Which Robot Would You Rather Be Served By – R2-D2 Or The Terminator?
- Research shows customers want service robots to be more Terminator, and less R2-D2
- Customers value a human voice, human emotions, and the physical embodiment of a human
- People find human-like robot’s more controllable, predictable and the interaction easier and more familiar
Robots have been a part of popular culture for decades, dating back to early portrayals in TV and film such as the Tin Man in the 1939 classic film the Wizard of Oz. However, the fictional character was perhaps a little early for its time. Back in the 30’s robotics was in its infancy and its use was simply in monotonous tasks mainly in the industrial sector – they certainly didn’t speak, show emotions or skip down yellow brick roads.
But over time, development in robotics has exploded. The acceleration of the technology in this area has been meteoric, turning robots from machines constructed as simple processors – akin to R2-D2 character – to being able to move like a human, talk like a human, and even perform higher difficulty tasks – more akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s the Terminator.
But, when people are given advice by a chatbot, or helped with searching for information, or even checked into a hotel by a robot – would they rather it be by a robot like R2-D2, or more like the Terminator?
Though natural reaction would have you thinking R2-D2 would be the better of the two in a customer services department (he’s polite, helpful and much less lethal), new research from Durham University Business School shows that the Terminator may be the robot of choice. Customers actually prefer to be served by robots who are as human-like as possible, having a human voice, showing actual emotions, and physical embodying a human not a robot.
According to Markus Blut, lead-researcher and Professor in Marketing and International Business, this is because in an interaction with human-like robots people are able to apply the familiar social rules and expectations of human–human interactions.
“When a robot is perceived to be human-like it can better ease and facilitate human–robot interactions. During a human–robot interaction where the robot is human-like, people can easily apply the social scripts and expectations of a human– human interaction, thus, they tend to find the robot more controllable and predictable and the interaction easier and more familiar. If people feel as though they are comfortable and at ease with a robot, their chances of using the service increase,” explains Professor Blut.
The researchers used a dataset of 11,053 individuals interacting with service robots, and developed a model to investigate relationships between anthropomorphism – the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to an object – and its consequences on customer interactions.
The researchers reviewed the robot’s characteristics, such as it’s intelligence, and functions like usefulness as important factors in the want and ease for customers to use them. They also then examined the impact of customer’s traits such as computer anxiety and technology competence, their sociodemographic, and the design features of the robot on whether or not people characteristics impacted their want to use human-like robots.
From this, the researchers found a number of customer characteristics that effected whether or not a company should use human-like robots in their services. Factors such as, customer’s competence with technology, their computer anxiety and if they have general negative attitudes towards robots in daily life were all likely to stop customer adoption of human-like robots. Whilst a customer’s age, gender and experience with previous robots also had a significant effect.
“Many companies have found that anthropomorphism can be used to increase product and brand liking in marketing, but in service robots it has been unclear whether it enhances customers’ experiences or not,” Professor Blut says. “However, our research shows the perception of humanlike qualities in service robots can facilitate engagement with customers, as it incorporates the underlying principles and expectations people use in social settings in a person’s interaction with social robots.”
The robotisation of the service industry is accelerating, and these findings show that the perception of humanlike qualities in service robots can facilitate engagement with customers, as it incorporates the underlying principles and expectations people use in social settings in a person’s interaction with social robots.
For firms intending to further employ service robots on the front line of their customer interactions, they should really consider employing humanlike versus machinelike robots. This will ensure maximum uptake and usage of these robots, and ensure that they are not a complete waste of time and effort.