Does The Bot Stop Here? Why Hospitality Needs to Rethink Their Customer Service Strategies

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Does The Bot Stop Here? Why Hospitality Needs to Rethink Their Customer Service Strategies

By Ford Blakely, CEO, Zingle - 05/02/2019

Artificial intelligence has rapidly infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives. One area where AI has become particularly prevalent is customer service, where organizations have turned to technologies like chatbots to help automate the service experience. This holds true in the travel and hospitality industry, where service-based chatbots are expected to increase 241% during the next 18 months.

With this rise of machines as a backdrop, we wanted to see just how consumers feel about their interactions with bots vs. humans, what this means for the future of customer service, and of course, the implications for those in hospitality. To do so, we commissioned Zingle’s Customer Service in the Age of Artificial Intelligence study to more than 1,400 US-based respondents.

Here are some key takeaways for hotels and their teams:

More Chatbots, More Problems -- Especially in Travel & Hospitality

When we asked our survey respondents when the last time they interacted with a chatbot/digital assistant for a customer service need was, 66% reported having interacted with one in the last month. That’s compared to 59% that said they have called a customer service line within the last month. Perhaps not surprisingly, when looking at day-to-day use, nearly 19% of millennials and Gen Z reported having used a chatbot within the last day.

With digital natives already showing an aversion for phone conversations and preference for text, it also wasn’t a major surprise that nearly 50% of 18- to 29-years-old said the last time they called a customer service line was more than six months ago.

However, even though more and more people are turning to bots for customer service, this doesn’t mean the outcomes are better. In fact, 57% of consumers said they find human customer service agents to be more effective in solving problems or handling their needs. And when it comes to the travel industry, the disappointment is even more clear. Travel ranked fourth behind Utilities, Retail, and Finance, in the industries where chatbots are the most helpful.

So while bots promised to end the frustration of getting stuck in a call center’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, consumers now face the annoyance of a circuitous conversation with rules-based bots that aren’t quite equipped to handle the nuances of human interactions. And as we all know, frustration is a guest experience killer.

Patience is No Longer a Virtue

Today’s customers don’t just expect faster service, they demand it. Our expectations on how we’re serviced are evolving at the same dizzying rate as the technology that underpins them are. Companies like Amazon continue to reset the bar for what the customer experience looks like, and we expect the companies we do business with to follow suit.

This provides a particular challenge for hospitality, which is an industry and business model built around white glove human service, where the priority is on the quality of the experience, not necessarily the speed in which it is delivered.

However, time and again, research shows that speed has become paramount for consumers. Our study reinforces this. While 36% of the general population reported they’d prefer a human over a bot for their customer service needs, the majority of respondents (46%) reported that they’d “pick a chatbot if it meant I could solve my issue faster.”

So despite the fact that bots are currently falling short in the eyes of consumers, their potential to save them time remains a very compelling allure. Given the fact that we waste 43 days of our lives waiting on hold, this isn’t surprising.

When packages are delivered to our doorstep on the same day we order them, and products are recommended to us before we even know we need them, a guest experience that doesn’t prioritize speed is simply not going to cut it.

So What’s the Solution? A Marriage Between Bots & Humans

The fact that the travel industry is actively looking to invest in technology to service its customers better is positive news. Organizations are absolutely right to think that technologies like AI can help them enhance the speed and convenience of their service and overall guest engagement. Where they are wrong, however, is in how they are applying this technology.

The assumption that unleashing an army of bots will allow them to automate service in a way that lessens the strain on their teams and saves them money in return is false. In reality, by doing so, organizations will lose the human element that forms the foundation of the hospitality industry. This will only alienate customers and ultimately negatively impact their bottom line.

You see, as our study points out, consumers today want superhuman customer service. A combination of AI to quickly handle simpler requests and needs, and then route more complex issues to humans who can apply a more personalized and empathetic approach to solving problems and delighting customers.