Are robots the future of customer service?

13th Apr 2016

Is it time for customer service staff to pass the baton to robots? Facebook and Hitachi seem to think so. 

This week, reports claimed that Facebook is due to announce the introduction of a ‘bot store’, which would allow customers to order products, or return them, by interacting with artificially intelligent ‘chatbots’. 

The social media giant is expected to announce a special scheme that will allow companies to use the robots for their own customer service purposes. The automated customer service representatives would be programmed to respond to consumers – taking them through different stages of the traditional customer journey without dealing with a human member of staff.

A similar approach is being considered by Hitachi. Last week, the company unveiled the prototype for a series of humanoid robots that will offer automated customer service. The robot, known as EMIEW3, can identify and approach people who need assistance while shopping, thanks to its ability to recognise and interpret human movement. 

The automaton can travel at an impressive 3.7 miles per hour, allowing it to keep up with customers on the move. What’s more, in addition to speaking multiple languages, a cloud connection allows EMIEW3 to acquire new functions and share information with its peers – so it could learn and take on new skills at a similar rate to human service staff.

According to the technology blog Engadget, we could see EMIEW3 on the market in as little as two years from now, while further details of Facebook’s ‘business bot’ launch are expected to be released at the company’s F8 Developer Conference this week.

The Institute of Customer Service examined the effect of such technological advances in a blog last year. It noted that, often, what customers really value, particularly when they have a problem, is the human touch. Technology may open the door to advances in customer service, but it is important that organisations do not become entirely reliant on artificial intelligence. If businesses are to avoid alienating and losing customers, maintaining human relationships in some shape or form is critical. 

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