Many of us have become accustomed to interacting with a machine, rather than a live attendant, during calls to organizations like doctors’ offices, hotels and corporations. Quite efficient in directing us to our desired destination, be it to someone’s extension or to find out operation hours, auto attendants are increasingly replacing human receptionists to save on costs, streamline processes and make sure no call goes unanswered.
Imagine you were to walk into a corporate setting to not only find the reception desk empty, but replaced by a kiosk displaying a virtual receptionist, ready to respond to your every need. While it’s a seemingly new concept for us in today’s world, virtual receptionists are looking to be the future.
At the University College Dublin’s Complex and Adaptive Systems Laboratory, a virtual receptionist named Sam (Smart Administrative Module) sits at the reception desk in place of a person. She appears on a kiosk screen that features floor plans, details of building staff, Google (News - Alert) Maps highlighting the university’s landmarks, bus routes, and an option to leave a message or contact emergency personnel.
Sam was designed and developed by Dr. Prag Sharma and colleague Daniel Leahy through their startup company, TouchApps Ltd., at a cost similar to what a non-interactive plasma screen meant for displaying information around campus would be.
“I saw an opportunity,” said Sharma, who works at UCD’s Complex and Adaptive Systems Laboratory. “A reception is the first impression you get of the building and it wasn’t professional – there were just pieces of paper strewn around.”
A bilingual virtual receptionist also can be found on the UCD campus. As for future models, Sharma and his team hope to integrate a campus-wide database, Skype (News - Alert) video calls and the ability to connect to a central operator – a feature seen in most auto attendants.
However, this new virtual opportunity begs the question: can technology truly replace humans? While it seems to be working in the auto attendant space, it will be some time until it’s clear whether a virtual receptionist or kiosk is truly efficient in tending to a human’s every need.
Tammy Wolf is a TMCnet web editor. She covers a wide range of topics, including IP communications and information technology. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell