MSC Cruises’ world-first cabin concierge will revolutionise customer experience – and the cruise operator is already planning how to improve it
MSC Cruises has launched its artificial intelligence and machine learning-based cabin concierge Zoe – a first of its kind for the cruise industry – and revealed plans for its continued development.
MSC Cruises chief executive Gianni Onorato told a conference session on innovation at Seatrade Cruise Global that Zoe was the “most exciting innovation we have launched”. The digital concierge was launched on newly delivered MSC Bellissima in each of the 2,217 cabins. It will next be rolled out on MSC Grandiosa when it is delivered in November this year.
The digital cruise assistant was developed by the MSC innovation department along with experts from connected technology specialist Harman, part of Samsung Electronics.
Zoe is not linked to a cloud system but to an onboard server, as MSC Cruises wants to ensure a very rapid connection independent from the satellite connection.
Mr Onorato said of Zoe, “It gives the opportunity to provide answers to frequent customers’ questions. Zoe will start with 800 answers, but being an artificial intelligence product, it will learn by use.” Every time there are new questions and Zoe does not yet know the answers, the server will collect the answer. He said the 800 questions were a “starting point”.
MSC Cruises chief business innovation officer Luca Pronzati tells Passenger Ship Technology all about the huge operation involved in bringing Zoe to life.
The system underwent extensive testing in areas such as speech recognition, transforming speech to text and vice versa, and other behavioral and performance tests. Some 400 people trained Zoe, which speaks seven languages. The aim is to increase this to 10.
Mr Pronzati says “We started a project phase, analysing seven languages and all the different accents of these languages had to be taken into consideration. There are so many different accents for each language – we had to map all the accents and understand what the best combination of accents was, to record and cover 80% of each language.”
In the end 31 accents were recorded for Zoe. “To make the model understand the different acoustic sounds was challenging. We sourced people from all over the world for our laboratories to record accents – we have been in touch with universities, language schools and consulates to record the different accents,” says Mr Pronzati.
To source the questions and answers for Zoe, the MSC Cruises and Harman project team went on three different ships to record interactions spanning the spa, restaurants, front desk and so forth. Mr Pronzati continues “We went back to the laboratory where people listened to recordings, offsetting all the background noises and collecting questions in English. English was selected as the standard first language, this was then translated into six different languages. Recordings that were not in English had to be translated. We then worked across the different sectors from food and beverage to entertainment to doublecheck and crosscheck, and started filing the proper answers.” Adding to the complexity is that there are 15 variations of the same questions.
MSC Cruises took time to create the voice of Zoe, which has a different voice for each language. “We started with brand identity and our different values to define the personality for Zoe, these were the basics,” says Mr Pronzati.
Zoe has been integrated into the MSC for Me digital platform, which was launched in 2017. It connects to Bluetooth transmitters around the ship to provide passengers with tailored services and suggestions. As part of MSC for Me, if a customer wants to book an excursion, Zoe connects to the in-cabin television to provide the booking page on the screen.
Customers can also connect Zoe to Bluetooth to play music.
The cruise operator is already looking to the future and considering ways of developing Zoe. Mr Onorato said “We are already planning what the future is for Zoe, to offer more and more personalised experiences using machine learning activity to satisfy [the customer] but this is obviously a long process.”
Mr Pronzati tells Passenger Ship Technology “We are focusing on the personalisation of the ship, whether this is music or films – it is under discussion.”
An example is that, he says, the evolution from listening to music through Zoe by connecting to Bluetooth, to being able to request music.
Another ambition for MSC Cruises is for mobile phones to access Zoe. Mr Pronzati says “We are thinking of a mix of interaction, including conversation. This is because when in public spaces there is noise, so we need to make sure the speech recognition works. So, we need to mix the interaction.” The aim is to make the interaction as easy as possible.
Mr Pronzati said they hope to get Zoe on passengers’ mobile phones sometime next year.
Using AI means Zoe will keep on learning. Indeed, AI is an important focus for MSC Cruises. Mr Onorato says the company will do “more and more” in terms of artificial intelligence, to create a more customised service. He told an audience at Seatrade Cruise Global “There will be more and more expectations to create an internet of things.” He gave an example: if there is a shore excursion at 9 am and the wake-up call has been set, the time will automatically be made later if there is a delay in the excursion.
Zoe is being rolled out across all newbuilds. Summing up the huge boost that Zoe gives to the guest experience, Mr Pronzati says “Being able to provide assistance in the privacy and comfort of the cabin without going out to the front desk and queuing, to me adds value.”
Snapshot CV: Luca Pronzato (MSC Cruises)
Luca Pronzato is chief business innovation officer of MSC Cruises. He oversees the company’s ongoing digital transformation and innovation programme. He is responsible for outlining the big picture vision to spread the culture of innovation inside the company and to leverage on emerging technologies such as digital channels, wearables, IoT, bots, AI and robotics, to accelerate the transformation and to keep the company competitive in the market.
Mr Pronzati holds a Masters’ degree in electronic engineering and further degrees in finance, business and marketing.
Mr Pronzati began his career in the 2000s at Siemens. In 2002 he took on the position of international business development manager at Postel. He joined Carnival Corp in 2003 as manager, management advisory services. In 2012 he joined MSC Cruises.