How many times have you spoken to Siri on your iPhone or used Google Now on your Android device and got a response that is measured, helpful and at times as funny as any human?
My dear hoteliers, we live in a time where the average person might have more conversations with bots rather than his or her spouse. It is expected that by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. This is also why I suspect that booking engines as we know them will either cease to exist or change drastically.
But what exactly is a chatbot? It is an AI based program that can interact with the user in a simple conversational mode that encourages interaction while providing information. It is more personal and responsive than a simple search engine and resembles a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger conversation more than a Google search. In fact Facebook Messenger itself opened up to such business related bots in Apr 2016 and is presently home to thousands of such intelligent conversation programs. Indian chatbot startups have also responded to this demand by offering many customized services.
When I first noticed this trend, I asked myself where exactly this technology can fit into the hospitality sector. And the answer, I realized, is everywhere. In a business whose foundation is built upon personal interactions with guests and where success depends on how customized these interactions can be for each individual guest, a technology that specializes in conversations can be a blessing. I will list out the three key areas where chatbots or assistive conversational entities can help old and new players in the hospitality industry.
A guest begins his travel journey by browsing through the options available on various OTAs and then visiting the websites of the shortlisted hotels. Usually he goes back to the OTA for the in search for answers to queries in the comments/user reviews sections. OTAs realized the need to customize this process and in the quest to provide relevant info based on the unique query of each guest, they incorporated the chatbot technology. Expedia incorporated this as a Facebook Messenger chatbot that can interact with the guest just like a Hotel Reservation Desk. Chatbots can also be designed to answer queries during the booking process like the ixibaba chatbot on the ixigo website.
For hotels, the personalization options are even vaster. Your hotel can deliver tailor made offers or options instantly and directly to the guest via chat at any point before, during or after their stay. Imagine answering to a guest’s queries without the need for transferring to a waiting line for a call or delaying the matter by resorting to an email chain. Well-designed hotel website chatbots can incorporate the query and booking option into one, thus easing the entire process and allowing the guest to satisfy his query and immediately make a booking on the same platform seamlessly.
I’m glad to see the technology already being used in this space. We use smart cards to access elevators and hotel room doors; personalized smart bands, like the one at Disneyland, help to access every single service – from transportation to rides. A simple chatbot app on the hotel website will let any guest to enhance this experience by once again providing the option of customization. An example is the Radisson Blu Edward hotel chain in UK where guests can use the chatbot “Edward” to ask for anything – from a bottle of shampoo to the location of the hotel gym without being bothered to put on hold while reception connects you to housekeeping.
A conversation with Edward
In a world of quick user reviews on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor, your hotel needs to be up and running with the response mechanism. A simple “Thank You” in response to a glowing review and a committed assurance to fix problems after a not so flattering review helps in building customer trust and brand image over time. Chatbots embedded in these platforms can quickly respond to such issues and if linked with the bot on the hotel website, can also help to get the right representative in touch with the guest through their available contact details.
Chatbots are a simple but extremely effective tool of enhancing customer experience in every single phase of their interaction with the service provider. In my opinion, this sector can never get enough of personalization when it comes to guest interactions, because for everything else the guest is already in possession of a complete bouquet of options from OTAs.
God lies in the little things in the hospitality industry and these nifty technological tools can help any property transcend the divide between a good hotel and an “unforgettable experience”.
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