Automation and AI now impact every job — including every customer service job. AI handles, with increased confidence, repetitive work, allowing customer service agents to focus on tasks of greater value to the company. And customer service robots — which we define as semi- or fully autonomous physical machines that perform services to augment humans or automate tasks — emerge to help in this area.

Robots are custom-built for repetitive tasks ranging from helping field workers and retailers deliver better experiences to taking over dangerous and undesirable work. Their impact ranges from pure cost savings (such as through Best Buy’s customer-facing robot that fulfills orders from a range of more than 15,000 products) to customer experience benefits (Japan’s Henn na Hotel, which is entirely staffed by robots, for example).

Robots for customer service fall into four categories today:

  1. Field service robots that make field workers more effective. These robots carry equipment to job sites and keep human technicians away from potentially dangerous projects. For example, robots equipped with sensors and video automate underground pipe inspection. Automated analysis of captured images surfaces equipment status and defects on maps, which can then be used for proactive service.
  2. Retail robots that focus service agents on higher-value tasks. Retail robots save labor costs by scanning and restocking empty shelves faster, automating in-stock product counts to improve inventory visibility. This improves product choice and availability. Robots allow retailers to better engage with in-store customers who demand human interactions. Lowe’s LoweBot greets customers, answers product questions, and leads them to where the product is stocked.
  3. Delivery robots that offer new customer experiences. These robots work over short distances and for low-value deliveries. Street robots use sensors to detect traffic patterns and traffic lights, and hotel and hospital robots are integrated into elevator controls. As robots perform tasks, they gather data that companies can use to improve processes and revenue. The robot maker, Savioke, has placed robot butlers in over 70 hotels to deliver small goods. The robo-butlers also provide a less threatening experience to hotel guests.
  4. Insurance drones that fight fraud and go where adjusters cannot. In 2017, insurance companies started to use drones to file claims in areas devastated by hurricanes and wildfires. Adjusters annotate GPS-tagged drone maps. This creates a clear record of the damage for claims adjusters, agents, and customers, allowing for faster claims processing.

Read more about the impact of customer service robots here.