Chatbots are revving their engines for the hotel industry

Before artificial intelligence takes over the world, let’s talk about our future overlords humble beginnings. Because I, for one, welcome the day when no questions will be left unanswered by a legion of AI backed chatbots. “Do Unicorns exist?” “is there life before death?” and more importantly “do I look fat in these pants?”

So where are all the chatbots? As it was the case in the early 2000, the travel industry is leading the way of turning a breakthrough technology into a commodity (first websites to make real money were all travel related).  Last September, Marriott announced the launch of their own line of chatbots to simplify travel for guests during their journey. If independent hoteliers want to add chatbots on their websites to engage and acquire customers what are their options?

Well, before giving away a list of vendors, we first need to ask: what do they want to achieve?

 

Increase lookers to bookers conversion rate

Sounds like a great idea! In this mission chatbots would engage with website visitors 24/7 to deliver  answers to a wide range of questions and nudge potential bookers to contact humans or, even better, help them book directly .

At this stage, we need to differentiate between two type of bots: script or rule based, only as good as the answers we feed them and AI-backed, machine learning from rules, content, data and also from their on-going dialogues with customers.

Machine learning chatbots have a clear advantage when it comes to answer complex questions regarding room price, amenities, discounts and finalize bookings and payments by accessing the PMS. They can also pass the baton to real people when requested (no hard feelings).

This being stated, script-based bots can provide an adequate first line of contact to test visitor reaction, measure engagement and results before going into artificial intelligence (which is a more expensive proposition).

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Faster, always-on customer service

Hotel guests are no different than other human beings… They are always on their phones. Push notifications, text based message and alerts will find them better than the fabled hotel groom…  Chatbots can do a lot to facilitate the stay of a guest in any hotel: pre-check before guests hit the front desk. Simplify check outs by providing details on the final bill and linking to the PMS to settle outstanding accounts.

At this stage, machine learning bots have an advantage for explaining charges (But I never used the mini-bar…), however script-based can do a great job at ordering an extra pillow, pulling the restaurant menu from a web page and transferring a question about the specials to the Maitre d’.

Just like the hotel groom, chatbots are at the guests beck and call during their stay (and will never moan about it…).
No they are not able to carry shopping bags but hey… They can prompt departing guests to leave a review on their favorite social media and that is pure gold…

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Benefits for  hotels are obvious: chatbots can substantially reduce the volume of trivial queries managed by their staff, de-clog phone lines while multiplying up sell and cross sell opportunities at every interactions.

Where can I get one?

Chatbot solutions available on the market right now are not plenty. OTAs, such as Expedia, launched their own based on the Facebook framework, which means that it only works using Messenger. But what if customers are using SMS, Viber, Skype etc…? It is not clear if Expedia will offer their chatbot to hotels, although it would make sense to use this channel to squeeze even more commissions from their booking engine…

If your hotel is located in Japan you are in luck BeBot hotels is a japanese company offering multi-channel script-based chatbots and working on AI solution as well…

If you are in Europe: Colossal Factory, a french startup, provides multi-channel scrip-based bots that are already operational on many parisian hotels websites and  has recently launched its AI backed model. Their booth was mobbed during the recent hospitality trade show in Paris and they could really have used a chatbot to answer all the questions they received (full disclosure: NMM has been retained by Colossal Factory to find their global market->product fit).

Both these companies as well as others are convinced that chatbots could become the primary interaction channel of the future for many different industries. Microsoft agrees, its Bing search engine is now displaying link to chatbots under some selected search results for hotels and restaurants (starting in their own backyard of Bellevue, WA)…

It is no surprise that the travel industry is leading the way, finding a way to monetize this new investment will prove crucial for the future of this technology  The challenge for the bot makers is to build a more intuitive interaction, offer measurable value at every step of the customer cycle and accelerate the learning curve of the artificial ghost in the machine…

Frederick Buhr

Principal, NewMarketMind