Get with the Chatbot programme

Hoteliers are embracing AI-driven chatbots to boost bookings, reduce staff workload and improve their overall guest experience. In today’s world, it is key to engage with corporate customers on the platforms they are using. So don’t get left behind.

Text: Lois Hoyal // FOTOS: iStock

What once sounded like a futuristic notion is happening right now: chatbots are steadily replacing conventional human live chat agents. By engaging with guests and solving problems, for example at check-in, chatbots are completely redefining the guest experience and engaging with them in entirely new ways.

So what exactly is a chatbot? Basically it’s artificial intelligence (AI) software with pre-programmed interactions, which communicates with a user in natural language through messaging applications, websites, and mobile apps or on the telephone. It’s essentially a virtual personal assistant, which allows hotels to deliver automated customer support, marketing and service.

Sounds a bit cold talking to a robot? Actually, many business travellers often prefer having their query quickly and seamlessly resolved by a chatbot online rather than having to pick up the phone and engage with a human being. Leading IT research company Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer service interactions will be handled by chatbots without a human.

Modern hotels provide messaging services to their guests, allowing them to text them directly via their own apps or via third party messaging channels, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Installing a chatbot on your hotel website or mobile app brings your brand up to date, attracts millennial travellers and provides custom-tailored information in just one click.  

Chatbots benefit hoteliers

So how exactly can hotels benefit by introducing a chatbot? Chatbots are powered by machine learning algorithms that can optimize personalized messages for your guests. Ironically, an AI-driven chatbot is often more adept than a human at providing tailor-made personalized recommendations to guests, directly, instantly and in an non-invasive way.

As a chatbot can answer questions 24/7, it can reduce reception workload. And the ease of booking using a chatbot improves guest satisfaction. Moreover, you can forget the language barrier when foreign guests stay: a chatbot can understand and communicate in any language.

Edward is a hit in London

Edwardian Hotels London has created a virtual host called Edward at 12 properties across London, which responds to queries instantly. According to Michael Mrini, director of information technology Edwardian Hotels London, the company decided to launch Edward in 2016 following the success of the hotels’ online check-in service, which was delivered by automated text message. “We noticed that increasingly our guests who performed the online check-in service also used the delivery SMS number to communicate with us, asking questions such as ‘Is breakfast included in my booking?’ or ‘May I have extra towels in my room?’ That indicated to us that this is a method of communication many of our guests favoured and prompted us to develop Edward in order to provide those answers within seconds.”

In 2018, the group extended Edward’s offering to its meetings and events area, allowing events to run even more seamlessly: meeting organisers or delegates simply text Edward when they have an additional requirement.

So far, Edward has been an overwhelming success. “As a luxury hospitality brand, offering a seamless experience that our guests expect is a business priority. Feedback has been positive and employees are freed up to support guests further,” Mrini continued.

The figures speak for themselves: in 2017, Edward handled 49% of requests, increasing to 58.3% in 2018 and 69% of requests in 2019.

In fact, since introducing Edward, the hotel group has seen a direct correlation between guest satisfaction levels and the use of Edward. “He has increased speed and efficiency within the hotel as he has access to all the systems and is able to know which staff members are on duty at any given time, thus allowing him to directly traffic requests and send them to the appropriate staff member on duty,” Mrini said.

Thanks to his advanced algorithms, “attentive and forward thinking” Edward can predict a guest’s needs before they have even thought of it themselves. “When he was first launched, he could answer 60 questions,” said Mrini. “Now he can answer questions on 1600 topics; he is constantly learning from the questions he is asked.”

In fact, some guests have been so pleased by Edward that they have left handwritten letters at reception thanking Edward for his hospitality during their stay!

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