Robotics is increasingly accepted as a service solution by consumers. How will industry respond?

As the industry does grapple with the skills and talent shortages being faced, it is natural that many organisations are reviewing the role which robotics can play in supporting customer service.

It is fair to say that, in previous eras, robots were traditionally been seen to be of secondary importance and almost a gimmick. However, with the high levels of talent shortages existing, the perception is beginning to change as many learn more. As is often the case, greater knowledge unlocks greater opportunity.

To illustrate how consumers, all across the world, have come to “trust” the interaction with robotics, the Wuppertal vaccination centre on the Freudenberg campus in Germany decided to deploy a humanoid robot, via Softbank Robotics, as a contactless, voice-activated service support for the vaccination process. The robot was involved in:

  • Welcoming
  • Customer feedback and comments
  • Observation and customer feedback post vaccination

On the patients’ arrival, the robot would proactively welcome and provide the necessary vaccine-related information. After vaccination, during the 15 minutes patients needed to stay in observation, the robot would collect feedback which was used to continuously improve customer experience. The robot has proven to be so well received that it has even be employed by Government services to support in administration.

The UK even has launched the National Robotarium which is based on Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh Campus. It strives to be a world-leading centre for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, and is a joint venture between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.

According to a report by Allied Market Research, market size, for robotics in hospitality, was valued at $295.5 million in 2020, and is estimated to reach $3,083 by 2030, registering a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 25.5% from 2021 to 2030. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of robots and hence many restaurants have been renting robots as waiters. Robots provide a reliability which is a welcome support to operators and customers.

This year one can almost visibly see how the topic has moved from being a periphery topic to become one which is being actively considered by the leading operators all across the country. The focus in discussion now is how can robotics and service be allied together to create stronger experiences for the consumer.

The consumer has become increasingly at ease with robotics. Forbes has noted that consumers are open to robotics and only draw the line at the idea of a machine possessing the power to spend their money. Forbes note that 45% are comfortable with robots guiding them with product advice but only 27% are comfortable with the actual ordering. This is still a long way forward from how many viewed the concept in 2019. The key underlying point is that there is a journey still to travel. In truth, acceptance of the concept is moving faster than actual implementation but without doubt, there is a great opportunity emerging.

In recent months, EP has been working with Softbank Robotics who have seen real progress in a range of disciplines which include cleaning, tray delivery, and customer information. It is natural as guests do welcome seeing robotics active in cleaning facilities; it builds trust. Consumers also enjoy and trust robotics providing information over people which says much in itself. Delivery trays to tables releases the pressure on service staff and also creates theatre for the customer.

However, this is only the start. There will be many exciting new developments which will emerge. Softbank are working to innovate and create industry specific solutions. They have been centrally involved in Abu Dhabi’s first gelato bar entirely staffed by robots. The store is present inside the premises of Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi, and operates every day.

One can start to envisage how robotics will become a natural part of the service landscape across hotels, restaurants, in sports stadia, and in retail in the near future.