By Perla Gómez Di Vuolo | July 12th, 2019
Chatbots: where customer care and real time conversations meet social media.
Hotel chatbots have been around in some form for over 4 years. Marriott Hotels first introduced their ‘Mobile Requests’ service back in May 2015, with Starwood and Hyatt hot on their tales later that year. The early evolution of hotel chatbot technology was rapid and impressive.
Today, a hotel brands awareness and their online success would be inconceivable without the inclusion of online customer care. Want to know how hoteliers can benefit from the advantages of having a 24-hour online concierge looking after their business when no one else is available? Keep reading.
Hotels, and brands in general, are defined by the experiences they deliver. Customers are naturally self-interested, and a company’s internal hard work and challenges are of little concern to them when assessing its products and services.
A recent study by Oracle reveals that:
- British consumers admit they wouldn’t care if 94% of brands disappeared.
- 85% of them believe brands must play a bigger role in improving their quality of life.
Are you meeting your clients’ demands and needs at all times?
What is a hotel chatbot?
If we ask Google, it will define chatbots as “computer programs designed to stimulate conversation with human users, especially over the World Wide Web” In other words, Interactive Text Responses (ITR) also known as bots, are pieces of software that can have conversations or discussions with users, for example, Facebook Messenger bots. You can not only find chatbots on Facebook but deployed on websites too, to improve the interaction between brands and their customers.
There are two types of chatbot:
- Rules-based approach: you can create chatbots using specific parameters and commands, e.g. Chatbot sends information about how to find the hotel only when user message includes the keywords “where to” “how to get” “location”, etc.
- Using machine learning: bot automatically learns on the go, i.e. bots have artificial intelligence that’s constantly updating and learning from real time conversations with users. We’ll go a bit more in-depth about Artificial Intelligence below.
How do chatbots work?
A chatbot shares the same basic principles of any instant messaging platform. The computer’s (bot) ability to understand human speech or text comes from an artificial replication of human interaction through machine learning (yes, Artificial Intelligence!)
“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.” — Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks
Chatbots, and AI are a game-changing tool for brands, and particularly amongst hoteliers, OTAs, and airlines. There are some reasons behind this potential success:
- Functionality: Their ability to easily integrate and escalate customer care services across all online channels, as well as redefine user experience when interacting with brands online.
- Automation: one of the most important features of AI is its power to become smarter, relevant, and more helpful on the go.
(image source: https://blog.guestrevu.com/)
How are chatbots revolutionising the hotel industry?
According to Oracle reports, by 2020, a large percentage of brands will have incorporated AI and Virtual Reality into their marketing, sales and service so that customers can move themselves down the sales funnel by interacting with the business on their own terms.
“More than one in three brands say customers and prospects prefer to complete a purchase or resolve service issues without speaking to a human associate, if possible” Oracle
(Image source: Oracle)
Consumers have been quick to embrace social media as a customer service channel, but it also provides brands with a real-time view of what their audience cares about today.
Back in 2015, Joe Gagnon (Chief Customer Officer at Aspect) and Tobias Goebel met with the IT Director, and the COO of Radisson Blue Edwardian in London, to discuss how to combine the best of all forms of consumer interaction types, and the best of what we and the industry have been able to develop in next generation CX technology.
Soon after, they came up with “Edward”, a bot designed to let guests send SMS text messages to be served throughout their stay, and even before check-in.
(Image source: https://blogs.aspect.com)
Edwardian Hotel’s chatbot ‘Edward’ was so good at responding to requests that guests thought they were talking to a member of staff.
However, it’s not only Radisson Blu Edwardian London Hotels who have adopted AI. Other brands such as Marriott Hotels have also leveraged this machine learning solution:
Marriot Hotels: Marriott’s chatbot called MC can search for job listings and explore available hotels based on specific dates. Should the chatbot be unable to answer a member’s question, they can easily connect to a live Marriot support agent.
Why should hoteliers should have their own chatbot?
We’ve summarised some benefits of implementing chatbots to a hoteliers’ overall digital strategy:
- On-going online services: having a chatbot on-site will give your guests the opportunity to get real-time, on-demand and custom-tailored information, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just one click away. This will help to turn lookers into bookers and improve user attrition by building rapport.
- Personalised interactions: chatbots using machine learning can deliver personalised suggestions and solutions to existing customers based on their behaviour and preferences. From pre-arrival reminders, to nearby activities and landmarks, as well as transportation recommendations, etc. Tailor-made one to one conversations will eventually increase the usage of these messenger platforms to get in touch with businesses, to purchase, to complain, etc..
- An assistant through all booking stages: chatbots stay connected to your customers all the way through the path to purchase, from the pre-booking stages (lookers asking FAQs, etc.) to thinkers (offering personalised options based on their interests and on-site behaviour), and eventually, bookers (following through with reminders, booking confirmation tickets, any information prior to their stay such as check-in, check-out, etc.)
- Increase your direct bookings: in order to slowly move away from OTAs, chatbots can help hoteliers turn undecided users into potential customers and bookers by offering the option to book directly through the Facebook Messenger platform. The gradual rise of messenger platforms and the omnipresent usage of mobile devices are changing the traditional path to purchase, allowing customers to book a room or buy a product without leaving a social media or messenger platform (e.g. Facebook Shopping, Facebook Messenger Chatbots, Instagram Shopping, WhatsApp’s tailored text messages, etc.)
- Up-sell and cross-sell your outlets: chatbots can do pretty much whatever the business wants them to, if there’s a strong marketing strategy behind and a good team of developers. Simple chatbots, such as those rules-based, will offer basic interactions but it’s still a huge step forward towards the future of the digital customer care. More complex chatbots not only can guide through the booking journey but also offer recommendations on other services hoteliers might offer, such as spa, F&B outlets, etc. For example, once a guest checks-in at your hotel, they can automatically receive a message on Facebook Messenger with some leisure options during their stay, as well as useful information such as codes to access the gym (if applicable), opening times of the spa, etc. The sky is, indeed, the limit!
OTAs & Airlines are ahead of the game
Of course, it’s not only hotels who are integrating chatbots into their customer care services. OTAs like Expedia and Booking.com as well as airlines have also created their own chatbots to help facilitate the booking process and solve common queries.
Expedia has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot where users can search hotels. Customers will have to provide some details about their travel plans, and the chatbot will display the five most popular hotel options in the chosen locations.
KLM’s smart assistant, BB, is a machine learning chatbot that helps users book tickets, pack their bags or find a destination and book a flight.
Skyscanner’s chatbot helps you search flights, and redirects to the Skyscanner site to handle payment.
Hotel chatbots – key takeaways
- Hotel chatbots are available 24/7. This can help to enhance a customer’s brand loyalty.
- Chatbots help you to start conversations with your followers and potential customers.
- Less workload for your team and staff members, allowing them to focus on what they do best – providing a better guest experience.
- Increase booking conversions through brand advocacy and personalised one-to-one customer care.
Of course, chatbots can fail to meet expectations too;
- Languages are complex, and words can have several meanings. Avoiding language barriers and misunderstandings with your international customers can prove challenging.
- Personalised chatbots are not cheap. You can create simple ones using free online tools, but it’s likely that these will need to be fleshed out further by developers.