The battle against OTAs is long lost. How can the hospitality industry use a new generation of tools such as chatbots for hotels to promote direct bookings?
Head-on competition with OTAs is no longer an option. However, hotels can score points in a different area: personalization, which is one of the major assets for hoteliers. Booking.com is an excellent self-service solution. Booking a room is simple when you know what you want. Some customers do, but others seek guidance. Rather than trying to imitate Booking.com at all costs, hoteliers would benefit from focussing on providing personalized service/advice to customers who need and value it.
How do chatbots for hotels come into play? Can hoteliers really use them to their advantage?
Hoteliers are quickly adopting chatbots
Despite the delay in the use of chatbots in the hotel industry, most hoteliers are in favor of their implementation. Probably because messaging has become their customers’ main communication channel. Also, the benefits are obvious: 24/7 accessibility, instant answers, reduction in staff costs, ability to intercept negative customer comments while they are still in-house, increased sales, overcoming language barriers, etc. These benefits are present even if all communications with the bot aren’t successful.
“Customers do not want to wait unnecessarily for a basic answer (parking, opening hours etc.). In addition, this would also help overcome the shortage of staff,” replied hoteliers to a request made in the context of this article: “It is not only a question of the quality of the robots, but also a question of customer acceptance. Chatbot acceptance in budget and midscale hotels is quite high. Luxury segments are less mature for this kind of technology even if this situation is changing quite fast.” (See article: How to choose between chat and chatbot for luxury hotels)
The benefits of robots have been widely confirmed, with more direct bookings and better customer feedback by intercepting complaints at the hotel. However, some hoteliers point out that the “empathy” of robots is still rudimentary.
Bots help hoteliers improve revenue & customer service
And what do the providers say? My research has shown that the quality of answers a bot can give can be very close to a human response. However, some subtleties of the language can be a source of difficulty for robots. Notions like check-in and early check-in might not be very well distinguished by a robot. The role of service providers is to optimize the responses of their bots to offer the best possible customer experience with the technology available today.
The best results are obtained when customers express very clear requests and ask simple and direct questions. The chances of success would be greater for “I need a toothbrush” than for “I have just arrived from Hamburg and am very tired. I just noticed that I forgot my toothbrush. Could you bring me one?”
According to Benjamin Devisme (VP Sales, Quicktext), “The conversation must be fast, intuitive and efficient. At Quicktext we tell the customer straight away that he is speaking to a bot that is able to answer one question at a time. When customers know precisely what to expect, conversations instantly become much more successful.”
Quicktext chatbot welcome message
Chatbots are not meant to replace humans but to work with them. Thus, they are able to capture the elements necessary to carry out a request such as booking a taxi, but it is always the receptionist or concierge who makes the reservation. It is, therefore, a question of synchronizing the bot and the human in order to make the customer experience as smooth as possible. A chatbot is a complement to the hotel team.
When choosing a hotel bot, make sure it has been developed by experts who understand the complexity of the hotel business. This way you will be sure to choose a chatbot that meets a real operational need and can create value within your hotel.
Chatbots for hotels are a means, not an end
Chatbots offer many advantages to hoteliers. However, like any technology, it the use you give them that makes them valuable. It is important to keep expectations realistic. Chatbots are far from being able to replace humans and that’s not the point anyway. Chatbots are great at delivering answers to frequently asked questions and performing repetitive tasks instantly. Humans are great at handling complex cases. By taking care of basic interactions, chatbots free time for staff to give more attention to conversations where the human touch actually makes a difference.
Misused, a chatbot can be counterproductive. On the other hand, when the right processes are in place, bots are a powerful lever for profitability and customer experience in your hotel.
Beyond the AI component, another key selling point of chatbots is the database that feeds them. There is no doubt that AI will have an ever-increasing impact on e-commerce. In the United States, 50% of online searches are voice searches. When a customer asks Google Home or Alexa for information about your hotel, will you have the data available and will you be able to answer automatically?
At the end of the day, chatbots are a new technology with great potential for hotel businesses. The fears that some people still have about chatbots are not related to the technology per se but to the wrong use of it. Having a chatbot is just a means to create value. Chatbots are not meant to eliminate personal contacts, but on the contrary, to offer personalized contact to each customer and escalate complex highly valuable requests to humans.
If you’d like to know more about chatbots for hotels, please visit Quicktext’s website or feel welcome to connect with Benjamin Devisme – Co-Founder & Evangelist of Quicktext, an AI solution helping hotels increase sales while improving guest experience through Zalia, a 24/7 AI-powered chatbot.
This article is a free adaptation from a post by Grischa Puls: