In May 2016, Booking.com launched a ‘Booking Messages Interface’ which promised to ‘empower customers to personalise their stay’ by using only their smartphone. In a further bid to improve guest communication, the giant of the OTA world has also promised to offer full integration with Facebook Messenger’s emerging ‘chat bot’ technology.
These new services intend to replace the previous method used by guests to contact hotels, which utilised a pop-up box on the Booking.com website that resulted in an email sent to the hotel in question. Unfortunately, given the communication channel employed, this meant that responses were often delayed by up to 48 hours.
Booking.com’s new messaging service utilises their existing Pulse app which is currently used by hotel staff to view bookings and daily lists of arrivals and departures. The addition of guest messaging within Pulse makes this particular app a fascinating tool for hoteliers and front desk teams.
Instant messaging is a great step forward, but in this post, we’re going to focus on chat bots, because we can guarantee the mere mention of them in the first paragraph will have raised one of your eyebrows, and we think they could prove rather useful for hotels.
What is a chat bot?
If you’ve ever said “Hello, Google” or “Hey, Siri” to your mobile phone, you’ve engaged in light conversation with a piece of software. Chat bots follow the same principal by bringing automated customer service to businesses and consumers. Basic questions can now be answered by clever algorithms that rely on a standard set of responses and a healthy dose of artificial intelligence (AI).
Chat bots, like Siri and search engines, are able to respond to natural questioning, thus negating the need to type in specific queries in order to obtain the right answer. They understand inference and are becoming increasingly adept at detecting regional dialect and slang. It is – almost – like talking to a human being.
Facebook? What have they got to do with chat bots?
Chances are either yourself or someone in your household uses Facebook Messenger. It is estimated to have one billion active users globally, who rely on it daily to communicate with friends and relatives. Messenger exists as an app in its own right, separate to that of the standard Facebook service.
The team at Facebook were quick to spot the opportunity to extend Messenger’s capability by enabling third parties to tap into its communication channel. As a result, the concept of chat bots was born, and following extensive development, these virtual assistants are now being pitched by the social networking giant to businesses who want to more easily ‘reach people on mobile’.
Facebook’s Messenger chat bots enable customers to ask businesses questions and receive human-like answers instantly, by using an app they already have installed on their smartphone and with which they are completely familiar. Consider the application in retail, where a consumer might ask their favourite shoe shop which running trainers they have available for under £80. Almost instantly, they’ll receive a rich response that features images and links to appropriate products. With a chat bot, such a conversation can be conducted from within Facebook Messenger, negating the need to pick up the phone or install a separate app.
This article originally appeared on www.welcome-anywhere.co.uk on 01 September 2016.