Shanice could be the receptionist of the future

News: Virtual Shanice

October 09, 2013

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Brent Council has invested £12,000 in Shanice, a virtual assistant, whose image is now being projected on to a screen behind a civic hall desk. Shanice, who is expected to save the council around £17,000 a year, directs people to where they need to go to register a birth or death, apply for a marriage licence, or get married and passes on information about their visit and the documentation they need.

In the same way virtual assistants are used at airports to provide information about what can be taken onboard planes, Brent Council visitors are now able to use a touch screen function to key in their question which Shanice is pre-programmed to answer. Shanice, who currently operates alongside human receptionists, isn’t alone in this new age where people are being replaced by technology. A busy orthopaedic hospital not too far from Moneypenny HQ welcomes visitors with a life-size virtual receptionist who ‘meets and greets’ and ‘speaks’ recorded messages. The list is growing. While most of us experience the day-to-day applications out there in the form of touch screen check in at doctors’ surgeries and self check-outs at supermarkets, robots are performing surgery and even being tipped to be employed as security guards and carers for the elderly within the next few years.

There is no doubting the holographic receptionist is an innovative idea and for routine enquiries is likely to work just fine, but what happens when there’s an unusual request or an emergency? However well programmed, a hologram can’t call for medical assistance, mop up a spill or calm an angry visitor. There’s no room to go off script and plenty of room for frustration and poor customer experience. Moneypenny itself was born from this very type of encounter when co-founder Ed Reeves, then a graphic designer, went on holiday and left his calls with an answering service. A caller wanted to send a fax to which the reply was: ‘I am just the answering service.’ The client was lost and surely this same lack of flexibility will be the downfall of Shanice.

For more than 13 years Moneypenny has built its reputation on meeting the individual needs of customers through personal service, providing one person you know and trust to answer telephone calls for your business as though based in your office. Even with the launch of Penelope, our digital telephone answering solution, which provides smaller businesses with an app on their mobile device to control exactly how and where their calls are answered and the finest voice recognition system in the world, the failsafe element is a real Moneypenny PA at the end of the telephone just in case a call goes unanswered. So, however technological the solution, can we ever really do without a real, thinking, feeling, intuitive human being in such an important client facing, front of house role? First impressions last and set the tone for your reputation going forward. Yes there are many less than efficient and miserable human receptionists in offices all across the country but as pleasant, efficient and pretty as Shanice looks, for us there’s no substitute for a professional, well-trained, happy and helpful real person – in our business the friendly voice and the smile at the end of the phone means everything!

Born out of a personal need for the service, Moneypenny has revolutionised the ways UK businesses of all sizes look after their calls. More