindset when they approach service relationships,” says Ostrom.
The researchers note that humans have a tendency to personify objects, which means that more anthropomorphized products will lead to even better outcomes. But they emphasize that some individuals are more ready to embrace robotic technology than others, so companies need to know where their own customers stand in terms of the types of robots they’re willing to deal with on a regular basis.
Even so, we’re already interacting with digital assistants, these researchers point out. “Many already have this entity they’re talking to every day in their house—Alexa or Cortana or Siri—and asking questions. It is woven into their daily experience already,” says Ostrom. “Taking it from there to a mobile robot you’re talking to—the leap doesn’t seem so far.”
“Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto: Emergence of Automated Social Presence in Organizational Frontlines and Customers’ Service Experiences” appears in the February 2017 issue of Journal of Service Research and can be read at journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1094670516679272.