Roomie, a personal voice assistant for business travelers
Going on a business trip has its benefits: seeing new places on the costs of your company is one of them. However, during my research on business travel I learned that not feeling comfortable or at home and getting bored were common experiences among frequent business travelers. How might we help them?
I’m a Communication and Multimedia Design student and this was my graduation project for the Innovation Practice at Mirabeau - a Cognizant Digital Business. I would like to share the findings and present a concept that could assist frequent business travelers in having an awesome experience on their business trips.
Empathising with the target group
During my research the main focus was to understand frequent business travelers. How do they feel, what do they like and what do they need? Besides interviewing them, I also used the Cart Sorting method and Drawing method (IDEO, n.d.). These two methods organize the thoughts of the respondent in a visual way and help guiding the conversation.
The Cart Sorting was done with 5 respondents and I discovered that the following things were the most important to them: • Being able to do their work; • Combining work with fun or relaxing activities (either in the hotel or outside); • Personalisation and feeling welcomed and at home in the hotel; • For some: meeting new people (on longer business trips it can get lonely).
The red dots represent the moments when he felt bored (evenings, weekends). The lowest point was roughly around the second week. During the end the respondent still was bored but also felt excitement to go home again.
When looking at the day-to-day activities on a longer business trip, we can see that it is not always easy to combine work with free time activities. In the drawing above, one of the frequent business travellers drew how he experienced his business trip that lasted 4 weeks. The main insight here was that there were gradually less and less things to do in his free time. As a result he often felt bored during the evenings and weekends.
Even if they are not going away for 4 weeks, the following needs were common on business trips that ranged from a few days to a few weeks:
- Need to feel home;
- Explore new things;
- Combine work with free time.
During the next phase I used the research insights as guidelines for ideation. I applied the ‘How Might We’ method (Dam & Siang, 2017) to frame and open up the design challenge for solutions. So, instead of formulating the challenge as “We need to design X”, this method helped to explore ideas by formulating the challenge in “How might we prevent boredom”, “How might we help them feeling home” or “How might we help them combining work with free time”.
To create real value for frequent business travellers, I also invited them to participate in the ideation phase and think about solutions – and build them with lego! Unfortunately none of these ideas led to the final concept. However, they did serve as an inspiration for the brainstorming sessions later on.
Designing a unique solution
I started ideating, designing and prototyping early in the process. This means that most of the ideas have “failed”. For example, one of the early ideas was the concept to make hotel rooms adaptable to the guest’s needs (i.e. lights, temperature, curtains, music, scent adapt to whether the guest wants to work, relax or sleep). However this is currently already applied in some hotels. There are already in-room voice assistants on the market, designed to be used in hotel rooms and serve as a virtual concierge (Amazon Alexa, Angie). With these you can listen to music, control in-room devices and find local attractions and services. What I learned from these concepts is that they are just touching the surface of what is possible to make the experience truly personalized for hotel guests. For this reason I imagined Roomie, a personal voice assistant that helps frequent business travelers to feel more at home and suggests free time activities to combine with their work.
From storyboards to a concept video
The next step was to decide which parts of Roomie were the most interesting to design. I started with drawing storyboards to sketch the experience. I used the storyboards as input for the concept video (to make Roomie more alive).
Furthermore, together with Youyi Laan we created several dialogues in Dialogflow. I used these dialogues to test the look and feel of Roomie, what the expectations were during the interaction and whether they felt that Roomie could help them with feeling more at home and exploring new things. Some insights from these tests were:
- Conversations could be more natural if Roomie does not immediately suggest activities, but base the activities on how the user feels. Therefore it should start conversations with open questions about how users are feeling;
- Personalised suggestions for activities are welcomed, however, Roomie should give at least 2 options so that the user can make their own choices.
Roomie is unique in two ways:
- You can connect your personal data with Roomie (e.g. your calendar or Fitbit, so it can also make suggestions based on your availability or health data). It will ask for this user data gradually rather than at once during the on-boarding – as Moran and Flaherty point out in “Creepiness-Convenience Tradeoff” that when people feel their privacy may be threatened, you must slowly expose them to the benefits of your product before they will cross that threshold (Moran & Flaherty, 2019).
- Interaction with Roomie is not limited to a single hotel stay, which opens the possibility for Roomie to learn of your choices and discover patterns based on all your business trips. As a result every business trip becomes a little more personalized than the previous one.
Roomie creates room for...
... applying the concept more concretely for clients in the hotel sector which requires a more research regarding the business value for hotels and how to make the concept work with local privacy regulations.