By Raj Singh, CEO, Go Moment
“Great customer service is […] a systematic reinvention of established technology, data, and operations — leveraging automation, data, and agents together to exploit each of their unique strengths.” These were the words of Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst for Application Development & Delivery Professionals, Kate Leggett, in the beginning of 2018. In her analysis, Leggett overviewed three broad customer service trends that also well-apply to the hotel industry: 1) Customers demand fast service anywhere, anytime; 2) Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) quells headcount increases; 3) Customer service operations must look to become more human. For hoteliers, realizing this thinking by implementing real-world solutions benefits the organization in several ways: operational efficiencies, revenue optimization, employee engagement, and increased guest satisfaction.
To meet these guest service objectives, hoteliers have experimented with solutions like self-service check-in, mobile key room entry, and customized guest communications. With Skift estimating that there would be 3.6 billion global users of messaging by the end of 2018, many hotel groups like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Virgin and Starwood now offer messaging services delivered through an array of platforms, from Facebook Messenger to WhatsApp to their own native apps. These apps may provide functionality like booking and room selection, pre- and in-stay guest communications, upgrade and special request submissions, and loyalty program and guest folio account review. But these apps often lack the kind of intelligence, automation, and data to more completely fulfill the promise Forrester’s Leggett described.
Intelligence is the key. Emerj, an AI market research firm, forecasts the top consumer application of AI over the next four years in the travel and tourism industry will be virtual assistants and chatbots. Analyst firm Gartner speaks of automated “intelligent agents that are going to be working on our behalf” in its Top Technology Trends for 2019. They, too, are talking about AI. The most robust of these hotel AI solutions, smartconcierges, go beyond mere messaging apps. Of the 19 relevant total digital initiatives for the hotel industry detailed by global consulting firm Roland Burger, the smartconcierge can fulfill half in its one tool.
Smartconcierges not only provide conversational, intelligent, customized and instant responses to guests, thereby improving the guest experience, they also provide more overarching organizational benefits:
- Better insights that can be turned into better operational efficiencies. Smartconcierges are powered in part by machine learning – each prior interaction informs and improves future responses – and these interactions generate valuable analytics. Operationally, hotels can seek to improve efficiencies by analyzing which kind and how frequently guest concerns are resolved by the smartconcierge alone versus in tandem with the hotel staff or by hotel staff alone. Through smartconcierge analytics, the hotel can also see and address where break-downs in service or guest communications repeatedly occur. Wherever possible, the smartconcierge can be programmed to handle more of the guest communications and problem resolution, freeing-up human staff to handle more complex matters.
- Driving employee engagement. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s Business and Human Capital Challenges Today and in the Future 2016 report, nearly two out of five (38%) HR professionals said maintaining high levels of employee engagement was currently their organization’s greatest human capital challenge, and one out of five (20%) said it would remain the greatest challenge for the next 10 years. Answering the same basic guest questions day-in and day-out isn’t all that stimulating for employees. By implementing a smartconcierge and reducing up to 20 or 30% of the need for mundane communications, hotels also help their staff. Hotels using a smartconcierge see an uptick in employee engagement by as much as eight percent per year the smartconcierge is used, according to a study conducted by Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
- Pushing new revenue opportunities. Whereas the human staff member cannot be ever-present by the guest’s side, the smartconcierge is, and it can communicate timely and relevant up-service offers like restaurant and spa deals.
- Ensuring guest satisfaction and loyalty. Guests that have better experiences come away feeling more satisfied and more likely to recommend the hotel to friends and family. Through the smartconcierge, these same guests can be encouraged to post positive reviews on social media and to join loyalty and reward programs.
What was a nascent tool not that long ago, the smartconcierge continues to go mainstream. Smart hoteliers look to smartconcierges as a sensible and accessible AI solution, one that takes them ever further into the modern digital age. Smartconcierges not only provide better guest experiences, but they’re proving to be valuable to the whole organization. Here’s my bold sweeping prediction about smartconcierge hotel adoption: over 25,000,000 hotel guest interactions will be handled by smartconcierges in 2019 alone.