Chatbots: Useful or Damaging to Your Hotel Business?

In a world dominated by tech, change is the only constant. Every week, there’s a new download, update, upgrade, or self-propelling vacuum cleaner to wrap your head around. Chatbots are just one example of the newest hype permeating the business world. But can they help your business? 

Let’s start with the basics. What on earth is a chatbot?

If you ever clicked on a Facebook ad and instantly (almost magically) received what felt like a personalised message from that page—you just got DM’ed by a chatbot.

Chatbots are basically instant messaging technology. Businesses most often use them to quickly and easily communicate with their existing (and potential) clients—without needing an actual human to sit behind a screen and manually try to strike up conversation with anyone scrolling their page, on an individual basis. We all know how awkward starting an unsolicited conversation can be, right? So think of chatbots as your very own Awkwardness Eliminators: you can focus on your business priorities, and in the meantime, you know a little algorithm is running in the background, being useful and making a great first impression with interested clients.

Okay, now we know what a chatbot is. So how does it work?

We might not all know how to build it from scratch, but we can agree AI is drastically changing the way businesses operate. Chatbots are one example of this change, as they’ve become quite the popular channel for customer service. Simply put, a hotel chatbot is a computer responding to your guests at superhuman speed, instead of your live support staff—who are often juggling many conversations at once.

Chatbots Magazine (yes, there’s a magazine out there dedicated to chatbots) classifies two types of these mythical, algorithmical creatures: (1) the ones that function based on a set of rules, and (2) more advanced ones that make use of machine learning.

  • Rules-based chatbots are capable of responding to very limited and specific commands. They don’t actually “understand” a query, so it’s possible they might respond with a wrong, out of context, or otherwise off-base answer. This kind of chatbot is best used as a way to stay in touch with customers during off hours and for sending out simple promotional messages. 
  • “Smarter,” machine learning bots continue to learn as they talk with a user. They’re not pre-made to answer specific queries; rather, they are capable of “understanding” a message as they interact with the user in conversation, and can therefore reply to queries with a higher level of accuracy. 

Real talk: Is it possible for customers to enjoy talking to robots?

On the business side, we’ve seen how a chatbot can be helpful, especially when it comes to customer service. But how is it on the client’s side?

Typically, a customer reaches out to you expecting a specific answer to a specific question. Is a chatbot capable of delivering the answer your customer is looking for? There are a few ways to work around that—many of which you have control over in setting up your chatbot.

Here are just a few ways you can program your chatbot to ensure flawless and efficient communication between chatbots and customers:

  • Give a heads’ up: Set ready-made responses that let the customer know right off the bat they’re dealing with a bot, and not an actual person.
  • Think about your user experience: Set up a “smart” flow based on the most likely queries and reasons that bring the user to your site. Set up the bot so that it starts off with a quick question that may lead the user to the right answer anyway—in this case, a safe bet is about booking.
  • Secure a hand-off: Once a chatbot conversation builds enough context to engage the customer, make sure there’s a live representative available to assist the customer, and set up a moment where the chatbot can “hand off” the communication to a live, human-based interaction.

So, what can a chatbot offer your hotel?

Some futurists envision a world where robots and people can coexist in harmony. We’re not quite there yet—but it’s possible for chatbots to help hotels and guests in a way that ensures both sides are happy and satisfied.

Improved guest experience

Large hotel chains like Expedia and Hyatt often use chatbots within their customer services channels as a way of providing a better customer experience. And we’ll let you in on a little secret—we use them, too! They’re a great way to help your guest, from answering general queries to helping guide the online booking process. 

Instant, round-the-clock communication

Of course, chatbots aren’t people—but let’s stop pretending like this is an all-around bad thing. We’ve seen there are workarounds to the downsides and limitations of using a chatbot; but let’s not forget the upsides that a chatbot’s robotic nature can bring. A chatbot won’t get tired, or need to take a break, or have emotions to navigate, and it can be available anytime, in any time zone—to instantly react and interact with an interested customer.

Increased brand loyalty

Despite knowing they are communicating with a bot, guests feel valued and tended to when their queries are responded to promptly. And bam, watch as you gain points for brand loyalty.

A different kind of concierge 

It takes a lot of resources to ensure a customer support team is active and available to customers 24/7. A chatbot provides a helpful point of contact for customers during your live chat support’s off hours—so customers can have their queries answered instantly, without having to wait or work around your business hours.

Faster check-in & check-out 

Chatbots enable guests to check-in and check-out using their mobile devices—alleviating hotel reception, shortening queues, and reducing wait times for guests, especially during peak season.

For a frequent traveller, downloading a new hotel check-in app for place you stay can be unnecessary and off-putting. For any traveller, long waits for check-in or check-out are just not what’s imagined as part of a restful vacation or a tightly scheduled business trip. A chatbot makes this process easy, so guests are happier for the speedy process and your reception desk is less burdened.

Guests are well-informed, support staff is alleviated

Bots can send updates to your customers, including information regarding the check-out process, meal times, spa times, or access to other amenities. Instead of calling the front desk for every request, a hotel chatbot can serve your guests to resolve many of their requests and queries without any human intervention—leaving your reception and support staff free to handle what’s more important (and requiring that human touch).

Reduced language barrier 

A multilingual bot can assist your international guests in their preferred language, with minimal risk of misunderstanding or needing to have multi-lingual staff at every corner. What’s better than that?

Quickly respond to a high volume of queries

Your customer services staff regularly respond to multiple—tens, hundreds, even thousands—of requests. A chatbot helps to alleviate some of their burden by responding to many of guest’s simple requests, and by filtering through queries that might (or might not) require complex answers.

Overall, if you have a small staff, or handle a large volume of guests—implementing a chatbot into your customer service channel is an option worth considering. It’s low-risk, high-reward; only requires an initial setup to work well for an extended period of time (until you decide to change or update available options); and is an easy way to handle incoming off-hours requests from guests and potential customers—keeping your brand loyalty growing and customer service segments serving your potential customers, even while you sleep.

Chatbots are a great help to interact with customers who have already found their way to you. But you know what’s even more awesome? A team of cool people with a mission to get you in front of as many hungry travelers as possible—while securing you commission-free and direct bookings. Add your hotel to and get back in touch with your guests. 

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