Meet Sumi: your virtual booking assistant
From Facebook to Outlook, software is trending towards the convergence of multiple functions in a single environment. The drive for efficiency and familiarity has seen developers congregate around popular services, integrating their own software functionality to serve existing audiences.
There is an obvious impetus for software to keep consumers in the same place. Facebook is a prime example of a thriving, multifunctional ecosystem, providing services such as news, video, and live streaming. But businesses are equally taking to the idea of collaborative tools that cut down on the need to transition between software environments.
Integration into people’s workflows
For businesses, the messaging suite Slack has led the charge. Slack does not do any one thing better than previous software; it bears the hallmarks of chat clients that have existed since the 1990s. But the unification of a simple chatroom and conference calling interface with a variety of plugins – supporting Skype, SurveyMonkey, Memo and many more – has made it an indispensable one-stop-shop for enterprise.
Skype has followed a similar example, producing Skype for Business. Its network connections allow for features such as including phone numbers in conference calls, and integration with Microsoft’s Office suite. We can now add meeting room reservations to this list of functionalities.
By applying our meeting and reservations solution to Skype’s chat interface, we have seamlessly merged the booking process with Skype’s role as a tool for daily business communication. Our chatbot Sumi draws on a wealth of cloud-level, constantly updated data, to assist building users via conversation.
Sumi offers a conversational experience
The process of booking through the virtual assistant is a simple one. For instance, “Tell me about room X“ would cause her to respond with the live information for that particular room. If you decide that you want to book this room, you can follow up with the message “Book room X“. Sumi will then prompt you to enter a time for the meeting to start and finish. After that, you can confirm the booking.
Sumi can accept numerous queries. Users learn about the possibilities by simply asking “Help”. You can view a map of the room location, a photo of the room, the current occupancy schedule and more. Interactive elements – such as clickable buttons for yes and no options or to choose between rooms – help make this process feel more familiar and speed up room booking. And if Sumi does not understand a particular query, she will tell you.
The primary aim with Sumi was to eliminate the transition between software environments. Skype is everywhere today and many people in business are almost permanently online. When they want to set up a meeting, they can simply ask Sumi to check for available meeting rooms. They could also ask the assistant about scheduled meeting (“my meetings today?”), or ask the location of a meeting room, available equipment, and ambient conditions, all from within the Skype environment.
Another example: support staff who use Skype to make calls with clients or to arrange meetings can now quickly book within the same interface. From discussing the meeting with a client, you simply switch to the Sumi profile and send the requisite messages. Having booked a room, you can then instantly relay the details to the client.
Increasingly personalized and useful
Sumi can provide live data such as temperature readings and other comfort parameters, current booking information, and maps for wayfinding. The chatbot also has the potential for continued improvement in recognizing queries and displaying data. The drive towards machine learning in FM stands to make the process of talking to a chatbot increasingly like talking to a real person, complete with personalized responses and booking preferences for each user.
Where Sumi really shines is in encapsulating our principle of ‘Smart Start’: the drive to reduce the burden of software implementation on businesses. The familiar human interface of a virtual assistant acts as the perfect introduction to the booking process. By using a language led interface, Sumi provides the most accessible feature set of the six main booking methods. Integrating a chatbot with Skype complements our existing channels perfectly. It offers a desktop or mobile booking option from within a collaboration tool that people are already accustomed to.
The potential of machine learning
Sumi is also a roadmap for future developments in user/software interactions. The aim of any software application is to increase usability while retaining features. A virtual assistant is a tangible step towards more human interactions with computers, but it is unlikely to be the last. Voice control technology, for instance, has entered popular usage with the likes of Amazon’s Alexa, while sensors are providing large quantities of live data.
This influx of new information is key not just to analysing user habits and improving efficiencies, but also to improving the software. Chatbots offer untapped potential for machine learning, with queries used to enhance the computer’s understanding of natural speech. This means more personal conversations, as well as more realistic ones. Learning the preferences of each individual user may allow the chatbot to preempt booking decisions, and should further reduce the time it takes to answer a query.
As working practices and office environments become more flexible, reservations and hospitality solutions must keep pace. Sumi represents one more link in the chain that connects users across all business scenarios, ensuring a smooth process wherever you’re booking from.
Interested in learning more about Sumi? Contact us for a free demo.