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Robots are becoming more intelligent, are increasingly able to communicate more independently and naturally and, at a rapid pace, they are learning to recognise human emotions. Pepper, a robot produced by the Japanese-French technology company Softbank, makes human-robot interaction even more sophisticated. How long until robots can handle customer interaction fully independently?

Pepper is a humanoid robot which, at first glance, doesn’t look particularly revolutionary; but appearances can be deceptive. It is the first robot not designed to specifically do chores on our behalf – vacuuming, taking the rubbish outside – but whose main job is to make people happy. The robot makes eye contact, registers moods, responds to body language and gets to know people’s preferences.

In Japan, more than 7,000 families now have a Pepper in their homes. But companies also believe that Pepper would be beneficial as a nice way of providing an extra service to customers. According to Swedbank in Sweden, Pepper now deals with 80% of questions posed to the company, giving human operators more time to focus on more complex files.

In the years ahead, the greatest added value of robots such as Pepper will be in standard actions. If you work in a call centre and are constantly asked the same questions, there is a risk that you become disinterested or become blunt with customers. Robots don’t have that limitation; even when answering the thousandth telephone call, they remain just as enthusiastic and patient.