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"At a salon, you're sometimes drinking from a fire hydrant," said Mike Van den Abbeel, co-owner of Mosaic Hair Studio in Orlando, Fla. He meant that sometimes, the salon gets busy, extremely busy, especially at the front desk.
Customers come in waves, calling in to book appointments or often showing up at the salon all around the same time, creating frenetic but unanticipated peak periods. Van den Abbeel has a few dedicated front desk staff members, but, still, there are times when the flood of customers can be overwhelming.
So, in early 2019, Van den Abbeel began using a front desk AI assistant from vendor True Lark alongside his human assistants.
Front desk AI assistant
True Lark, formerly FrontdeskAI, develops and sells a conversational AI assistant built specifically to handle front desk needs, such as handling bookings, collecting payment information and answering questions.
It's largely a specialized chatbot that can link with popular booking programs and services, although Eric Weeden, head of sales and marketing operations at True Lark, claimed it's smarter than an average chatbot.
Mike Van den AbbeelCo-owner, Mosaic Hair Studio
Founded in 2017, True Lark aimed to break into the conversational AI market by offering a product to help businesses handle day-to-day operations, Weeden said.
"Even if you hire a front desk person, you still have challenges getting to it all," he said.
That proved true with Mosaic Hair Studio, which had a few dedicated front end staff but still struggled to get to the many phone calls it receives daily.
"The front desk really gets bogged down with phone calls and questions, and not every question needs to be handled right then," Mike Van den Abbeel said.
In November 2019, staff members couldn't get to some 561 calls, either because they were busy or because customers were calling after the salon was closed, Van den Abbeel said.
True Lark automatically engaged the callers, sending them text messages asking what their call was for. About 70% of the 561 callers responded to the automated text message. Through text, True Lark answered basic questions such as when the operating hours are or where to park, as well as scheduled appointments, as the platform is linked to the salon's booking system, Booking.com.
"True Lark is able to see all of the availabilities," Van den Abbeel said.
With True Lark, customers can also schedule appointments over text, which has gone over well with younger generations, Van den Abbeel said.
The salon's young staff members connect well with younger generations, and younger generations never leave voicemails, he said. They do, however, text.
The platform "speaks to them," he said of younger generations.
Van den Abbeel said that he considered alternatives, including several other platforms and simply hiring more staff. True Lark was less expensive, he said, adding that he liked how easily the system integrated with Booking.com and how simple it is to use. The setup was fast, he said, and mostly hands-off for Mosaic. True Lark did most of the setup, with Van den Abbeel tweaking some of the automated messages.
Van den Abbeel said he plans to keep using True Lark in conjunction with human staff. That combination, Van den Abbeel said, works well, as the two cater to different needs.
"Sometimes you walk through a grocery store and want to talk to a cashier or whoever, and sometimes you get annoyed that there is no self-checkout," he said.