To a hospitality business, customer service is the backbone of its entire operation. In an increasingly impatient society where instant messaging demands instant responses, the era of AI Chatbots is helping hotels deliver personalised customer service and provide undecided guests with the immediate responses they need.
According to Statista data from January 2021, two billion users worldwide interact with the WhatsApp platform each month, with the service being particularly popular outside of the United States. An astonishing 41 million messages are sent out every minute of the day. Users like the conversational nature of the app, with the ability to easily organise group chats, exchange graphics, videos, audio and more.
Communicating with retailers and service providers is also a key feature of the platform. The data also shows 90% of consumers prefer to communicate with businesses via messaging over a phone call.
Some call it conversational marketing. While these ‘bots’ are only interested in conversing about whatever they’re programmed and installed to do, they are evolving at a significant rate and are now capable of amazingly real levels of interaction. Dedicated chat-bot developers can teach these systems all about your product or service, allowing them to converse at length and with great speed and proficiency – keeping your potential customer on the line with your property front of mind.
Matters are complicated by research showing many travellers are desensitised to generic promotions and are much more responsive to tailored promotions which speak to their interests and budget. According to Netimperative, one in four Gen Z travellers say they would show more loyalty to a travel service which sent them relevant marketing emails understanding their needs.
According to David Thompson, CEO of AI Chatbot vendor, Book Me Bob, their eponymous automated assistance bot, the aptly-named ‘Bob’ can already answer more than 47,000 questions in 12 languages and uses NLP Artificial Intelligence to learn answers to more every day. Bob also has more than 67,000 ‘Chit Chat’ dialogues which give it a touch of personality. Thompson says every hotel is unique however and has a specific way they prefer to field questions from travellers.
“We use cloud technology Microsoft Azure for its high level security to store and save all the questions and we are continuously adding to the number of answers,” he said.
“For groups that have multiple hotels we have our own onboarding team that works directly with the hotel to build their chat bot and to answer each question on the onboarding form.
Communicating with guests directly at various stages of their customer journey can be a perilous journey, with some appreciating the extra service and others potentially bothered by what they deem to be annoying upselling. Regardless of their attitude, the majority of hotel Property Management Systems (PMS) offer guest communication tools which can be personalised to ensure the guest or customer is being addressed by their direct title and surname rather than as the highly informal and impersonal ‘Customer’.
XN Protel Systems Group Australia Managing Director, Craig Chait, said communication tools can be highly personalised to suit all sorts of demographics, guest profiles and family types.
“We can personalise the guest experience significantly, by language or purpose of stay such as travelling with kids or on business etc) and provide upsell suggestions such as room upgrades, early check in, late check out and also auto communications by email and SMS based on trigger points including confirmation, pre-arrival, or welcome after check in.
In the case of paperless check in, hotels can pre-load the screens shown to a guest, including their preferred language, images, welcome messages and suggested upsells.
Hotels using the RMS Cloud PMS system have access to inbuilt SMS marketing functionality, with either one-way or two-way communication possible. If selecting the latter, guest replies are sent to an inbox and can be responded to or actioned further by a team member.
RMS Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Peter Ferris, says people are looking for curated experiences and currently they have time to investigate where they want to go. They know what they’re looking for and they want hotel providers to assist them in achieving that.
“What it boils down to is having really rich PMS data on your clients and what they’re looking for. So you need a PMS that can handle that and then can make that data available to you to create hyper personalised marketing.
“If you’ve got a support system like an AI Chatbot that is working 24/7 around the clock to give people the right answers and show them what they’re looking for, then you’re putting yourself in the best position to try and convert those enquiries,” Ferris added.
While Chatbots are evolving and continuing to learn fast, there are fallback measures a hotel can put in place to ensure a guest isn’t left high and dry to any queries that are more specific or detailed, according to Book Me Bob’s David Thompson.
“If the Chat Bot can’t understand or answer a question it will tell the guest that it is having trouble understanding and a work order is sent to our support team and we will then train the Chat Bot how to answer the question.
“We are at a stage now that we are looking to evolve our AI so that it can do Sentiment Analysis,” he added.
Oracle Hospitality JAPAC Regional Vice President for Hotels, Patrick Andres, said many guests today were looking for low-to-no-contact interactions yet crave personalised experiences.
“To best meet those expectations, hoteliers need access to comprehensive guest profiles,” he said.
“Creating one, however, is a challenge if guest information is stored across multiple, disparate systems such as a property management system, central reservation system or customer relationship management system. Hotel staff are left with a disjointed and an incomplete view of the guest.
Andres said systems such as Oracle’s Opera Cloud can help hotels scale personalised services and give staff access to the information they need about guests at the right time.
“Personalised service enhances engagement and upsell pre-arrival, increases satisfaction on-property, and generates repeat business post-stay. Cloud-based solutions also can efficiently integrate mobile technology, providing yet another way to consistently improve and personalise service for guests in a low-touch environment.
“And by safely keeping details of guests’ stay in secure, cloud-based profiles, staff can ensure privacy for guests before, during, and after their stay. Embracing cloud technology is the best way to consistently delight guests – and avoid disappointing them.”
Chat on, bot!