Boss Lady

Welcome the robots… they are going to make work more rewarding


Robots have their place in our world — current and future. Currently, a robot holds the Guinness world record for solving the Rubik’s cube. Robots clean our floors. They can be trained to walk up stairs, pick up objects and even open doors. Next generation robots will offer even more advantages especially where tasks are simple and routine on the one hand, or cognitively complex on the other.  For example, robots can help us with routine, simple, repetitive mundane tasks, such as packing boxes of goods, assembling goods, giving directions such as for driving, or answering simple routine questions, such as “Where is store XXXXX located in this shopping centre?” or where can I buy such and such? They can also be helpful in collating thousands and thousands, even millions of individual pieces of information from a diverse range of complex documents such as legal documents, court hearings, medical findings and research papers.

They are also helpful in that they can provide supporting roles to professionals such as surgeons, lawyers, dentists, academics and teachers to name just a few. Already robots work alongside surgeons to assist them in making precise incisions. After several hours without a break surgeons can become fatigued which is likely to result in reduce concentration and may struggle to hold the scalpel steady. Robots don’t become fatigued. Robots can assist surgeons and other clinicians even when they are not physically present in the same operating theatre or ward. They can be physically separated by many kilometres, even in different countries. By working together work can be more productive and fulfilling.

Robots can be used for dangerous and dirty work, such as deactivating bombs, disposing of toxic waste, transporting human waste and blood materials and cleaning blocked drains. They can also be used to good effect in strenuous work which could cause health problems to service workers, such as lifting heavy items, such as heavy packages, even lifting patients in emergency wards or in aged care facilities, lifting elderly people with fragile bodies from their bed into a wheelchair, taking the physical strain off nursing staff. They can be helpful to the elderly themselves. Elderly residents may prefer to be bathed by a robot than a real person. It would be less embarrassing to have a robot carry out personal hygiene activities for a real person to do this for the resident/patient.

Robots do not learn in the same way as humans. Robots are machines. They first need to be provided with codified information and then that information can be updated through pattern recognition. These machines compare millions of different patterns and then they work out a cause of action based on the distance to a given optimal result using a systematic trial and error approach.

Robots can talk, walk, respond to commands and even entertain. But robots cannot replace humans altogether. While robots can be trained to mimic the expression of emotional responses, they do not actually feel emotions. So while they may appear to be a real human, evidenced in body language and in the tone of voice at least in short term interactions, as they cannot actually feel emotions they will not be able to empathise with people and this will come to light in further interactions.

Robot can talk using different tones, gesture and use appropriate body language but they cannot provide deep relationships. There will still be a need for people to provide care and understanding, such as when someone in undergoing a stressful time in their life, when someone is unwell, when someone is having an operation, going to a doctor or a dentist or learning in school.

Teachers have a critical role to play in society, understanding needs, showing empathy and responding in the moment and over time through multiple interactions. Robots cannot do this work. Certainly they can mark simple tests, calculating the number of “correct” answers and adding up the totals and preparing frequency counts and average marks. In this way they can provide valuable supporting roles enabling the teacher to spend quality time in meaningful interactions with the students.

A differentiator

Businesses that understand the importance of the interconnection between the digital, physical and social worlds will reap the benefits. It can be a differentiator. Cognitive systems (AI) are transforming the way we live and work in diverse ways, ranging from the diagnosis and treatment of cancer to the security of online transactions. In the information age, people and organizations are able to make better decisions on the design and management of the customer experience.

To be prepared organizations need to be thinking about the customer experience in a three-dimensional space – digital, physical and social. We are seeing the emergence of new social media shifting the market place for business further towards virtual market space, merging the physical and digital via technology. For example, retailers are already using augmented reality, such as smart mirrors for customers to try on clothes, and businesses are using virtual reality to manage workplaces.

