Service Robots: Boon or Bane?

Primary author: Pavan Munaganti
Faculty sponsor: Dr. Babu John Mariadoss, Dr. Andrew Perkins

Primary college/unit: Carson College of Business
Campus: Pullman


Until a few years ago, robot operated cafés and restaurants would have been seen as too futuristic and limited to works of fiction. However, with rapidly evolving technology, this no longer is the case. Service providers across several industries are now employing humanoid robots as frontline employees. For instance, Pizza Hut has teamed up with MasterCard and SoftBank to introduce robot waiters in its restaurants in Asia that are capable of taking orders and engaging with customers (Curtis, 2016). While nascent, robots as frontline employees in restaurants, hotels and other service settings appears to be gaining steam. In fact, in countries like Singapore, where a shortage of manpower in the housekeeping, front office, and food and beverage industries is a persistent problem, the government is encouraging small and medium sized enterprises to use robotics to help boost productivity (Tan, 2017).
While the real-world examples suggest a level of comfort with robotic frontline employees from a company and governmental perspective, the impact on customer is less clear. We contribute to existing literature by investigating whether humanoid service robots are in fact a bane or boon to service providers. In five studies, we find that humanoid robot (versus human) frontline employees elicit lower levels of perceived warmth and higher levels of perceived creepiness amongst customers, ultimately resulting in more negative perceptions of service quality, service satisfaction, reduced tipping (gratuity), diminished return intentions, and higher willingness to spread negative word of mouth.