Posted on Dec 05, 2018
How do you gain a competitive edge when all hotel rooms are comfortable and beautifully designed?
Design was the key to success in the 2000s; now it has become the new normal. How do you differentiate from your competitors when all hotels are selling more or less the same rooms?
A good strategy is to move towards superior levels of customer service and personalization. A customer-centric approach used to be very difficult to sustain because it required a lot of staff that you had to recruit, train and pay for services of variable quality levels. Artificial intelligence has been massively adopted by hospitality brands as the key to this challenge.
Let’s see how big brands are currently leveraging technology to deliver great experiences to their customers and what independent hotels should think about to avoid commoditization.
How can brands scale customer service?
Chatbots have become the essential element of any scalable customer service. Chatbots are robots that are able to understand and answer customers instantly. They can perform basic tasks such as booking a room, answering FAQs, recommending places around the hotel etc. This way, they filter about 80% of all customer requests and pass the remaining 20% to a member of the staff.
Most hotel brands have their chatbot. My favorite chatbot name is Phil Welcome by AccorHotels because it’s a name and an invitation at the same time. Phil’s ambition is to become a travel companion that can interact with customers before, during and after their stay. Phil was born as part of the Accor digital plan. Chatbots are instrumental in helping the brand become the champion of mobile. 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 very early that customers are lazy and 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, and expanded little by little. According to Marriott, about ⅔ of customers interact with the bot during their stay.
- Chatbots proved so efficient that Marriott Rewards bot was created to help reward customers book rooms, manage their booking and get travel tips related to their next travel.
Marriott Rewards video: https://youtu.be/bkFHECiL83Q
Many other hotel brands are joining Marriott, such as Edwardian Hotels by Radisson that launched Edward.
Edward video: https://youtu.be/G8wPldZR78w
IHG is pushing the hotel experience to a whole new level with Indigo Hotel’s chatbots that 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?
Independent hoteliers have been hearing about chatbots and AI for a few years but most have remained skeptical about chatbots until they got a wakeup call: Expedia, Kayak, Tripadvisor and also Booking.com launched their own chatbot. The Booking Assistant was created to answer customers’ questions and requests automatically because customers expect instant customized service. Thanks to chatbots, Booking is currently delivering better digital service to its customers than most hotels are to their direct bookers. Have a look.
Booking Assistant video: https://youtu.be/MEG2VOS6t7o
Chatbots and messaging are fantastic engagement tools that have become a must-have for hotel marketing. Big brands chose to focus on loyalty, as their reward program is such an essential part of their marketing strategy. However, smaller hotel groups usually don’t have the exact same concerns and should focus on using the power of AI to help solve their own challenges such as sales, where the conversational capabilities of chatbots can be used to engage online visitors, lift their doubts and help them through the booking process.
No doubt chatbots are wonderful, 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.
This article was inspired by an earlier publication available here.
If you’d like to discuss more or have questions about chatbots and AI feel welcome to contact me at email@example.com