Behind The Robots: Interview with Customer Success Manage, Laura Meyer
At Softbank Robotics America (SBRA) we build robots, but our biggest strength is our people. Through the Behind The Robots series we hope to showcase the passion and drive of SBRA employees from a wide variety of backgrounds, geographies, and skill sets, who have come together to make Pepper a uniquely human humanoid.
Today, we’ve interviewed Laura Meyer, a Customer Success Manager at Softbank Robotics. Laura is responsible for helping clients delight customers through the power of humanoid robotics.
SBRA: What is your role at SoftbankRobotics?
Laura: I am a Senior Customer Success Manager, and I work with many of our large accounts, including Kohl’s and the Mall of America to design user experiences for Pepper that delight and engage visitors in their stores.
SBRA: How did your background prepare you for this role?
Laura: I got my undergraduate degree in Public Relations and Marketing, and my MBA in Finance, but I have always been interested in information systems and product. After working in a few different areas I ended up at IBM’s consultative sales school, where I focused on helping clients leverage Watson. From there, I ended up at a small startup building chatbots on Facebook Messenger & Google Assistant.
Now that I’m at Softbank Robotics, I’ve found that Pepper is the culmination of all of my experiences. It’s taking everything I learned about automated conversation design and applying it to a hardware device. Pepper can speak, but she can also express through head and arm movements, or visually share through a tablet. While I’ve always been curious about learning new technologies, I honestly never thought that I would go from events management in New York City to working with Fortune 500 clients and robots. It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had.
SBRA: What makes clients interested in Pepper as a solution?
Laura: My clients are primarily in retail, banking, and hospitality, and they’re looking for ways to engage people who come into their physical locations. This is where Pepper really shines. When customers visit a store, they’re often looking for an associate to help them find a product, or understand pricing and promotions. In these situations, Pepper can be the front line and assist customers very quickly. Not only does this experience help and delight customers, but it frees up staff to focus on more advanced tasks.
SBRA: What surprises clients most about Pepper?
Laura: I think the biggest surprise for clients is the realization that Pepper provides so much more than entertainment value. Even though the entertainment value is high, the reward just gets better as we grow with the company and integrate with our clients’ back end systems.
When clients begin to realize that Pepper is more than an attention getter, they start to see the real business value, and understand how Pepper can be a huge asset to their business and brand.
With Pepper, you have the opportunity to create many engaging experiences. She has hand movements, arm movements, a tablet, a voice, and a unique vocabulary. Not only are you constantly creating new and memorable ways to drive customer behavior, but you’re watching Pepper get smarter over time, with better reactions and higher engagement levels.
SBRA: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Laura: People have an abundance of expectations and preconceived ideas about robots driven by what they’ve seen on TV, so when we first launch Pepper into a new environment, there are always learnings. We are experts in software design, but nothing is engineered to 100% perfection, especially when there are so many things that can happen in the real world. We’re simply unable to plan for every unexpected user behavior prior to launch.
When I was working on text chatbots, it was a straight and narrow path to reach a predefined end result based on one specific use case. With Pepper, there are endless happy paths that customers can reach. And everything Pepper says, and every detail — how she moves, her level of proactivity, what shows on her screen, and her personality — is important to helping drive that ideal result. Once Pepper is in a store, my job becomes focused on capturing real-time data to understand the engagements, then making converational edits that ensure the client experience improves over time. It can be a challenge, but ultimately there is reward in seeing Pepper in a store, solving problems for our clients in new and exciting ways.
SBRA: What is your favorite part of your job?
Laura: I love solving unique challenges for clients through partnership. I enjoy working together to define what Pepper’s going to say, executing QA testing, and working closely with the product and engineering teams to build well-rounded solutions.
For every client, we start by asking, “What challenges exist in your store for your staff and your customers?” Once we identify 2–3 pain points, we design Pepper’s solution to actively improve these challenges and create a richer customer experience.
My favorite part of my job is seeing the impact Pepper has on the end user. One of the best place to see this in action is the Mall of America, where families are excited to engage with Pepper. Pepper lights a spark of fascination in people, especially encouraging young people to research and learn more about STEM subjects. I remember being at the Microsoft Stores recently, and observing a teenage boy who spent 15 minutes studying Pepper, trying to understand how she worked — his fascination was really great to watch.
SBRA: As a roboticist with a non technical background, how do you stay up-to-date with the latest information you need to help your clients?
Laura: When I was transitioning careers, I pushed myself to complete classes and tutorials through sites like Coursera and YouTube. Additionally, every tech company I’ve worked at has offered a combination of training, webinars, and lunch-and-learns where information is shared. My attitude toward life is this: in response to the rapid pace of change, you must continuously be learning, and there are an abundance of free resources at your disposal.
I want to know enough to be dangerous independent of my colleagues, because our clients expect it. Even in these last few weeks I’ve actually been improving my skills on Google’s Dialogflow platform. That’s not something I was trained in, but when you’re working in cutting edge technology, you have to remember that everything is new, and be humble enough to admit you don’t always know the answer. I’ve been fortunate to have the support of numerous engineers and technical architects.
SBRA: What would you say to someone who is interested in a career in robotics, but doesn’t have a technical background?
Laura: I think there is opportunity for all kinds of people to be a part of this journey. In fact, it’s increasingly important that we have a diverse group of people training, writing copy, testing, and building content. We’re recreating the human experience on a machine, and it requires an incredibly diverse set of voices to reflect the diversity in our population.
If you have a passion for artificial intelligence but you didn’t start out as a computer engineer, there is absolutely a place for you. There are many opportunities in UX design, copywriting, marketing, QA testing, sales, and roles like mine. No matter what your role is, you have to be willing to learn how the product functions and clearly be able to articulate it.
SBRA: What’s one thing people should know about working at Softbank?
Laura: I’ve found Softbank Robotics to be an incredibly supportive and diverse place to work. We have people with backgrounds in music, design, animation, theater, marketing, and of course computer science, engineering and product. We also have people hyper-focused on behavior, who spend the whole day observing how people engage with Pepper so we can get this experience right for the end user.
This is a very eclectic and smart group of people, and, there truly is a role for almost anyone who has passion for what we’re doing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding, and a lot of fun.