BreakThrough Study Idea

True Role Expected of Service Robots in the Age of IoT<Series 2 /3>

Study Idea

2017.02.13

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  • Designing the optimal marketing plan based on smoothly gathered communication information using an original communication engine
    -Recruit Sumai Company & Recruit Technologies-

The installation of the human-type communication robot Pepper at the storefronts of Suumo Counter, which provides a free individual consultation service to people looking to purchase a home, has led to an increase in the number of customers visiting for consultation. The key point in this scheme was the use of a communication engine that the company had originally developed.

Recruit Sumai Company and Recruit Technologies installed SoftBank’s human-type communication robot Pepper at the storefront of Suumo Counter starting from December 2015. Currently, Pepper is being operated at 14 stores nationwide as a customer service representative. Suumo Counter is a store that provides free individual advice on the purchasing of newly built apartments and the construction of custom-built houses, and the reason for installing Pepper at these stores was for the utilization of TAISHI, a communication engine originally developed by Recruit Technologies in 2014.

Shigeru Shiozawa of Recruit Technologies’ Advanced Technology Lab, IT Solution Supervisory Department, states, “A system that was a prototype of TAISHI had already been implemented in PCs and smartphones as a communication bot until then, but we thought we could make interesting use of it in reality through face-to-face communication by equipping it on a robot.”

Recruit Sumai Company, a subsidiary of Recruit Technologies, showed interested in this idea. The company, hoping to increase people who stop by at the storefront of Suumo Counter, determined that Pepper is a highly compatible tool to attract family customers—the company’s main customer segment. Therefore, the company installed one Pepper robot at the Suumo Counter Ario Hashimoto Store to study the possibilities of its installation from various perspectives, including whether customers will stop by, whether it will operate stably, and whether it can hold lengthy conversations with customers. As a result, the effects of installing Pepper could be confirmed, such as the number of people stopping by at the storefront increasing severalfold and the actual number of people entering the store and using the counter service increasing. In September of the same year, the company could confirm similar effects at the Suumo Counter of three other stores and decided on full-fledged installation in December of that year.

Pepper equipped with four original functions

“Many of the customers who stop by at the store want to purchase a house or apartment, but they still aren’t sure of their desired location, and we often get requests from them to know the unit price per tsubo of houses and apartments by region,” states Mr. Shiozawa.

Customers want to purchase a home but are still unsure of the details, and yet they are interested in cost-related details such as around how much it would cost when buying certain types of homes in certain locations. Suumo Counter’s service consists of introducing properties, areas, and building companies to such customers based on their desires, and the company intended Pepper to play a role to guide the customers stopping in front of the store to step inside and go to the counter. Recruit Technologies equipped Pepper with four original functions for using it at Suumo Counter. “Service introduction” introduces the details of services provided at the Suumo Counter via speech or display on a tablet device. “Conversation” is carried out using the natural language processing and basic conversation (several tens of thousands of conversations), combined with a specialized (housing) conversation dictionary database, implemented in TAISHI. When customers talk to Pepper, TAISHI analyzes the conversation in the cloud, and Pepper responds by speech with the optimal answer (conversation). It can understand the content of even lengthy inquiries and can provide accurate answers. Furthermore, in terms of technology, it can gradually increase basic conversations through machine learning. “Game” is intended for family segment customers who come with their kids, and there are four types of game contents. “Website connection” guides busy customers to the details page of Suumo Counter online, and also helps customers link to the reservation page for consultation at the counter.


Functions of Suumo Counter Version Pepper

Discoveries based on the conversation log

Recruit Technology has been able to obtain data on the attributes of customers that talk to Pepper, and the types of conversations they have with Pepper, by setting up Pepper equipped with these four original functions at each store, having customers talk with Pepper via Taishi, and linking the conversation logs of both Pepper and TAISHI. The conversation log includes data that can contribute to marketing, such as the type of housing (e.g. apartment or custom-built house) and popular areas. The company says that using these data will lead to marketing efforts that match customer attributes and the provision of new services. The conversation function was a significant point in effectively utilizing Pepper as an interface with customers. In particular, Recruit Technologies’ development concept of “stress-free conversation, similar to talking with human beings, without making customers conscious that it is a robot” was effective. In addition, the know-how that the company had accumulated through a conversation-type service provided on SNS before Pepper played a major role. The company’s aim of having customers freely enjoy their conversations with Pepper, receiving interesting answers to their questions, led to the gathering of a vast amount of conversation data from customers.


Four functions of Pepper installed at Suumo Counter

Enables marketing that matches the characteristics of each store

PInstalling Pepper brought a huge benefit other than increasing the number of service users.“That is, Pepper has made it possible to conduct traffic amount research,” says Mr. Shiozawa.

By using Pepper, it is possible to easily gather data such as the age segments of people passing in front of the store, their gender, and their emotions (analyzed from their facial expressions). In the past, the company could not conduct traffic amount research (i.e. a study of people passing in front of the store) and understand the customer base due to cost constraints, etc. However, this became easily achievable by using Pepper’s standard function of human recognition. This has clarified how attributes of people passing in front of stores differ depending on each store and, as a result, the company can now implement marketing measures that are tailored to each store. Furthermore, Pepper was highly effective as a tool to prompt customers passing in front of the store to step inside the store. Until then, store clerks were hesitant to talk to people passing by or standing in front of the store, because it carried the risk of making the people feel wary of being approached for sales. However, by implementing Pepper, the number of customers who see Pepper and stop by has increased, and Pepper can be used as a reason to start a conversation with those people. Pepper has the characteristic of attracting the interest of passersby without putting them on guard, which can be said to be a crucial function that supports store clerks at the Suumo Counter. Pepper seems to be a highly talented sales representative.

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