Hotels: Pay Attention to Expedia’s New AI Bot

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Hotels: Pay Attention to Expedia’s New AI Bot

By Ford Blakely, CEO, Zingle - 02/27/2019

Artificial intelligence has seemingly disrupted every area of our lives -- from digital assistants at home, to the bots we interact with when shopping online -- AI has become a major part of many of our daily experiences. The hospitality industry has followed suit, leveraging AI to come up with new ways to streamline the end-to-end travel experience and delight guests along the way.

One recent example of this is Expedia’s recent announcement that they will be launching an AI-powered bot designed to help their lodging partners accelerate growth and increase revenue.

The bot, named “Cyril bot” after the president of Expedia Lodging Partner Services, was designed to guide Expedia’s partners on which tools to use in certain situations. For example, by analyzing historical demand data, Cyril can tell a lodging partner how many rooms should be available for any given day. Cyril also has the ability to operate in different languages and can be personalized to meet the needs of each partner.

Companies like Expedia and Google continue to innovate with AI, sending an important signal that artificial intelligence has a permanent home in the hospitality space. And while Cyril was designed to communicate with B2B partners, there are many ways that AI can be leveraged to communicate with guests and use those conversations to enhance the guest experience, and create operational efficiencies.

Scaling Personalized Conversations with AI

Any solid relationship relies on good communication. The same holds true for the relationships between your hotel and your guests. The level of communication you provide can be the difference between a memorable or a forgettable stay.

Today’s consumer expects nothing short of speedy and highly personalized communications when interacting with the brands they do business with. That’s why technologies like text messaging have won favor in the hospitality industry for their ability to meet this need for speed in a way that fits into the natural preferences of consumers.

However, while text can immediately open up lines of communication between you and your guest, it’s important to understand how AI can supercharge these conversations. More than 120 million texts have been sent between guests and their hotels on the Zingle platform in the last 9 years, which is indicative of the massive amount of conversations that hotel teams need to be equipped to handle. AI and machine-learning allow teams to communicate at scale by triggering  automations, structuring complex data sets to analyze and apply in real-time to personalize conversations, and ultimately, get guests what they need faster.

But while AI can help you communicate with your guests in ways never before  possible, it still comes up short when it comes to the human attributes that are needed to truly personalize conversations and provide the type of white-glove service the hospitality space is known for.

Research from Accenture suggests that 80 percent of support chats or calls can be resolved by bots that have “good design.” The problem is that hotels aren’t just trying to resolve issues -- they are trying to delight guests and provide unforgettable experiences. Chatbots that rely on decision tree logic might be great at handling simple conversations and requests that rely on decision tree logic, but when you only have a small window of time to wow your guests, a  human element layered on top of AI becomes critical to navigating the complexities and nuances that only humans can.

A Better Workflow and Happier Employees

Because your staff is busy with various activities and helping guests around the hotel, they’re not always going to be near a computer or a phone. It’s great when your team is tending to guests’ needs, but it can pose a problem when it comes to communicating as a cohesive team. This is another area where AI can be leveraged.

By integrating your AI-powered guest messaging software with a hotel PMS or service, your hotel can optimize operational workflows. With this type of integration, a hotel can trigger service tickets based on any given request. For example, if a guest texts a request, such as “the toilet is running,” the AI system would recognize the guest is reporting a maintenance issue , assign the request to the right person or team,  and trigger a suggested automation to create a service ticket to fix the issue - and automatically text the guest to acknowledge help is on the way. This type of automation greatly improves staff efficiency. Instead of manually writing and submitting the request through another system, in one click the assigned staffer   approves the suggestion and creates the service ticket, saving time and addressing the needs of the guest quicker.

Streamlining operations will not only result in happier guests but also happier employees. Incorporating AI systems throughout your operations means that staff is free to do more meaningful tasks while the AI focuses on the mundane ones. When employees feel as though their tasks have a purpose behind them, they are generally happier and more satisfied with their work. Happy employees say a lot about an institution, and guests will notice.

Driving Additional Revenue

While a hotel’s number one mission is to provide experiences that keep their guests happy and returning, this can’t be accomplished if they aren’t driving enough revenue to allow them to continually enhance the experiences they provide. When it comes to driving additional revenue, making sure rooms are filled and finding ways to upsell are incredibly important, and these just so happen to be two areas AI is adept at.

When it comes to occupancy, AI is most commonly used to help hotels know when and how to adjust prices on the fly to get higher occupancy rates. By looking at multiple sources of information, including competitor pricing and past occupancy during a specific time of year, hotels can adjust prices and offer accordingly to fill rooms. A newer opportunity for hotels is to apply AI to identify incremental revenue opportunities while guests are on-property. By combining guest data with the conversational intelligence that comes from applying AI to messaging history, hoteliers can be very sophisticated in targeting guests for personally relevant offers for everything from extended stays to spa appointments.

When it comes to upselling, the key is making personalized offers to guests in real time. An Oracle Survey revealed that 69% of hotel guests think personalized offers based on their stated preferences are appealing. But how do you go through all of their preferences and know which offers are best for them? This is where AI can help. By combing through data in ways that humans simply cannot, AI can help you easily identify the personal touches that people will respond to and enable you to act  upon those insights. With this information, you can develop personalized coupons, offers, messages, and marketing campaigns completely tailored to the individual. You can also use AI to personalize your rewards program, not just for what to offer but also who to offer it to.

Personalized offers are much harder to resist than general ones. With 90% of consumers finding it appealing to receive a personalized service from hotel staff that understands their preferences, recommendations, or offers, there’s great reason to enhance your guests’ experience through upselling.

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of adopting trendy technology that, in reality, doesn't really make sense for your business, AI, despite all of the buzz, is a tool in the hotel space that should be embraced, not feared. Expedia is leading the way in implementing AI to help their partners maximize their tools and hoteliers must learn to do the same. Combining AI with the power of messaging can streamline processes, make guests and employees happier, and boost revenue.