Interconnections among the digital, physical and social realms have the potential to create highly favorable or unfavorable experiences for customers. For example, a major hospital recently updated its information technology system, in which all patient information is stored in the cloud. The system went down and consequently all physicians and caregivers lost access to patient information. They resorted to pen and paper to document patient information, resulting in cancelled surgeries, fewer scheduled appointments and possible mistreatment of patients. This incident illustrates how connections among the three realms are already improving the customer experience. Yet we notice the benefits only when they are absent!

To thrive in the new interconnected world, businesses need to address 4 key issues.


organizations need to develop appropriate capabilities and resources, such as technical infrastructure and data sources, to support service innovation and achieve favorable outcomes for individuals, organizations and society, more broadly.


they need to ensure that relevant data are accessible to appropriate entities within the service system. Seamless integration of systems and devices into user activities requires a commitment to superior data management (in the digital realm) that connects to actors (in the social realm). Today’s organisations struggle to understand where their data resides, the identity of the organizational units and functions that participate in or support data-collection processes, who accesses data, how and for what purposes, and how these processes unfold over time.


given that many sensors and devices are being implemented without strict data encryption and security protocols, it is crital that these devices collect and store activity information and personal identifiable information (PII) in ways that cannot be misused. Blockchain technology promises to address this issue. However, organizations sometimes blur the lines between PII and non-PII. Thus, as digital services become increasingly reliant on intelligent, interconnected devices, organizations seek ways to protect their services from intrusions and interference that could compromise personal privacy or threaten customer safety. Data security requires more than keeping hackers outside your system; it also means backing up data, protecting data from corruption and managing to whom data are distributed.


the traditional human-centric view of the customer experience must be re-thought. The consumer (not the service provider) chooses what store to go to, what digital platform to use and what friends, if any, to bring. These elements can be congruent, such as when a digital platform supports social interactions with friends, or it can be incongruent, such as when the digital platform doesn’t support social interactions because friends might suggest a competing product. From the firm perspective, this means that some of the elements of the digital, social and physical realms are under control, whereas other elements are outside the control of the firm. A better understanding of congruities and control from the customer and firm perspectives is vital for co-creating superior customer experiences.

Tips for women

  1. Be proactive. Embrace the brave new world where the digital, physical and social worlds are interconnected to give you an advantage over your competitors.
  1. Think support. Identify how robots can support you in your life – both at work and at home. Robots have their place. Look to see where robots can free up your time doing some of the more mundane “work” so that you can focus on what you want to do, where you get pleasure and where you can help others.
  1. View robots as machines. While robots can be trained to mimic emotions, they cannot genuinely emphasise with others. They cannot feel like you can and they cannot provide deep relationships.

About Professor Janet McColl-Kennedy

Professor of Marketing at the UQ Business School, is recognised as one of the leading marketing academics in Australia, and internationally acknowledged as a leading researcher in Service Science. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, UK, ongoing. Professor McColl-Kennedy has over 25 years teaching experience - teaching executives, PhDs, masters and undergraduates. Her interests include service recovery, customer complaining behaviour, customer rage, customer value co-creation and customer experience management. She has particular expertise in health care and the professions. Janet works with industry to achieve important outcomes for both organisations and customers. She co-leads the Service Innovation Alliance at the University of Queensland. In recognition of her international research reputation she is a member of the Advisory Board of the Cambridge Service Alliance, a global alliance between leading businesses and universities. Founded by Cambridge University, in alliance with BAE Systems and IBM, the Alliance was formed in 2010 and is designed to bring together some of the world's best firms and researchers devoted to delivering today the insights, education and approaches needed for the Complex Service Solutions of tomorrow. She is also appointed: Academic Scholar, Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures, Cornell University, New York, USA, 2016 ongoing; to the Advisory Board of CTF Service Research Center, Karlstad University, Sweden from 2012 ongoing; and appointed to the Internationally Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB), Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), Norway from 2014 ongoing. As further recognition of her international standing she was admitted as a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) in 2011.

Recommended for you