While consumers are raising their expectations for customer service in nearly every industry, expectations for the hospitality industry are often the highest. Those hotels, destinations and hospitality service providers that don’t measure up can be heavily — and publically — scrutinized for not going to extreme measures to satisfy guests. The consumer demand for personalized service experiences is only going to increase, but applying consumer technologies to the guest experience presents opportunities for hotels to serve their guests in really cool, effective and affordable ways.
Intelligent assistants like Amazon Echo, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri are changing people’s mindsets – and approaches – to accessing information, conducting transactions and getting customer support. Recently, Hilton and Marriott released mobile concierge applications and although the technology is just used for current guests, there are several opportunities for hotels to expand the capability of virtual assistants while improving guest satisfaction.
Following are some blunders to avoid and best practices to consider for deploying a digital concierge from Aspect Software.
Consider this real life example where a guest texted the hotel in response to a card that came with the key package advertising a new SMS service: “Text us if you need anything!”
The first question: “When is breakfast tomorrow?”
A total of 25 minutes after the initial message, a representative from the hotel replied, “This is Luis, how may I help you”. This reply was sent even though the initial message describes exactly what the guest is inquiring about. Besides the long wait, making someone repeat themselves is one of the worst things any brand can do to a guest- 89 percent of consumers say they in fact hate it. Research has confirmed that over and over again.
Is a 20 minute wait on SMS acceptable? Research indicates that consumers have high expectations for this channel: More than a third (35 percent) of business professionals claim they can’t go longer than 10 minutes without responding to a text.
This same guest gave the SMS service another try. The guest received a receipt for their stay in their inbox even though they had a reservation for another night. The guest had two different reservations for two consecutive nights, but at check-in asked the front desk to combine both into one. Here’s how the next conversation went:
Read that twice. Or even thrice. Poor spelling and punctuation aside, their response? “whats your room #” is when this hotel really erred. They have the guest’s phone number from the texts and this guest is a member of their loyalty program. The hotel should know the room number. Here is the final interaction of that morning:
Casual is fine. But the above is just sloppy. No real confirmation, no follow-up that the work has been done.
In summary, several things went wrong with this service experience:
A simple question (“when is breakfast”) required a human to respond
The response times were higher than most consumer expectations
The service agent had no visibility of the initial message and forced the guest to repeat themselves
The service agent used poor spelling and grammar
The service agent could not connect the guest phone number to room number, therefore forcing an unnecessary dialog step
The service agent did not ensure that the maintenance work would actually be done
The service agent did not follow up informing that the maintenance work had been done
This cannot be the type of service the hospitality industry offers guests in 2016. It certainly is not the kind of service travelers expect.
Before thinking about deploying a virtual assistant for your hotel consider these things:
A pilot program. Invite a small subset of your customer base to try it out. What questions are being asked most frequently? Is the experience consistent with what you want for your brand? Get feedback from the participants and look for areas to improve before a broader roll out.
Automation. There are so many inquiries that can be responded to without the need for hotel staff intervention: hotel hours, hotel policies, directions to local attractions, etc. When a guest asks for assistance that requires an associate, the request can be transferred over without burdening the staff with simple responses that the automated systems can handle.
Ease of use. Virtual assistants should not require an app to download. They should work with basic SMS, social media, or any messaging app.
With announcements from Facebook to make their Messenger and WhatsApp services – together reaching over 1 billion people worldwide – available for B2C customer care, the momentum to build compelling “Me2B” experiences is now.