In the realm of hospitality and AI, how do hoteliers gain a competitive edge?
Design was the key to success in the 2000s. Now it has become the new normal. So how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? Especially when all hotel rooms are comfortable and beautifully designed?
A good strategy is to provide much better customer service and personalization. A customer-centric approach used to be very difficult to sustain. It requires you to recruit a lot of staff, train them, and pay for services of variable quality levels. Hospitality brands have adopted artificial intelligence as the key to this challenge.
Let’s see how big brands leverage technology. Also, what independent hotels should think about to avoid commoditization.
How can brands scale customer service?
It is now becoming common for AI and hospitality to work together. Chatbots have become an essential element of any scalable customer service. Chatbots are robots that are able to understand and answer customer queries instantly. They can perform basic tasks such as booking a room, answering FAQs, recommending places around the hotel and so on. This way, they filter about 80% of all customer requests and pass the remaining 20% to a staff member.
Most hotel brands have a chatbot. My favorite chatbot name is Phil Welcome by AccorHotels. I like it because it is a name as well an invitation at the same time. Phil’s ambition is to become a travel companion. One that can interact with customers before, during and after their stay. He was born as part of the Accor digital plan. Chatbots have been instrumental in helping the brand become the champion of mobile-based interaction. While Phil is still in its early days, brands such as Marriott Hotels have been developing their bots since as early as 2014.
Marriott understood early on that customers are lazy. The easier you make travel for them, the more likely they are to be hooked and become loyal customers.
- ChatBotlr was first deployed in their Aloft properties. It started as a simple SMS bot that allowed customers to request extra towels and other basic services. Then, they gradually expanded services. According to Marriott, about two-thirds of customers interact with the bot during their stay.
- Chatbots proved so efficient that the Marriott Rewards bot was created. This bot helps reward customers book rooms, manage their booking and get travel tips for their next travel.
Marriott Rewards video: https://youtu.be/bkFHECiL83Q
Many other hotel brands are following the Marriott lead, such as Edwardian Hotels by Radisson, which launched Edward.
Edward video: https://youtu.be/G8wPldZR78w
IHG is pushing the hotel experience to a whole new level with Indigo Hotel’s chatbots. These chatbots behave like virtual local hosts that guide the customer to discover exotic places.
Indigo video: https://vimeo.com/243604025
What can independent hotels do to offer competitive customer service?
When it comes to hospitality and AI, independent hoteliers have stayed on the sidelines of adopting chatbots and AI. And this has been happening for many years now. Most have remained skeptical until they got a wakeup call. This came through Expedia, Kayak, Tripadvisor and also Booking.com launching their own chatbots. The Booking Assistant was created with a specific purpose. To automatically answer customers’ questions and requests because customers expect instant and customized service. Thanks to hotel chatbots, Booking is currently delivering great digital service to its customers. Better also, than what most hotels are providing to their direct bookers.
Booking Assistant video: https://youtu.be/MEG2VOS6t7o
Chatbots and messaging are fantastic engagement tools. They have become a must-have for hotel marketing. Big brands have chosen to focus on loyalty. This is because their reward program is such an essential part of their marketing strategy. However, smaller hotel groups usually don’t have these concerns. They should focus on using the power of AI to help solve their own challenges. Like sales, where the conversational capabilities of chatbots can be used in various ways. This could include engaging online visitors, dispelling their doubts and helping them through the booking process.
No doubt chatbots are a boon, but you can’t expect them to solve all your problems for you. They are like electric bikes. They help you go far with very little effort. But at some point, you’ll have to pedal. Sometimes they don’t have the answer and it is fine. That’s when the staff kicks in.
Overall, the introduction of messaging, chatbots and AI reminds me of what happened with websites 20 years ago.
Check our video to find out more about hospitality and AI.
This article was inspired by an earlier publication available here.