Are they dealing with a human or a bot? As long as guests and potential guests get the service and assistance they need, hospitality pros can boost productivity and even cut costs through the effective use of chatbots.
What Are Chatbots?
Even if you think you’ve never engaged with a chatbot, chances are you have. Both Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are examples of chatbots. Facebook Messenger is home to more than 100,000 bots, says Gracie Page, creative technologist with creative agency Y&R London.
Chatbots reside in instant messaging apps and are, according to Chatbots Magazine, “a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface.” That interface can be either via text or voice.
Most interesting about chatbots is that they learn from the information they gather. As Phani Marupaka writes for TheStartup, “They are designed to spot patterns and repeat actions associated with them when triggered by keywords, phrases, or other stimuli.”
Applications in Hospitality
How can chatbots be used in the hospitality industry? In a variety of ways, as outlined in an iAfrikan article:
- For bookings and reservations.
- To collect and analyze user information.
- For upselling.
- To build top-of-mind awareness.
- For providing customer support and service.
Chatbots aren’t a thing of the future. They’re already being used by travel organizations including Expedia.com, Hyatt Hotels and others.
Chatbots can be created in-house using various tools and self-service platforms, like Facebook Messenger; or companies may choose to work with development firms to create chatbots. Costs, of course, can vary significantly based on the approach used.
Venture Beat outlines the options and general costs:
- Software development companies with a “minimum setup of $5,000 to $10,000 per bot, followed by monthly maintenance in the low thousands.”
- In-house teams where costs vary based on the education, background, and experience of job candidates, but tend to be high because of the specialized nature of the work and its relative recency.
- Self-service platforms, which come with a wide range of cost options that are still being worked out.
One good way to get a sense for the options is to check out some of the bots that are already widely in use in hospitality and other industries. The Facebook Messenger bot directory is a good place to start.
Data and Analytics
Chatbots not only offer a way to serve clients and customers efficiently and effectively, but they also collect information that can be used to get insights about your target audience. For instance, identifying the most commonly asked questions can lead to insights about opportunities for better communication. Data can also be used to identify user preferences to drive service improvements.
In addition, marketing efforts can be finely tuned to meet unique user needs based on prior experiences, retargeting customers with information on events and opportunities they are likely to be interested in.
For salespeople, the data from chatbots can be particularly powerful. A salesperson could, for instance, use the bot to predict opportunities for future potential successful sales based on past sales data, using the predictive analytics capabilities that chatbots bring. That certainly holds value for hotels whether selling event space or rooms—whether serving an event planner or consumer.
What the future will hold in this area is anybody’s guess. For now, though, if you haven’t already begun experimenting with chatbot functionality for your hotel, 2018 may be the time.