The times they are a-changin’. In our ‘always on’, connected world, guests are becoming increasingly demanding in how they want to communicate with hotels.
No longer content with picking up the phone, or simply booking online, they want convenient access to ask questions before, during and after their stay. They want concierge services quite literally ‘on tap’. And they want you to be on the platforms they use daily, rather than download yet another app on their smartphones.
What is a Chatbot?
A chatbot, also known as a chatterbot, talkbot or artificial conversational entity, is a service that simulates the behaviour of a human within a conversational environment. They can be standalone services or integrate within other messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger. They normally allow the sending of messages via text/audio, along with more advanced structured messages that can include calls-to-action, scroll bars, links etc.
Chatbot’s wider use in hospitality is still evolving, but presently includes hotel booking, customer service enquiries, pre/post stay enquiries and general travel advice.
One of the most significant recent developments in chatbot technology was Facebook’s announcement of their Facebook Messenger chatbot platform in April 2016. With over 900 million members using it’s service on a monthly basis, there’s clear potential for a lucrative new booking channel and an opportunity to reduce the amount of questions that your reservations team deal with day-to-day.
The 4 big challenges for hotels in adopting chatbot technology are likely to centre around;
- Simplifying your booking process so that it can be accommodated within a chatbot.
- Providing a consistent booking experience on chatbots, compared with other channels.
- Monitoring chatbots where there’s a human element – will require staff resources.
- Managing guest expectations – with a fast messaging service comes expectation of fast turnaround on their requests through chatbots.
But where have chatbots come from? In our ‘Hospitality and Travel Chatbot Timeline’ below, we plot the key points in their rapid development over the last year;
The Hospitality and Travel Chatbot Timeline
- May 2015: Marriott launches Mobile Requests service (via its App) that includes an ‘Ask Anything’ concierge service and ‘Anything Else’ function that allows guests to chat directly with hotel staff, 72 hours before their stay.
- Throughout 2015: Chains like Starwood Hotels and independent hotels make increasing use of WhatsApp to allow guests to communicate directly with hotel staff pre, during and post stay.
This article originally appeared on www.hotelspeak.com on 19 July 2016.