Virtual concierge: A new level of personal assistance for hospitality
An intelligent virtual assistant can take the form of a three-dimensional character. Photo courtesy of Umajin.
Intelligent virtual assistants offer an opportunity for hospitality services to improve the customer experience. Hotels can offer guests a more personalized experience by offering them a touch and/or voice virtual agent via a self-serve kiosk or a smartphone.
|Dave Brebner describes ways hotels can use virtual agents.|
David Brebner, CEO of Umajin, described ways that hotels can use virtual agents during a presentation on the digital concierge experience at the recent Global Gaming Expo at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas.
By offering a virtual agent to customers, a hotel can enable a guest to select services in the hotel using touch or voice commands.
Taking the form of a two- or three-dimensional avatar, the virtual agent can help the guest select a TV show to watch, control the hotel room lighting, order room service or access a hotel service directory. The virtual agent also enables guests to communicate with each other, making it convenient for groups of people staying in a hotel and doing things together.
The avatar can take the form of cartoon characters or realistic-looking figures.
"If you want it (the virtual agent) to be Mickey Mouse, and you have a 3D model of Mickey Mouse, you just upload the file," Alec Korba, Umajin's vice president of sales, told Kiosk Marketplace. "The platform can load any type of images or logos or animations the brand might already have. If they don't have anything, we can design it for them."
Integrating with artificial intelligence
The virtual agent can use artificial intelligence "backends" such as IBM Watson, Cortana or Alexa – or simply use voice-to-text services directly on the device, be it a kiosk or a smartphone.
"Alexa is something we would use as a component of the digital agent," Korba explained. "Alexa is what does the voice recognition and then puts a command in. We're using Alexa inside of the platform to generate digital experiences."
"It's not a standalone tool," Korba said in describing the virtual concierge. "It's something that kind of layers on top of everything else."
If the customer wants to use Siri, for example – an intelligent personal assistant that uses voice queries and a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of Internet services – the hotel's virtual concierge can integrate it.
"People feel they're getting a personal experience with these digital agents," Brebner said. "It gives you a huge amount of information."
The technology is especially effective for branded establishments looking to support their brand identity, Brebner said.
A management tool
In addition to improving guest experiences, the virtual concierge simplifies many hotel management functions. It comes in handy in use cases where kiosks display information to groups of employees. A virtual concierge can include access to the hotel's CRM data, security system or valet parking program.
A virtual agent can direct employees, for instance, to conduct inspections of elevators, HVAC systems and bathrooms.
"If you have an employee that needs to identify where things are on a map, it (the virtual concierge) makes it very easy to do that," Korba said.
If the hotel needs to combine data from their property management system with their security system, Umajin can create a user interface for this task as well.
"A lot of the employee use cases are about getting the right data to the right people at the right time," Korba said.
"All of these things are not digital processes today, and you can digitize them really easily," Brebner said. "It acts as a skin on top of other systems."
The technology has application beyond the hotel environment. At one airport, for instance, the virtual concierge allows employees at an airport to get alerts associated with their tasks.
'Gesture' technology arrives
Umajin has also introduced a three-dimensional "gesture" interface that enables users to control activity on large digital screens simply by pointing. This can turn a kiosk or a video wall into a shared interactive experience.
The limiting factor for gesture technology is there is no standard protocol or what different hand motions mean, Korba said.
"If you open our palm, close your fist or touch with two fingers, what does that do to the screen?" he said.
It is possible to use gesture interface in a closed environment to establish such standards, however. The technology is beneficial when working in areas where large groups of people need to share kiosks, such as airports or hospitals, or areas where food is being served.
Another example is retail showrooms, where virtual products can be displayed on kiosks and digital screens. Users can view and rotate three dimensional versions of a building or a vehicle.
Another application is wayfinding kiosks in large, multi-level indoor spaces.
Still another example is a medical operating room where the surgeon's hand movements communicate something specific.
The intelligent virtual assistant, also known as the personal digital assistant, gives companies an opportunity to leverage their existing digital infrastructure to offer personalized assistance to customers and associates.
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.