February 28, 2017      

Google has a motto, “AI first.” Facebook has its “hacking way.” Perhaps your business also lives by an operating principle of some kind. In the age of service robotics, if you want your business to stay competitive and relevant in a particular market, there should be only one mantra for execution: “Customer first.”

Here is why: Companies are “hiring” robots as salespeople. AI is telling consumers what to buy. All kinds of bots are helping customers find stuff or get support.

In other words, your business must navigate new variables such as the following:

  • How are customers are interacting with robots?
  • Companies are using multiple, different robots simultaneously.
  • Most robots don’t talk to one another — yet.
  • All kinds of skills, knowledge, and capabilities are being transferred to robots and AI to make them ready for work.
  • Whatever gives your firm a competitive edge is getting codified and becoming a commodity.

How is your company’s service robotics offering different from that of a competitor?

It’s only by putting customers first and making them central in your strategy that you can differentiate yourself.

Business Takeaways:

  • One key to robotics success is understanding your customers and end users. Carnival Cruise Lines re-engineered its entire ship to work with its Ocean Medallion wearable for improving the customer experience.
  • A “customer-first” strategy can ensure that service robotics serve the desired market rather than shoehorning a product in search of users.
  • Organizations should take a holistic view of robot implementations rather than think that they can drop technology into their operations without changing much.

A customer-first playbook

If you are a chief robotics officer or holding another title but are responsible for driving your company’s service robotics strategy, where should you begin?

Service robotics should follow the example of Carnival's Ocean Medallion.

Service robotics can learn from Carnival Cruise Lines’ customer-centric approach.

Ask Carnival Cruise Line.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last month in Las Vegas, Carnival launched a device called “Ocean Medallion.” The wearable disc is small but is empowered by sensors and artificial intelligence.

From a technology standpoint, Carnival has turned one of its ships into a super-fast and super-smart network that is constantly learning, adjusting, and delivering.

From a strategy point of view, the medallion treats the entire ship (people + activities) as a giant playground that is built around the customer — not the other way around.

You do not look for an experience. It comes to you. A passenger does not wish for something. It is anticipated and delivered.

When you decode what Carnival is doing and start thinking what how to build a customer-first playbook for your business, the following service robotics steps emerge.

Step 1: Solve a problem

When you read or hear someone say, “Solve a problem” with regard to automation, it seems obvious. Yet company after company has offered robotics products — hardware as well as software — and do not clearly state what problems they are solving.

Or, if a problem has been identified, it is presented with vague statements, like, “We want to improve the customer experience” or, “This service robot is game-changing for assisted living.”

“The customer is looking for a bang for the buck,” said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer at Carnival Corp., in a radio interview. So Carnival rethought what kind of customer experience it would need to deliver to meet that need.

Carnival designed everything in a way that customers can not only squeeze maximum experiences during their time aboard, but also have those moments personalized in detail.

Step 2: Think 360 about service robotics

It’s no secret that customers are touching companies in multiple ways, sometimes simultaneously. For instance, they compare in-store pricing with what’s available online. Yet, despite the best efforts of retailers, hospitality providers, and others in customer service, most companies fall short of delivering a 360-degree or holistic experience that is consistent and reliable.

Businesses often think they are delivering a “holistic” experience by stitching together their internal silos. Think of a retailer you like or dislike. The responsibility for the app is with IT. The functionality of the website is with marketing. The customer-service department can mostly answer questions about shipping or returns. The physical store belongs to a different division inside the company.

Without reimagining and redesigning everything, it is an illusion to think that service robotics can give the customer what he or she is expecting.

Carnival’s office and workplace is a ship. It is prebuilt. Yet, for the Ocean Medallion, Carnival rewired everything — skills, process, and infrastructure. Once you wear the medallion, the whole ship knows you.

The doors open for you, automatically. People in the bar know what you like to drink. If there is a special occasion and you want something special done, that is taken care of.

You are not going from department to department to get a complete experience. The departments have been redesigned to bring the complete experience to you.

More on Service Robotics:

Step 3: Know the customer

How well do you know your customers? Perhaps you have a profile. Perhaps you have some historical data of sales transactions and customer-service interactions. Perhaps you are also plugged into the whole social media scene.

Do you know what customers are thinking? Can you anticipate their needs? Are you able to make intelligent, contextually relevant, and practical recommendations that create new value?

Is your data telling you what has been done and why something cannot be done? Or is it telling you what is possible and opening doors to new service roboticds opportunities for you and your customers?

Carnival uses AI to build what it calls the “customer DNA.” Without this DNA, the medallion is like any other wearable device, and the promise of “maximum personalized experiences” is an illusion.

Service robotics should take a holistic approach.

Carnival Cruise Lines took a holistic approach to customer service.

From online registration to the app to using the medallion, the software is constantly learning and listening. It is connecting data in real-time and building new experience scenarios for the customer. And, in doing so, it’s building the customer DNA.

Of course, none of this will be possible without a proper infrastructure in place. Again, Carnival did not create the infrastructure just to run the ship or make cosmetic adjustments to what currently exists.

Instead, it installed new cables stretching 72 miles, 7,000 sensors, and 4,000 high-resolution screens to communicate with customers. And that was just one ship!

Technology, especially service robotics, is opening doors to leading the customer in new ways. By making “customer first” core of your execution, you have a much better chance of protecting your relevance and revenue.