How AI Can Facilitate Better Interactions Between Hotel Guests and Employees
By John Smallwood, President of Travel Outlook
Whether management likes to admit it or not, hotels are riddled with inefficiencies. Hotel staff and guests’ interactions are vital in the hospitality industry. Premium service must be hands-on, friendly, and executed with a personal touch.
But at times, these interactions can slow down or hinder guests during their stay. Front desk staff may be doing their best to focus on the guests in front of them, but when the phone rings, they must show the caller the same level of service and respect that they show current guests, which ultimately takes attention away from whoever is in front of them. While hotel staff should always strive to give guests their full attention, sometimes technology is better suited to handle guests’ needs.
In 2022, we have the technology to help hotels serve their guests. Hotels can now find the balance between offering service with a personal touch and operating with machine-like efficiency.
Tech without a personal touch during the pandemic
The pandemic shook the hospitality industry to its core. It changed every aspect of operations for hotels and turned customer service on its head.
2020 altered the hotel experience by introducing Plexiglas dividers, contactless check-in, and tech-driven interaction. In a lot of ways, the pandemic increased hotel efficiency exponentially. It did away with long lines at the front desks, delays at the valet, awkward housekeeping encounters, and so much more.
2020 also saw a large drop-off in customer service thanks to the increased safety measure. For the bulk of 2020 and a good chunk of 2021, hotel guests were left navigating hotels that were mere shells of their former selves.
An overwhelmed front desk cannot deliver quality service
Travel is back in a big way. According to Axios, travelers are flying again in large numbers. “The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.24 million airline passengers on Friday, marking the highest number of air travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
While we are all glad to welcome travelers back to our businesses, at these volumes, it’s easy for staff to be overwhelmed. When the Front Desk staff is overly occupied with the demands of current guests, the reservation lines may be ignored. When the reservation lines are ringing non-stop, current guests won’t receive the quality of service they deserve from the front desk.
Traditionally, hotels turn to an off-site central reservations office (CRO) service to man their reservation lines and free up hotel staff to focus on current guests. Today, given the recent surge in travel, which may not be enough. Hotel reservations are increasingly sought after, and if you can’t keep up with the soaring levels of demand, you’re simply losing revenue and traveler who will most likely book your competition.
An artificial intelligence solution
Technology has long been viewed as the antithesis of sincere customer service. The line of thinking that technology creates a barrier between the customer and a service provider has been widely held across multiple industries. However, multiple consumer industries have been successful at implanting automated services that enhance, rather than hinder, the customer experience. From self-checkout kiosks to call routing, technology has helped customers have a more efficient buying experience.
As a service-driven industry, hospitality has been reluctant to adopt certain technologies out of fear that they may take away from the customer experience. 2020 and 2021 showed us that technology has a place in the hospitality industry and that with the right technology a hotel can improve a guest’s experience by doing away with inefficiencies during their stay.
Finding the balance between service and tech
The hospitality industry has experimented with tech before, with mixed results. Hotels use chatbots and voice bots to handle website inquiries, dinner reservations, and more. Chatbots, however, are limited to programed responses and often lead to frustrated guests.
Voice bots help businesses funnel enormous amounts of call volume to the appropriate departments without utilizing manpower. Like chatbots, voice bots have been limited in their performance capabilities and often frustrate users. While traditional voice bots are effective tools for handling call volume surges, most customers dread voice bot interactions, in part, due to the limited amount of information they can provide.
AI Can Enhance the Guest Experience
Artificial intelligence seems to be the missing piece that could help the hospitality industry adapt its chosen tech systems to a service-oriented business model.
As Kelly McGuire, Managing Principal, Hospitality at ZS, said in a recent article she co-authored with others for Hospitality Upgrade, “Look for areas of friction that impact guests, employees or both. Find repetitive tasks that take away guest-facing time. Look for manual, “hands on keyboard” work. Then think about how you would ideally like these processes to work. What should the guest and employee interaction look like? Once you figure this out, you can see where automation opportunities fit smoothly into the journey.”
The Next Generation of Hospitality-Specific Technology
That’s where Annette™, the hospitality industry’s first virtual agent, come into play. Annette is an AI-powered virtual agent that can answer over 100 FAQs, speak several languages, and be programmed with your hotel’s very own voice talent.
When guests call and Annette answers, they don’t hear a robotic voice bot, they hear a friendly conversational tone that can direct calls, answer questions, and even send follow-up texts.
According to Doug Kennedy, President of Kennedy Training Network, “Annette offers hotels the best of both worlds, advanced tech to increase efficiency without sacrificing a personal touch. Annette allows front desk staff to the more robust, human-centric needs, while she handles the reservation lines.”
Powered by the latest Artificial Intelligence technology, Annette has the potential to revolutionize the way hotels operate and carry the industry into the future. Learn more about the next generation of voice bots designed specifically for the Hospitality industry. And find out how an AI-powered virtual hotel call center agent can improve your hotel’s voice channel while saving on fixed labor costs.