Last week, Facebook announced their newest addition to Facebook Messenger, M. It’s a virtual assistant, but it’s more than just Siri or Cortana — those services haven’t even advanced that far yet. With M, you can make restaurant reservations, find a birthday gift for your spouse, or suggest and book weekend getaways. M is a mish-mash of Siri/Cortana and messaging concierge services like Djenee, TaskRabbit, and Magic. And the most amazing thing is this: it’s run by people.
The idea that people are running the latest tech innovation is slightly baffling. In a world where many believe that the future of tech lies in automation, and that workers are being replaced by artificial intelligence and robots, a system that claims to use the power of people is almost like a step back. Startups watching on will scream ‘scalability’, and cringe at the idea of expanding a service so heavily dependent on people. It’s like going back to the times when people had butlers and servants to run their errands, instead of picking up an app and doing it yourself.
Whether you like it or not, technology is conquering the service industry. The F&B industry is innovating with e-menus and POS systems, and startups like MyLaundryBox and Helpling are attempting to tackle niche service markets. But closer to the M vision is Djenee (pronounced genie), an e-concierge service that has expanded from Europe into Singapore, and raised $500K in a single day through crowdfunding. Chief Djenee Adrian Koh shares that while M is operating in the same space as Djenee, he’s more excited than intimidated by the development. The industry is new, and the players in it are still trying to figure their way around.
“It’s great to see the space evolving so quickly,” says Koh. “Every player helps to mature the on-demand industry, whether it’s food delivery, logistics, or domestic help, or concierge services like us who form the umbrella over all on-demand offerings. It’s interesting to see that with all our technology and software, we’re coming back to service, which is primarily driven by real people, to make a difference in the way we drive the next wave of consumption.”
Djenee is largely run by actual employees at the moment, from errand-runners to those helming social media channels that Djenee can be reached through. Their strength, as shared by its founder Pär Helgosson, is largely due to the networks of partners that they have built upon since arriving in Singapore earlier this year. From florists, drycleaners, event planners, and so on, they’re the app to end all niche service apps. And until M comes to Singapore’s shores, they may have the upper hand in the service industry.
Will it last?
According to Facebook’s statement about how people are supporting the system, the use of actual humans seems to be a temporary fix. Real people currently help M answer requests, but at the same time, they are also teaching the technology how to handle future enquiries.
But while startups are looking to the service industry to hit the big time, it’s easy to see that the idea behind M and e-concierge services like Djenee will never go out of style. Sure, they may evolve, but human nature dictates that wants beget wants; demand for an easier life is something that will never decrease. And while technology tries to innovate, people will always remain the inevitable bottleneck. No matter how advanced, service will always take a step back to understand the people they serve, in a way only people can.