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Have Chatbot, will serve
IMAGINE this: It has been an exhausting week. As the weekend approaches, you decide to grab the chance for a quick getaway. But as you surf the Internet, you realise it is difficult to find halal-friendly options in a foreign country. Being stuck with seafood and vegetables when you would much rather indulge in local cuisine sounds less than ideal.
But eventually, you stumble upon a website called Have Halal, Will Travel. Better known as HHWT, it was founded in 2015 and is an online platform for Muslim travellers. It provides Muslim travellers with guides to halal dining establishments, prayer spaces and mosques, as well as itineraries and accommodations.
You are thrilled. But as you browse the website, you are overwhelmed by the myriad of options. As you wonder where to even begin, you spy a chatbot in the right corner of the screen and decide to try your luck.
A brand new bot
Recently, HHWT unveiled a new function to their website. Named Sofia, she is a chatbot powered by the Azure Bot Service and programmed to help customers with their enquiries via a question-and-answer system. Users can choose from a list of inquiries and Sofia will send them articles as recommendations.
The idea to implement Sofia came when HHWT saw itself receiving enquiries from users, which ranged from halal food places to prayer spaces to accommodation options. To boot, some 70 to 80 per cent of the HHWT users were intending to travel within the next four months. HHWT thought that these enquiries needed to be answered, and done fast.
But as a "lean startup" with limited manpower and capital to hire said manpower, this posed a challenge. The team needed to keep up with the emails, and continue running their online platform.
HHWT co-founder Melvin Goh said: "We decided that we needed a systemised platform to serve as the first touchpoint for Muslim travellers across different time zones."
The company decided to use Microsoft's Azure Bot Service. Recommended by a partner, the Azure Bot Service was attractive mostly due to Microsoft's reputable enterprise-ready systems. Security had become a priority as HHWT started to work with global partners.
Microsoft Azure is a set of cloud-based services offered to help organisations overcome business challenges. Azure Bot Service is one of the offered services, and enables organisations to build and manage intelligent bots, such as Sofia.
Through Sofia, HHWT hopes to learn more about its customers. Sofia is able to capture data provided by customers when they use the chatbot. Through analytics and machine learning, HHWT can harness the data captured and use it to better serve their customers.
They also hope to create content via publishing systems. This content can then be pushed out on various platforms, including - you guessed it - chatbots.
A hard worker
Sofia is able to serve up to 8,000 users a day, with a successful answer rate of 85 per cent, said HHWT. Through Sofia, users on the site were able to obtain information via the site's database. This was done in a "native, conversational fashion".
It is aligned with what HHWT is about, which is "travelling and immersing yourself in the culture while still remaining faithful and compliant to the principles of Islam".
With her customised machine learning algorithm, Sofia is able to learn from each interaction she has with customers, becoming smarter and increasing the success rate of her answers, HHWT said.
On what users can expect from Sofia in the future, Mr Goh said: "We can imagine Sofia recommending Muslim-friendly hotels, flights, or even attraction information straight within the chat."
As HHWT evolves, so will Sofia. Eventually, HHWT hopes that Sofia can offer even payment functions as the company evolves from its current media platform into a marketplace.
After all, Sofia's proven herself to be a hard worker. Mr Goh said: "Even when the team in Singapore and Malaysia winds down for the day, Sofia works through the night serving Muslims in need."