11th Jan 2017
A humanoid that helps customers and a digital holiday concierge that personalises service for cruise passengers were among the products showcased at the world’s largest innovation event in Las Vegas this week.
CES 2017, which is organised by the Consumer Technology Association, offered further evidence of the potential of virtual reality, robotics and wearables to transform customer service in the coming years.
One of the products introduced to the wider world this week is already providing customer service in stores around the world. Pepper, a humanoid created by SoftBank Robotics, was introduced in Japan nearly three years ago, where she has acted as a friendly assistant in various public venues, and is now being adopted by shopping malls in California’s Bay Area in the US.
At CES 2017, Pepper – which is now fluent in 20 languages – was set up at a bar to ask a series of questions, allowing her to recommend the perfect drink. She was then able to communicate with the smart bar to dispense that beverage.
Also on display at the show was Ocean Medallion, a wearable device that links to an Internet of Things network of intelligent sensor technology to act as a digital holiday concierge. The 10p-sized, 1.8-ounce disc can be accessorised with jewellery, clips, key chains and bands or carried in a purse or wallet.
By bridging the physical and digital worlds, the device can deliver personalised services including sophisticated wayfinding, food and drink on demand and personalised entertainment experiences, according to Carnival Corporation. The company is planning to start introducing the device on its cruise liners from November this year.
The creators of Ocean Medallion and Pepper have emphasised that these virtual assistants are designed to complement customer service delivered by humans rather than replace it. As was emphasised in a feature on artificial intelligence (AI) in The Institute of Customer Service’s Customer Focus magazine last August, AI is not about replacing humans with machines or taking empathy or the human touch away from customer service – rather, it’s about helping to provide a faster and more structured response.
Nevertheless, the emergence of such technology reflects that we’re in what one conference session at CES 2017 described as a “period of great disruption” – and organisations will need to keep pace with that disruption to meet the shifting service requirements of customers.