When consumers think of conversational AI, they most likely think of Siri, Alexa and Google Home. And while these programs have become every day essentials for most consumers, they’re noticeably absent from hotel guestrooms. While hoteliers have a variety of reasons for refusing to implement these types of technologies (cost, privacy concerns, guest distrust, integration concerns, etc.), conversational AI has quite the potential for creating an excellent guest experience. During HITEC 2022, Mathieu Delafosse, Business Development Director, Aiello discussed how this technology can fit into the hospitality business model, provide hoteliers with a competitive advantage, and drive revenue via upsells.
What is it?
To begin, Delafosse explained where conversational AI falls under the broader overarching term of artificial intelligence.
To begin with, artificial intelligence refers to the ability of computer software to imitate human behavior. Machine learning is when programmers add a layer of statistics to artificial intelligence that helps the software and AI models to improve with experience. Deep learning is when programmers implement neuro networks to help the software make assumptions and understand the context that the software evolves into.
“Within these fields of AI, you can find NLP (Natural Language Processing) which is the field of AI that focuses on understanding spoken language and written language,” he noted.
Why does it matter?
While this is certainly interesting, most hoteliers are likely wondering at this moment: “So what?” To answer that question, Delafosse first explained the importance of understanding the amount and type of data any hotel property uses to make financial decisions.
“When you think about the data that is available to you, there are two types: structured and unstructured,” he said. “Unstructured data is everywhere but is very difficult to act upon. It’s hidden within a myriad of business to consumer interactions including: social media, voicemail messages, emails, chat messages, etc. On the other hand, structured data includes your CRM, forms, excel sheets, financial data, etc. This is data that can be put into databases and exported.”
However, and this is key, structured data only represents a small portion of the data that is actually available to hoteliers. It doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of one’s business, yet it’s on which hoteliers base most if not all of their business decisions.
“The question becomes: How do you convert 80 percent of your unused data into something that you can actually structure, leverage and act on? This is where conversational AI comes in,” Delafosse said.
Conversational AI allows software programs to take a person’s voiced question or request, analyze it, and enter the important parts into a searchable database that can then be analyzed at scale. After making this change and gaining access to this important data, business decisions could be significantly different: From realizing revenue opportunities to finding new ways of saving money.
How do I implement it?
To realize the benefits of conversational AI, hoteliers must ask themselves: where are conversations about my hotel happening? One’s first reaction might be to say: at the front desk! But trying to capture every face-to-face interaction at the front desk would be very difficult to do. It’s also not the only place where hoteliers can look for this data. Consider the myriad of digital conversations happening within your business: emails, chats, voice calls, social media reviews, etc.
“These digital conversations are a good starting point, but these conversations are happening either pre- or post-stay,” Delafosse notes. “However, you can capture conversations that are happening while your guests are on property via voice or chatbot systems that are placed within the guestroom.”
How do I leverage its potential?
Implementing conversational AI within the guestroom provides three significant opportunities for hoteliers. First, it provides insight into an untapped area of the guest journey: when guests are actually on property and in the room.
“As a business, you have very few ways to know what’s happening behind closed doors,” Delafosse says. “But we’ve seen with hotels using our technology that guests will average 20 conversations per day with the conversational AI software. So you’re getting 20 new pieces of information per guest per day.”
Second, conversational AI can often save staff from having to do repetitive task, such as relaying the pool’s hours, connecting guests with the concierge or bell stand, etc.
“This is especially valuable during a labor shortage,” Delafosse said. “We estimate that a hotel with 200 rooms saves about 30 hours per day of staff time.”
And third, conversational AI elevates the guest experience by providing a new, innovative way for customers to interact within the room.
What kind of data does it actually provide?
As data becomes ever more important to business operations, the data this technology can provide to hoteliers will eventually become invaluable.
“You’ll begin to learn a lot more about your guests,” Delafoss explains. “For example, what kind of hotel services are they looking up and interested in. Is it your pool? Your spa? Your gym? This provides your operations team with excellent information on what your guests tend to prefer and allows them to plan ahead.”
Hoteliers will also begin to learn the reason for their guests’ travel. Is it for work or for leisure? What kind of restaurants are they interested in? What tourist spots are of interest? This allows hoteliers to partner with other businesses in a mutually beneficial way. And customers can express complaints faster and easier, which provides the hotel with the ability to fix an issue before the guest leaves the property, and hopefully preventing a bad review.