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Kass Dawson, far right, of SoftBank Robotics served as moderator for the “Customer-Facing Robots” session at the recent ICX Summit. On the panel, from left to right, were David DiMeo (FordDirect), Sarah Furnari (Behr) and Ken Moy (Subway).

One of the most popular “people” at the recent ICX Summit, held in Dallas, Texas was Pepper — a petite unassuming robot who breaks into dance while greeting new friends and who, according to more than a few experts, may serve as a robotics trailblazer within the customer experience.

That’s because robotics is no longer on the horizon as an emerging technology but quickly taking its place in the retail environment. Robotics, according to David DiMeo, co-founder of RoboRetail and former senior director of the Innovation Lab at FordDirect, isn’t just about a “robot,” but the underlying technologies that come into play.

The arrival of robotics, according to Ken Moy, vice president and co-head of digital at Subway, is fostering an “interesting” discussion given the digital and human-like interaction potential with customers. The big secret right now, he said, is how such technology will boost the experience while delivering efficiencies and cost savings.

“That’s the secret for us right now. How do you leverage it and how do you measure success?” said Moy.

Moy and DiMeo were two of four panelists talking robotics during the ICX Summit. The panel, which was moderated by Kass Dawson, head of marketing at SoftBank Robotics (Pepper’s parent), also included Sarah Furnari, vice president of retail experience at Behr.

Topics ranged from how Pepper and other human-like robots will impact customer experience to whether consumers are ready for such high-level digital interaction.

Behr is at a learning stage with robots and collecting data regarding the consumer path and what consumers are asking associates.

“We want to use that data to our advantage. There is tremendous potential if robots can help consumers and make the engagement smoother,” Furnari said.

Noting robotics is already in play in various aspects — from auto vacuums to voice assistants such as Alexa — the panelists also discussed the increasing depth of applications for robotics.

“These apps, underneath, are already in our lives. We don’t recognize them as they aren’t the ones we see in sci fi movies,” said DiMeo.

Such apps will enrich shopping experiences through aspects such as enhanced product recommendation.

“That’s where I think within three years, closer than we all think, retail will be much different than today,” added DiMeo.

A big reason for that prediction is that consumers want a genuine connection, said Furnari.

“They want a personalized experience, one that makes the consumer completely delighted and that’s impossible for sales associates who are helping hundreds of customers a day,” she said, adding she expects to see a “co-bot” technology that serves as a partner for sales associates and works side by side with associates.

Moy also views robotics as a new channel for delivering the brand at a number of touchpoints in the customer journey.

“This is a trend we’ve been seeing for a long time. This is the next generation of what data will be used for,” he said.

The quest is how to define the robot, co-bot or personal assistant, how it will work best in the customer experience and “breaking it down into layers,” said Moy

“How do you manage consumer expectation today to make sure we bridge the gap?” he said. “The underlying element of data and being able to use that data and make it application for app you’re thinking of, create action from that data. You need time to learn the data,” he said.

Furnari said the time for testing is now in order to start learning.

“We need to take the first steps and then go to the next step,” she said.

Integrating robotics into the experience is all about advancing actions consumers can take, said the panelists.

“I can order pizza from Alexa, but why can’t I order it from a car? Consumers want that quick action, but it’s super hard, the technology is there but the collection of data is pretty hard and it will take some time to figure out that engine,” said Moy.

The good news, noted DiMeo, is that big tech players, including Intel, IBM and Google, are driving investment into such emerging technologies, and robots are already in play in retail as greeters and aisle support.

While there is work to be done, Furnari said retail, as an industry, isn’t far from actual testing.

“We have the tech, so it’s time to start testing, yet at the same time we need a use case,” she said.

DiMeo echoed her statement, noting “every day we are learning with it, gathering learning, refining technology.”

One challenge, noted Furnari, is helping retail leaders and executives appreciate the potential robotics holds for the retail environment.

“Robots can be scary to senior executives, but it’s just one more test [of technology] aimed at helping solve existing problems for the consumer.”

As Moy noted, as robotics are already in play, it’s time for retailers to decide if they want to be a leader, fast follower or the guy left behind.

“It’s already happening, and you need to be aware of how this evolution is going to impact what you do for a living.”

Looking for more great insight and expert discussion relating to customer experience? Attend the upcoming CONNECT 2017/The Mobile CX Summit taking place August 21-23 in Philadelphia. The event will explore the many opportunities that retailers, restaurants and other B2C enterprises have for leveraging mobile and digital channels to build their brands, increase sales and improve customer engagement, experience and loyalty.

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Photo Credit: Networld Media Group

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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