From concessions that can be ordered via apps, to augmented reality (AR) activated promotions, in-venue customer service is evolving as new technology continues to flourish. With a service that enhances both on-site and online experiences, Satisfi Labs is seeking to provide an intelligent engagement platform that uses artificial intelligence, or AI, and bot technology to answer fans’ questions.
While the New York-based company has partnerships across industries ranging from retail to entertainment, Satisfi Labs has been focusing on the sports industry, forming partnerships so far with 30 sports teams in North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), and National Football League (NFL).
As Satisfi Labs chief executive Don White explains, the firm’s technology answers queries covering everything from the best parking options to the length of bathroom queues and, powered by fan and venue data, the platform can ‘learn’ from questions asked, allowing it to deliver up-to-date and relevant information to users. The ‘brain’ can then feed its data back to venue operators with information on the most popular, relevant or confusing information. To date, the technology has had over two million ‘AI-driven’ conversations with fans and claims to be reinventing customer service.
How is Satisfi Labs using its technology to enhance customer experience at sports venues?
Our AI network ties together physical locations by understanding fan behaviour and things like their purchase decisions, their feedback, things they want to accomplish, or things they’re frustrated with. This is like having a Google Assistant in your pocket - but one that is being trained by the teams we partner with to provide the perfect answer. It’s like having your best employee talking to customers about the game day experience.
The team can literally train the AI, which also driven by the combination of teams and data. For example, the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, who are both in Atlanta, obviously, can teach each other new things that are relevant to the fan experience, and so on for franchises across the country. Things that go on in one area, for example, can make all its teams more intelligent and ready to handle a high volume of questions.
We have partnerships with 30 sports teams now, and we’ll soon be hitting 60. The magic of our technology is that we’ve created something very specific to a high level. I can find out everything about a fan from what allergies they have to where they want to sit, and how they value parking over mobile ordering, for example. All the questions they ask and the combinations in which they do so tell us a tremendous amount about who that fan is and how better to serve them.
How do you deliver your product to users?
It’s omni-channel. Our customers have a minimum of two channels, and most have four. The Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, have it in tech and their app, as well as their website and Facebook, and now will be moving to Amazon Alexa.
The strategy is that we build this ‘brain’, and then we distribute it into all the places fans naturally go. So rather than make them download something, if they go on Facebook or the web, or the app, or their Alexa at home, they should be able to access the same information on their terms.
How does the connectivity of the venues affect the distribution and capabilities of your technology?
The capabilities of the venue do impact how ‘intelligent’ the system is to the user. However, from our perspective, it’s the same system, you just make it more robust by having a connected stadium environment. For example, we can provide a basic text service, but this year we’ve launched images and animated gifs which can be part of the response.
We’ve also now included feeds where we’re going to bring in real-time statistics, and you can look up things like how many runs someone has scored or touchdowns that year. We want to push that further into other feeds so you can find out which concession lines are shorter or which parking lots are full.
However, our technology can only provide the information that the venue or team has made available. Some of the new stadiums like the Mercedes-Benz Stadium [home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United of MLS] provide a lot of interesting information, and that means the AI will provide a more robust ‘intelligent’ service.
This is like having a Google Assistant in your pocket - but one that is being trained by the teams we partner with to provide the perfect answer. It’s like having your best employee talking to customers about the game day experience.
What are the biggest challenges you face in creating and distributing your product?
The only real challenge is when something is a subjective answer, for example, which do you declare is the ‘best’ answer? However, this is also interesting because it means the tech starts as a service product and moves into a marketing product, and then into a recommendation engine - you can provide these additional services to the user instead of just answering a basic question.
You can incorporate recommendation engine layers, but you’ve got to ensure that you’re retraining the recommendations the AI makes in tune with fans.
How can commercial partners leverage your technology to create new revenue streams?
We’ve had commercial partners put their logo or brand on the entire experience and sponsor the technology. It can be either commercial on the user interface, or you can find commercial assets in the answers and recommendations sections that our AI provides.
For example, we had an instance where for a beer sponsor, if you say, ‘Hey, where’s the closest beer?’ the technology will give you an answer about the venue’s beer sponsor with the logo as part of the answer. If you ask for a specific brand, you still get the specific brand, but if you ask generically you will be suggested to use the sponsors’ beer.
Also, we can make adverts more personal and tailored to the fan. For example, if we get two interactions with a certain product, the next interaction might have a coupon attached. Last year, we offered discounts at the retail store for an NFL team. We’re also looked at doing service recovery situations, where we’ve partnered with a US company that allows us to provide fans with gifting options if they’ve had a negative experience during the game.
We’re also developing in-venue gaming experiences inside the AI, where we have trivia and, for example, in baseball we do mascot races inside our environment - and these are all heavily sponsored as part of the in-venue experience.
Fans watching the Oklahoma City Thunder's home games can find answers to questions about concessions to the length of bathroom queues
Do you design the AI to have a ‘human’ feel?
That’s really a team by team decision. Our system has the basic intelligence layer, so we understand what the fan is trying to accomplish. The secondary layer involves tailoring what the team wants us to say in response to the question. The partner can then choose the ways that we deliver this information, and this can have a robotic feel if they want the fan to know the system is automated. If you look at the Atlanta Falcons, for example, their product is called ‘Ask Arthur’ after the owner, Arthur Blank, and it’s a little caricature with a moustache.
All of our customers also have the ability for the AI to transition to human back-up. So we have a layer where if there is some level of frustration, the system is able to escalate you to a live person. They can turn the AI off temporarily, jump into the conversation, and then turn it back on when they’re done so that the next question can be helped by the assistant.
Our accuracy rate is around 94.5 per cent, so this happens very rarely. We’re used most for ticket sales, followed by food, beverages, venue-related queries and statistics. The interactions with live assistants are usually much more complex, and so our technology allows the live agents to focus on fewer, more complex, problems fans have.
Why do you choose sports partnerships ahead of others? What makes them a good fit for your brand?
We’re focusing on physical locations where people spend time and money. The reason we pick sports is that the sports venue is the centre of the city. We wanted to start in an area and expand our company.
Sports teams are fantastic to work with and they have so much influence in their markets, both locally and nationally, that they’re a great way to showcase our technology, and we’re always acquiring customers through our sports presence.
How do you see technology like yours reshaping fan experience in the future?
It’s about your personal relationship with your team. In the same way that we want our phones to be smarter and our Amazon experience to be more relevant, we want our experience in the venue and with the team to be more personal. I want my team to know more about me so they can think about more things I would be interested in.
With Amazon and Alexa’s skills, for example, they’re transitioning from the home-voice to visual, then to mobile, across channels. Our entire business was built around a voice product of the future, but we just started in another channel to prepare for it. I think you will see the whole experience became a voice-on-demand content world, and that’s the business we’re focused on.
SoftBank Robotics' 'Pepper' customer services robot can interact with customers and is designed to read human emotions
What’s next for Satisfi Labs?
We’re doing a lot of work on the physical activation of our products. A while ago, for example, we partnered with a hologram company so that if you searched ‘Satisfi Labs’ and ‘Vintana’, we would have an AI-powered hologram where you could have conversations with a physical activation.
We’re also premium partners of SoftBank Robotics which makes the Pepper robot [a humanoid robot, launched in 2016 and currently used in a few retail environments to interact with customers] and we’re now working with a few venues looking to take a robot on as part of their suite staff. Right now we’re focusing on providing more places for the fan to interact with the brain that we’ve built.