By Raj Singh, CEO, Go Moment
Leisure travelers love to wait in lines, on-hold on phone calls, and spend a bunch of time on their device of choice researching and booking reservations, excursions, airport transfers, right? No, of course not! And yet, think about many of today’s initial arrival and subsequent hotel guest experiences: Guests who have to wait in line to check in. Who arrive in their room and perhaps find some amenities missing or extras desired. Who have to navigate an imperceptibly-small, under-detailed rendition of the property’s map to determine how to get where they want to go. And who, before they even begin to enjoy their vacation time, feel the urgency to book their dinner reservations just so that they have the peace of mind of during their stay.
We, as an industry, can do better with an innovative solution: let artificial intelligence sweat the small stuff that hoteliers used to have to staff-up to manage. Use that AI in the powerful combination with your existing skilled human workforce to take your guest relations to the next level. Here’s an overview how.
Don’t let the term “AI” scare you
The AI applied in hospitality today doesn’t refer to some futuristic cyborg or even playful-looking robots bringing towels to a guest’s door. AI is merely a computer program that can learn for itself over time, instead of requiring the programmer to write code for every possible outcome. It’s a learn-and-response feedback loop that allows the program to improve and refine its responses over time. Think about a recommendation engine on Netflix or Amazon – as you rate your movie preferences or buy certain items, these sites make more and (and hopefully) better customized recommendations to you. Think about voice assistants like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Home. They are constantly learning and growing, both in terms of the devices’ collective intelligence and then in its customized output for the individual user. The more collected inputs these AI algorithms gather, the better and faster they can deliver refined outputs. When AI is deployed to serve human customers, the goal is to provide a better, faster, more customized and consistent experience. A satisfied customer means a loyal consumer, which increases product or service consumption and generates revenue now and in the future.
Now put this in the context of guest services. Many common guest requests get repeated over and over: check-in/check-out/stay extensions, room changes, wake-up alarms, housekeeping and room maintenance services, restaurant reservations or in-room dining orders, even special occasion recognition. Imagine being able to automate the back-and-forth flow of communications of these requests and to integrate them with both your human interactions and back-end technologies, and deploying the fastest, best solution in potentially seconds rather than minutes, depending upon what the situation requires. Think that time savings alone would make for happier guests? Absolutely!
AI improves the guest experience
Some of this automation has been happening for a while. Guests already can, for example, check out using a dedicated in-room television guest services channel or mobile app. Some hotels have loyalty programs that track guest preferences and strive to ensure these preferences are pre-accommodated for the guest’s stay. But these hard-coded, static solutions aren’t intelligent; they aren’t dynamically learning and improving. Most importantly, almost no guests actually use any of these solutions! One senior leader from a 500+ room hotel reported that only about 14 guests per month checked out using a TV or an app.
Today’s AI – like smartconcierges — can actually up the ante for guest services because they are proactive, dynamic, and can learn to predict and detect differences in circumstances, to react differently, and to deliver different outcomes as the situation calls for. AI can communicate with hundreds of guests at the same time, in real-time, on the guest's terms. AI can be programmed to upsell and up-service, and it can do so, even while handling voluminous and concurrent guest requests without skipping a beat. Plus, AI provides measurable, useful analytic data that its human counterparts could never give.
When it comes to AI, though, the travel and hospitality industry hasn’t kept pace with the rest of the big industry sectors. According to 2017 research by the McKinsey Global Institute, 40% of all businesses are just waiting on the sidelines, contemplating AI, and of all the industries, Travel and Tourism ranks in the bottom three for low AI adoption. In 2011, analyst firm Gartner predicted that, “By 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.” Think about all of the highly intuitive interactions that now get initiated and/or completed by mobile apps, voice commands, recommendation engines, logins that pre-populate profile data, IP addresses and GPS data points that help identify a guest’s location, and you can begin to see that Gartner may not be that far off in its predictions. This world of ambient computing or ambient intelligence, as it’s now being described, will continue to transform the hospitality industry and the world as we know it.
People have come to expect customer experiences that, at the bare minimum, mimic those that they have in their everyday lives. But when it comes to travel, today’s guests expect even more. They expect unparalleled and connected experiences, and hotels must deliver. Future-proofing guest service requires that hotels must provide consistent, personalized, real-time, and omnichannel experiences. Today’s AI solutions can help them achieve that.