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‘You certainly look younger than your age’: Taiwan’s PR robots come with soft skills to make hard sell

A shiny new section joined the workforce in Taiwan on Thursday – a troop of mini robots that all go by the name “Pepper” and are enlisted to entertain customers then hit them with the hard sell.

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The Chinese-speaking robots were introduced into two banks and an insurance company in the capital Taipei, where they dance to music, play with children in lobbies and lead staff aerobics sessions.

The pint-size white automatons are designed to flatter queueing customers, declaring: “It’s my honour to serve you.”

Programmed in public relations, they guess clients’ ages at far lower than the reality.

They then move in for the kill, providing information on financial products and encouraging customers to go to company websites and sales staff for more information.

Cathay Life Insurance, Taiwan’s biggest insurer, introduced its first Pepper at its Taipei branch on Thursday.

The firm plans to have 10 robots island-wide, but stressed that Pepper is meant to supplement its human colleagues, not sideline them.

“Pepper’s job is to greet customers and introduce products to make the wait for services less boring,” said Rachel Wang, the insurer’s executive vice-president.

“We hope it can do more in the future, but it definitely won’t replace our staff,” she said.

Standing 120cm tall, the robot was first unveiled in 2014 by Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank, whose French arm Aldebaran developed the technology.

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Pepper has a wide-eyed face perched on top of a white plastic body, with rollers and what looks like a tablet computer on its chest showing its name or other information.

The robots have already been introduced into other workplaces around the world, including in Japan and France.