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Making Restaurant Reservations
with Alexa at Wynn Hotels

SUMMARY
RAIN, Amazon, and Wynn collaborated to put an Alexa device in 5,600 rooms and suites in their flagship hotels in Las Vegas, USA. I led the design of the conversational interface, making it possible for guests to have over 200 conversations.

SUCCESS
Wynn was looking to reduce concierge call volume so they could focus on front-desk matters that really needed them. For the user, the benefit is reducing friction for basic tasks like room control, ordering amenities, and making restaurant reservations.

CONTRIBUTORS
– Bryan Sebesta (myself), UX Design, Prototyping, Information Architecture
– Ben Steele, Project Manager
– Rommel Berrios, Developer
– Nathan Tubb, IT Lead

RAIN Agency's collaboration with Amazon and Wynn spanned multiple years, and I was involved from the early stages. In this case study, I'll focus on just one facet of the project: designing the restaurant reservation flow.

UX Considerations

Due to the COVID pandemic, as well as budget and time constraints, we didn't have an opportunity to do up-front user research with actual guests at the hotel, though we knew there was interest. 66% of 40,000 guests surveyed said they would book a room with Alexa.

In lieu of formal research, I designed four proto-personas: educated guesses at the sort of people who might be using Alexa to make reservations at a restaurant.

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The main distinctions between these four proto-personas are

  1. How familiar each persona is with Wynn/Encore’s offerings
  2. Whether that person wants to explore or knows precisely what they want
  3. Whether the person is alone or has a family. In other words, if they have other needs they need to negotiate.

Drawing from these four proto-personas, and in discussion with Wynn, I drew up user stories that would guide the scripts. The initial list didn't capture everything, and what you see below is the expanded list that developed throughout the scripting process.

Designing the Conversation

Before I script (and constantly throughtout the process), I talk everything I write out loud. This is important for at least two reasons: it helps me keep the tone conversational, and it reminds me that what I write will be heard, not read.

Initial Designs

My first priority was the key "making a reservation" path. Here's a recording of my first "talk-to-myself" path, filled with hesitations and pauses.

Though awkward and filled with too much of my own personality, it served as a starting point. I put it down on paper, and worked through several iterations. Below are my first five iterations, with notes describing the reasoning behind several design decisions.

Click on the scripts below, and scroll through to see the evolution of the scripts, including specific reasons why prompts evolved as they did.

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Having gone through these iterations over multiple days, we landed with the following recording, which I made using the prototyping tool  Voiceflow.

Challenges

Hearing the final version, I had some reservations (pun intended). Although on paper, it had seemed like a good idea to split the "day" and "time" questions, it sounded awkward. And we had designed this for the persona who knew what they wanted ("The Familiar") , instead of for the more likely personas: people who did not necessarily know what restaurant they would like ("The Adventurer" and "The Parent").

Still, through the process we had aligned on the Wynn team's business objectives, as well as important voice and tone considerations. I felt good about launching into some usability testing.

Preparing to Ship

As a conversational designer, I always begin with how humans speak. But how computers understand that speech is also important. At RAIN Agency, I outline the three basic components of understanding speech (intents, utterances, slots) in a Google Sheets, while I document the replies—and the logic that determines when each reply should be provided—in LucidChart. You can see some samples below.

Click below to scroll through samples of the logic flow and utterances.

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Successes

The Wynn skill, launched in early 2019 across 5,600 rooms and suites in Wynn's flagship hotel, saw a strong usage. When asked whether the Alexa skill reached its goals, the VP of Operations replied:

"Are you kidding me? Alexa is answering more than 12,000 inquiries a month just about our hours of operations for our 18 bars and restaurants, spas, and workout facilities. Even if you split that number in half, that's the equivalent of a full-time employee."

85.6%

found the Alexa flow easy or very easy to use

4.8k

questions looking for bar or restaurant recommendations in the first two months

83.7%

were happy or very happy with the service

12k

questions just about the hours of operations of bars, restaurants, and workout facilities in the first two months

As of December 2020, the features described in this case study–the restaurant reservations flow–have not launched. I'll share learnings here, once we have them.