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Hongjun Ye, ’21

PhD, Marketing

Will consumers prefer to seek help from a human costumer-service agent, or a robot agent? What shapes their preferences and why?

For most of us, it is rare to have been served by a robot. However, in a near future we may see a lot more services robots in different places such as hotels, retail stores, and banks. In fact, many major companies have been devoting lots of resources in developing services robot.

Seeing robots in a service encounter would be something new for many consumers. I am conducting focus group studies, surveys, and neuroimaging experiments to understand what consumers’ expectations are like in this situation. Focus group studies revealed that consumers have different and new expectations for service robots compared to human agents. For example, for a check-in receptionist at a hotel, consumers would expect a human receptionist to be welcoming and understanding, but would not expect the receptionist to be entertaining. However, when encountering a robot check-in receptionist, consumers would not expect too much to feel welcomed and understood, rather, they would expect the robot to have other functions such as being entertaining. Besides this, consumers also have different expectations in terms of how a service robot should behave (e.g., movement). My next step is to modify features of a service robot (e.g., how they move) and test consumers’ physical and emotional reactions to it.

Companies are spending lots of money in developing service robots. Knowing more about consumers’ expectation and perception of the robots in different scenarios will provide practical insights for these companies. This will help inform the design and development of their service robots.