Strategy in the hospitality industry may have different goals – to improve retention, to get repeat business, to expand services – but the way to go about it remains the same – improving guest experience. Guest experience dictates everything from satisfaction to promoter scores, retention and loyalty to cross-selling and up-selling services. While there are many means to meeting these ends, one, in particular, has been to provide seamless services through Intelligent automation. Automation in the hospitality industry comes in many forms, often behind the curtains in the form of system integrations and process automation. Among customer touchpoints, proponents of automation have taken it right to the customer’s fingertips with virtual assistants on digital channels to help with bookings and kiosks to expedite feedback collection at the property.
During the guest stay, however, the industry for the most part depends on human interaction to provide the customer delight element. While this has worked well over the years, with the onset of the Covid pandemic era, these same human interactions have become challenges – both for guests and the hotels in question. The first wave of the pandemic saw the shuttering of many properties as part of government initiatives to minimize the risk of Covid spread. While the realities of the situation are not lost on anyone, it did pose a challenge for the hospitality industry as a whole, which has huge overheads, and often not enough liquidity to afford to shutter properties for months on end.
While sanitization and spacing measures have brought a bit of parity to the equation, the challenges that come with face-to-face interactions do continue. Looking beyond the Covid aspect of things, many business guests prefer to minimize the waiting period they have to endure at the front desk, and the tedious procedure of raising complaints when something is not right in their rooms. Conversational automation tailored for the ‘In-room’ stay of guests can help solve these issues and help improve guest experiences across the board.
Most leading hospitality companies have mobile apps, loyalty programs, and virtual assistants in some shape or form. Many of these mobile apps have quick links to FAQs, can provide directions to the property, and help with check-in. Adding conversational automation to the mix can ease the guest experience on these apps. When a guest is at the hotel the Virtual Assistants can answer any questions that come in: What time is breakfast? What time does the pool open? Can I have a late checkout? Virtual Assistant answering these queries can provide guests with an instant and reliable medium where they can fire off these questions and get the details they need at the moment – alleviating the strain of searching through a mobile app or website for answers, or the load on call centres where any guest calls would land, or even the in-house staff who can instead focus on providing greater service experience at other touchpoints.
The scope of guest experience that can be delivered by these conversational assistants – either as chatbots, mobile applications, or voice assistants on Alexa or Google devices in the rooms – is quite varied. Listed below are some ways that conversational assistants can help during the stay of the guest at the property:
- Guest Stay Management: Just imagine being a guest arriving at the hotel lobby post a long flight, and being able to check-in on your phone without the hassle of stopping at the front desk. Similarly, a chatbot can speed up any updates related to a guest stay, such as notification that the room is available, or reminders about the property’s check-out policy.
- Cross and Up-selling: Piggybacking conversational assistants with machine learning algorithms and integration with guest loyalty profiles can allow them to cross and up-sell services to the guests. Through the analysis of previous interactions with a guest, a chatbot could send relevant offers at the right time, such as special offers at the restaurant or spa.
- Ordering and Tracking: Chatbots can also be used to order room service meals – all the way from providing the food menu, to enabling guests to click and order with integrations to the hotel’s systems and payment gateways to accept payment. The chatbot can also update the guest on how long the meal order will take and proffer custom recommendations.
- Special Requests: Chatbots can be trained on the amenities provided by the property so they can receive and pass on special requests from guests to the relevant staff – from extra pillow requests to anniversary special arrangements in the room. Chatbots can even be used to set wake up calls or notify guests of any spa, golf, or dinner reservations they may have made.
- Complaints and Ticketing: Guests often have complaints about their rooms or some aspect of their stay. Chatbots can be integrated within the back-end systems so that maintenance is receiving those complaints about leaky showers, or lack of toiletries.
Responding to guest requirements in real-time, while the guest is still on the premises to benefit, boosts satisfaction and creates great experiences. Conversational automation, either through voice assistants or chatbots can provide hospitality companies with the perfect vessel to ensure these improvements in guest experiences.
IGT Solutions has a robust Intelligent Automation Practice with over 4 years of delivering excellence in process and conversational automation, with a special focus on enhancing customer experience. The practice has deployed solutions around bookings and cancellations in the hospitality space, alongside FAQ chatbots. The team has also partnered with hospitality clients to build voice bot solutions for guests calling in to the contact centre. Through the delivery of conversational automation, IGT has helped clients achieve 35% channel deflection, 15% IVR containment, 20% increase in CSAT and 25% improvement in Net promoter scores.
Nandhagopal Muralithar is a Senior Business Consultant at IGT Solutions’ Intelligent Automation and Analytics Practice. With specialized experience of 7 years in Digital Transformation Consulting across Travel, Hospitality and Retail domains, Nandh has worked extensively on the front edge of process and conversational automation technologies, designing and delivering innovative back and front office automation solutions.