Be Prepared – Will Your Robotic Experience Work For You?


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One of the annoying things about business travel is that you tend to need things in your hotel room at the worst time. More shampoo when you’re still in your pajamas. A mending kit to repair a button in time for your dinner meeting.

The hotel staff, while generally helpful and accommodating, has other things to do. So you wait. It’s not the best customer experience, but if you travel often, you learn to live with it.

Now, though, a handful of hotels are using robots to ease this pain point. They’re hoping to make the experience better for both guests and employees. But taken too far, a robot threatens to destroy the thing that makes a small hotel appealing in the first place.

The Robot Experience

At the West Wing Boutique Hotel in Tampa, Florida, a three foot tall, podium-sized robot named Wes roams the halls, bringing guests things they’ve requested and surprising them with free snacks and drinks. Wes has a compartment big enough to hold a couple of towels, and an array of cute sounds and blinking lights that endear him to guests the way Star Wars fans fawn over R2-D2 and BB-8.

West Wing’s director of revenue says that he was looking for technology that would be unique and memorable for guests but also helpful to hotel staff. Finding a memorable solution is a good impulse: our research has shown that positive memories are the number one driver of long-term value for customers. You can read more about that in Prof. Ryan Hamilton’s and my latest book, The Intuitive Customer.

There’s One Thing Robots Can’t Do

There are, however, limitations to what robots can do. When Wes shows up with a can of Coke, meant to surprise and delight you, he can’t know that you’re on a diet, or diabetic, or really detest Coke and would prefer a Fanta. A human might not know these things either but a human could see the look on your face, realize something was amiss, and try to correct the situation. Artificial intelligence can do many things, but it can’t read body language or understand why people respond as they do.

In England, we had a regular milk delivery for many years. The milkman came to the house with milk, and once a week he came by for payment. I wanted to do away with the delivery and buy our milk at the shop because it was cheaper but Lorraine wouldn’t hear of it. She liked the milkman and she enjoyed their chats when he came round for payment. But then our milkman left the company and we got a new one.

The new milkman had a more efficient payment-collecting process that certainly didn’t involve chatting with Lorraine. He’d simply leave an envelope, and we’d put a check in it for him to pick up. Without the personal touch, we soon dropped the milk delivery and began buying our milk at the shop like everyone else. The personal touch of the experience had gone, been lost and missed.

People who stay at boutique hotels often choose them because of the service and personal interactions they provide. Guests might enjoy saying hello to the desk clerk each day, getting restaurant recommendations or just seeing a friendly face delivering room service. When you depend on robots for tasks that used to be performed by humans, you risk losing those personal touches in favor of the more impersonal style of large chains. Rather than increase value and customer loyalty, a robot has the potential to destroy the things that make a business special in the first place.

As a Star Trek fan, I love the idea of a robot bringing me snacks. But they should be used with caution. Wes’s blinking lights and bubbly sounds may be endearing, but they can’t replicate the warmth and compassion of a real human being.

What do you think? Can robots help the hotel guest experience?

To learn more about providing positive memories for your customers read our new book The Intuitive Customer: 7 imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. Hi Colin,

    I sincerely believe that the answer to your closing question is a yes. Precondition, of course, is that hotels do not use robots to replace humans but to improve the services and be able to deliver services that they cannot reasonably do else. Maybe the delight with the coke is not exactly a match – probably offer a choice. And most important of all: Announce that a robot will do the delivery instead of a human. Perhaps combine the order with an Alexa kind of device – and reply that the robot will deliver. Management of expectations is key here.

    2 ct from Down Under

  2. Hi Colin: at the outset of your post, you mention that waiting [for service] can cause customer dissatisfaction, or at least compromise positive customer experiences. If hospitality companies develop practical ways to mitigate waiting problems – in this situation, through automation – isn’t that a good thing? Your point that “a robot has the potential to destroy the things that make a business special in the first place” is well taken – though I don’t think robotic deliverers have the capacity to destroy, as much as diminish special-ness. Of course, if you can get your toothpaste within 60 seconds of your request, I’d submit that robots make things pretty special all the way around.

    The perennial tug of war for many businesses is how to balance speedy customer service, which today depends on automation, and humanness in service delivery, which, ironically, also depends increasingly on automation. (To execute high touch service depends on AI, predictive analytics, and sophistication in supply chain logistics, to name just a few.)

    The key question for executives to answer is how to design and embed automation in the customer experience, and how visible companies should make automation to their customers. For some customers, anything automated is a turn on, and they take to it like ducks to water. To others, computers, screens, and keyboards are a distinct turn off. Of course, context always matters. That’s a more complicated subject which I’ll save for a lengthier essay.

    For me, compared to a person showing up at my door, I’d prefer a robot to provide a replacement for whatever-I-forgot. But I appreciate that not everyone feels the same way. On the flip side, when I show up at a hotel registration desk at 1 am, bleary-eyed after 24 hours of travel, I’d prefer a human to greet me, and not a self-service kiosk. Not every customer preference is a triumph of logical clarity or consistency. I’m sure my fickleness is not unique among consumers, and I harbor little doubt that drives CX designers crazy. That’s why they pay them the big bucks.

    In this instance, when it comes to reducing customer wait time, one obvious alternative would be to hire more people to mitigate the delays. But that drives up costs, and injects new risks. Robots work 24/7. People – as we know well – sometimes don’t show up for work. And when they do, they’re not always in a good mood. Sometimes, they do really lousy things, as United passenger Dr. Dao can surely attest. Robots have the reassuring property of doing what they’re told – until a battery fails, a circuit board shorts out, or a wheel falls off.


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