June 2018, London
The smart hotel that talks back is the future
We identify some Dos and Don'ts from a new EyeforTravel report which finds that conversational interfaces have the potential to help hotels improve the guest experience and drive revenues too
Hotels are only just beginning to deploy chatbots and smart speakers, but these early experiments herald the beginning of a major shift in guest communications finds a recent report from EyeforTravel.
The Future of the In-Stay Experience finds that in the hotel of the future it may become the norm for AI-powered speakers and chatbots to suggest activities, answer guest queries and deal with complaints. If approached correctly, using AI-powered voice and chat capabilities to do these tasks provides a more convenient channel for guest interactions that not only improves satisfaction with their stay, but can also drive revenues.
Both chatbots and voice systems working through smart speakers can record all requests, which can then be integrated into a Property Management System (PMS). Largely these early investigations into interactive AI are as smart concierges for hotels, with both big and independent chains already deploying the technology.
IHG is one of these. Working with a company called Mobiquity, IHG has been working to improve the guest experience with a conversational user interface through two new digital endpoints - voice and chatbots. Firstly, it has designed and developed a so-called Amazon Alexa ‘skill’ to act as a virtual concierge that can control everything from in-room lighting, to temperature, and music, as well as order room service. IHG has also used Facebook Messenger to build a chatbot which allows guests to receive pre-stay notifications directly through their accounts as well as view reservation details, explore neighbourhood guides, set stay preferences, and communicate with the hotel’s social care team.
There are a growing number of technology firms working on solutions for travel. Dazzle Technology, a start-up that implements and operates smart speakers for the hospitality industry, and which recently won the EyeforTravel start-up and innovation award in Las Vegas is another.
“We created a conversation concierge so that people can get all of their informational experience through channels they are more used to operating. It delivers specific responses very quickly. It positions the hotel as a trusted advisor,” says Charles Cadbury, Co-Founder of Dazzle Technology. “Hotels are able to listen to what the guests want and get real time data of who is asking for what and when. Then they can make real time adjustments to their product or services to cater to those requests.”
Some commentators go as far as to say that between 50-75% of guest questions can be responded to by a bot. By offering services like these out to guests through voice or chat interfaces, hotel staff can be freed up from doing mundane tasks to focus on delivering more high quality, differentiated services. While Jeffrey Parker, Vice President of Hospitality Systems, Red Lion Hotels Corporation, believes this can certainly relieve desk staff and other departments, he has this advice: “The most appropriate way to do it is to link to your service app infrastructure and have a warm hand-off to a real person. Don’t ever let your app pretend to be a real person. Be transparent with your guests.”
There is widespread agreement that the human element remains highly relevant in making AI as interactive as possible. Humans help to create a culture of recording and measuring guest interactions and building the background data. IHG used their customer service call centres to help develop their Alexa offering, for example.
Even the technology firms agree. Armand Rabinowitz, Senior Director of Strategy and Workgroups at Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) says: “The best way to build a picture of the guest is to leverage the hotel’s greatest assets, their people. To capture every seemingly relevant detail humans need to build personal relationships.”
We need to take clues from the guest and offer services based on what profile we think they have, but not to the extent we ruin that relationship
Jeffrey Parker, Vice President of Hospitality Systems, Red Lion Hotels Corporation
Similar to putting a data strategy in place, hotels need to think about the individual guest when implementing voice and chat functions. Hotels can’t just charge in and introduce voice into every room and client; privacy issues are at play too.
According to Parker, “we need to take clues from the guest and offer services based on what profile we think they have, but not to the extent we ruin that relationship”.
Hotels need to offer guests the choice and respect their decision if they ask for connected devices to be removed. Chains like Marriott and IHG are working closely with Amazon to develop solutions that provide the guests with a seamless experience, while also protecting their privacy. Data collection and privacy issues will only be highlighted as the EU’s GDPR regulation comes into force the report warns.
Chatbot dos and don’ts
· Consider chatbots as a way to free up staff from mundane tasks
· Continue to leverage the hotel’s greatest asset – people
· Think about the individual guest when developing a chat bot
· Ignore privacy and data protection issues
· Don’t ever let your app pretend to be a real person
· Apply a one-size fits AI to every chatbot or speaker