Time to Take on Time as X.AI Repositions and Extends Scheduling Agent Features
AI scheduling service provider x.ai relaunched their scheduling service at the end of 2018. They have delivered more accessible pricing models for entrepreneurs, Gig Economy workers and enterprise team, along with a more elegant on-boarding experience.
Serious Insights has been using and evaluating the service over the last few months.
X.ai has now delivered a solid calendar management service at a reasonable price. The humble recognition of early pricing issues and hubris around the superior benefits of conversational interfaces helped evolve the service. The addition of new features, most notably the calendar portal, called Control Center, moved x.ai from alternative calendar agent competitor to leader in the class. These changes deliver on the promise of a useful, state-of-the-art calendaring management service that returns valuable time to subscribers.
x.ai employs AI agents known and Amy and Andrew Ingram to help people converge on meeting times. Prior incarnations of the service helped subscribers find meeting dates using a natural language, conversational interface through e-mail. The latest version adds the Control Center for meeting management as well as for specific selection of meeting dates via a link to the Control Center.
X.ai learned that not all meeting interactions work best through a typed e-mail dialog. Service like Calend.ly offered a self-service portal for scheduling. Calend.ly, meeting participates gain access to a shared time view of the subscriber’s availability. People select a time that works for them and the meeting gets booked. That model represents a stark contrast to the x.ai model conversation model.
The new x.ai service combines the conversational dialog with the direct selection approach. This new hybrid service brings the two primary methods for meeting scheduling together seamlessly. The system supports multiple calendars so it can track all available times, along with existing meetings, regardless if they are business or personal.
The company has also increase interaction speed, with most scheduling events taking place in 5-minutes or less. Meetings confirm in an instant when everyone is using the software.
Amy and Andrew are now much more collaborative, checking in on things like the balance between making a meeting happen and making sure everyone can make a meeting. If everyone can’t make it, the meeting owner can, on the fly, switch someone to optional. The service now involves meeting owners much more with confirmations and feedback.
In practice, when the subscriber initiates an action, the conversational mode works best. That approach feels more personal as it doesn’t send a URL to a colleague, staff member or customer and ask them to do something. Perhaps the important value proposition to the x.ai service is the ownership of the scheduling action by the subscriber. Rather than the often inane back-and-forth, inefficient humans employ to find a common time to meet, x.ai manages the entire interaction.
As with other conversational interfaces, people using the service, especially those not familiar with it, tend to anthropomorphize Amy and Andrew, often apologizing for not being available or for missing a meeting. That is the topic of another post, but it speaks to how well the dialog models human interactions in calendar negotiation situations.
Meeting request example
Copying Amy (my AI scheduler) to find us a time on Monday the 30th between 12:30 and 3:30 for you to call me on my cell.
I look forward to talking on Monday!
Hi Daniel, Happy to get this on your calendar. I’m currently scheduling a 45-minute call with the following details:
When: Negotiating times with Emma (with 15 min of breather time)
Where: Emma will call you at 425-28–***
Who: Emma * is a required guest
You can always view more details or take action on this meeting on my.x.ai.
The invite will be sent out once I confirm a time with Emma. — Amy
• View meeting
• Stop scheduling
Hi Daniel, This meeting with Emma is now scheduled, and the invite has been sent out for Monday, Jan 28 at 2:00 PM PST. — Amy
• View meeting
• Cancel meeting
How did I do scheduling this meeting? ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Control Center view of this meeting
x.ai has always been positioned with one toe in the Gig Economy and one toe in the enterprise. With the latest release, they move from toes to feet. On the Gig Economy front, they have developed integrations with Slack, Zoom, Greenhouse, Salesforce, Intercom and other platforms.
x.ai has always been positioned with one toe in the Gig Economy and one toe in the enterprise. With the latest release, they move from toes to feet.
Beyond the individual price drop, the company also adopted a much lower price for teams at $12 per user. Enterprise plans, starting at $24, include custom domain names (like “email@example.com”) along with access to an overview of meetings scheduled by the system. The service also supports conference room scheduling.
X.ai learned that under their former pricing structure ($39 for individuals, $59 for teams) organizations would offer the service as a reward. It was seen as a luxury for those who could earn it, not a commodity for those who needed to get their scheduled managed more efficiently. They report the new pricing has increased team inclusion and driven up use.
