Brave new world: service robots in the frontline

Purpose – The service sector is at an inflection point with regard to productivity gains and service industrialization similar to the industrial revolution in manufacturing that started in the eighteenth century. Robotics in combination with rapidly improving technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), mobile, cloud, big data and biometrics will bring opportunities for a wide range of innovations that have the potential to dramatically change service industries. The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential role service robots will play in the future and to advance a research agenda for service researchers. Design/methodology/approach – This paper uses a conceptual approach that is rooted in the service, robotics and AI literature. Findings – The contribution of this paper is threefold. First, it provides a definition of service robots, describes their key attributes, contrasts their features and capabilities with those of frontline employees, and provides an understanding for which types of service tasks robots will dominate and where humans will dominate. Second, this paper examines consumer perceptions, beliefs and behaviors as related to service robots, and advances the service robot acceptance model. Third, it provides an overview of the ethical questions surrounding robot-delivered services at the individual, market and societal level. Practical implications – This paper helps service organizations and their management, service robot innovators, programmers and developers, and policymakers better understand the implications of a ubiquitous deployment of service robots. Originality/value – This is the first conceptual paper that systematically examines key dimensions of robot-delivered frontline service and explores how these will differ in the future.