Industry POV

Chatbots - A game changer in the hospitality business

14 Sep 2017

In this day and age, the infusion of AI based Chatbots is rife in almost all industries. Especially in those that are purely consumer facing. And more so, in the hospitality business which revolves around customer service and satisfaction. Wise implementation of chatbots will only help such businesses grow at a much higher rate than ever before.

Intelligent chatbots will only help offer a personalised and pleasant service to guests at a hotel or a restaurant making their visit as comfortable as possible. While doing so, the burden of human resources to offer the same experience can be reduced drastically, if not completely alleviated. This only indicates increased profitability and higher efficiencies in acquiring and retaining customers.

Let’s sight some examples to better understand the real-life application of chatbots, be it developed especially from scratch or by white labelling existing engines of Slack, Facebook Messenger, etc.

In the west, Burger King and Taco Bell are treating their customers by greeting them via Chatbots; offering menu options; letting them choose a pickup location and pay. Not only that, but also tell them when they can head over to grab their food. And all this, by humanising the conversation, rather than making it sound like it is being delivered by a machine. 

Chatbots improve cost effectiveness and customer satisfaction. It is all the more relevant in the hospitality business. Chatbots solve for all the hurdles around productivity and labour costs, while ensuring consistently, streamlined production processes for accurate and immediate delivery of information to customers. Elementary queries can be handled by chatbots, thus freeing up hotel staff attend to time-sensitive, critical, and complicated tasks. The cherry on the top is that the guests can be spoken to in different languages, which humans perhaps cannot.

Neck-to-neck a wide range of hotel and travel companies use Chatbots effectively. To name a few are the most visited ones by far, viz. Expedia.com, Kayak, Hyatt, Booking.com, Uber, etc. Indian hospitality companies wouldn’t be far behind in offering services over a Chatbot. It’s just a matter of time.
What if customers are able to skip OTAs and book directly with the hotels? One, the customers benefit by getting the best bang for their buck and speedy reservations; second, hotels save a lot of dough which would otherwise be paid back to them. In addition to just reservation, Chatbots can offer other services like spa treatments, dinner reservations, conference facilities, airport transfers, etc. by continuing the conversation with the guests and building a personalised array of services much in advance before the guests arrive. This only takes the satisfaction level of the guests a notch higher. And yes, again, for the businesses at far reduced costs.

I recently travelled to Bengaluru on business and I was happily surprised to witness a similar service over WhatsApp. The moment I checked-in, a WhatsApp Bot started a conversation, by welcoming me to the hotel and giving details about the WiFi access, the breakfast restaurant, pool facilities, and so on and so forth. After I checked out, it also followed up with a customer satisfaction survey. I was truly in awe of the fact that back here in India; we are not lagging far behind.

While on one side the customer benefits in all possible ways as stated, the conversation histories can be dug deep into; made sense of; and fed back into the hotel’s big data to improve the hotel’s services, offerings, staffing, and many other things that go back in the cycle to just improve the overall customer experience going forward. Not all circles are vicious you see. This one is a win-win for all, a selffeeding one that keeps growing and improving at every stage.

The technology, however, is still a work-in-progress and full automation is yet to be brought in. Or should I say, it is a continuous process as we humans always yearn for more. While we agree that automation via Chatbots is the future, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that there will always have to be an element of human interaction for the most unique guest requests. A Chatbot won’t really cut it.

On a concluding note, for booking all above mentioned services, we all as customers have moved up the ladder of interaction with hotels and restaurants - from visiting a hotel/ travel agent to picking up the phone and booking to mere chatting with Chatbots. We can only wonder and be pleasantly surprised if years down the line we get on the bandwagon of yet another technology that serves us better than now.

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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