The goal of AI is to eliminate the stress associated with often awkward, sometimes annoying tasks that humans invented by introducing new types of work and often adding to the complexity of work. That work isn’t about how much it would cost to replace a person who manages the schedules of the team. That work is about eliminating work that shouldn’t really be work at all—we imposed the need to coordinate by creating organizations that do complex things. Authors writing in the mountains and family farmers don’t need x.ai. Every Gig Economy worker and enterprise employee needs a partner like Amy or Andrew to help them manage their time because time constrains their value. If they spend all of their time worrying about time, they won’t have enough time to apply their knowledge effectively.
x.ai and Knowledge Management
The real value of the x.ai service is in unleashing knowledge workers to spend more time contributing their knowledge. It also, hopefully, will eliminate the non-useful knowledge associated with rote memorization of a company’s scheduling system. x.ai eliminates the need for people to worry about out how to get a group of people together. It also removes the need to communicate meeting details. Both of those tasks take time and x.ai’s service may be a blessing many don’t know they need.
As much as technology promises to make things more efficient, the introduction of technology to create work that didn’t exist before creates time sucks that lower productivity, decrease engagement and increase stress. Group calendaring is one of those things. In the old days, people looked at each other in a meeting, said, “let’s do this again next Tuesday at 1 pm.” Everyone wrote the entry in their planner and off they went to do other work.
Sure, scheduling meetings with people around the world or across the county might need someone to manage that process, but in the end, the distributed system worked and people knew how to work it.
With the advent of group calendars, we put the owners of everyone else’s schedule on the meeting organizer and that created new work. People started needing to plan meetings: where, when, what resources, etc. Shared calendars also introduced randomness in that meetings could be called at anytime. It became hard to schedule around the schedule of others. Shared calendars introduced an advance from distributed personal paper-based systems to those who designed those calendaring system. The goal was easier coordination through transparency. To the users, however, disruption from a new, imposed model of collaboration and coordination they didn’t invent and weren’t sure they wanted to buy into. And the randomness of meetings broke up days that were previously scheduled around standing meetings.
The real solution that x.ai brings is the elimination of the imposed shared calendaring models. X.ai helps their customers leverage AI to reestablish distributed calendaring without eliminating the good parts of shared calendars.
Room for improvement
x.ai’s customer service and executive team have been very open to suggestions. I still have some issues with overriding subscribed calendar entry that makes me look like I’m out all day even though I’m not out at all (hint, be specific about a slot on those days, or subscribe to the schedule feed on a calendar not checked by x.ai).
Rescheduling a meeting through the Control Center assumes that I want Amy or Andrew to do the work. It may be the case that I know exactly when I want to reschedule the meeting (say I talked with the person at another meeting and we picked a new date). It would be nice if the portable allowed me to pick a specific date for the meeting.
I would also like to see the conversation piece easily called by Siri or Alexa, such as, “Siri, Ask Amy to coordinate a meeting with Nat for sometime next Tuesday.” Yes, I can say that and then sent it, but it would be cool to just be able to say it and for it to happen.
Who should consider x.ai?
At only $8 a month, sole proprietors and entrepreneurs should definitely consider tapping into Amy and Andrew. The more personal feeling experience is a plus. The real benefit, at least right now, is the ability to tell clients and customers you are engaging your AI to help set up a meeting.
The issues of calendars are even more complex for enterprise teams. At the lower prices, x.ai competes with less inclusive service models so should be the part of any evaluation. And at the new pricing, most organizations can afford to use the service even if it means early adoption through a credit card for just a local team.
The Future of x.ai
I always applaud stand-alone innovations that do one thing really well. Those solutions usually end up as part of the product portfolios as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, SalesForce or other large firm looking to shore up their portfolio with outside innovations. I wouldn’t be surprised in the team at X.ai ended up as an acquisition over the next couple of years. Hopefully, an acquisition that doesn’t interrupt the service.
Look for new features in 2019, including apps and additional integrations, as well as continued improvements in the interaction model from both internal research and customer feedback.
My guess is the pricing model fits where the market is today, and it isn’t likely to change again in 2019.
My original interactions with the earlier product versions and the new incarnation of the x.ai service took place over a course of free trials and analyst evaluations. I am now a paying customer, plunking down my $8 a month to be cool and to be efficient.
That also means I have my own personal referral link. So if you are interested in x.ai and want to try it out, do so by clicking this link: http://ssqt.co/mQeBYdn that will help me track recommendations as well as go a little toward paying for the content on this free blog.
For more on x.ai click here.