As humankind progresses toward full automation, chatbots and robots are increasingly being introduced into customer service environments. To some guests, this development might sound antithetical to the notion of customer service, but for many, the option of self-service is faster and more efficient than dealing with a human representative. There’s also the benefit to business owners: chatbots can respond to queries at any time of day or night, and they are, in theory, less costly than their human counterparts.
Nevertheless, the bots of the 21st century have not been immune from criticism and gaffes. According to Tech Radar, Siri, Apple’s personal assistant A.I., has been called out for its inability to understand questions and its lack of accuracy; worse, when Microsoft introduced Tay, its experimental A.I. chatbot, to Twitter last March, it started sending out offensive tweets. It almost goes without saying that introducing bots to a hospitality setting has the potential for disaster, and hospitality professionals must be careful to balance this technology with the need for impeccable customer service. Here are a few ways to find that balance with hotel automation.
First, determine if it’s right for your property
If you’re an economy or mid-range hotel, your guests likely won’t care if they’re dealing with a real person or a bot. They probably chose your property for the price, not necessarily the perks. If you’re a luxury hotel, on the other hand, it might not make sense to introduce hotel automation to customer service situations, as bots would defeat the purpose of high-quality service that luxury guests seek. Take some time to evaluate which areas of your business could most benefit from bot technology, and determine how to implement it in a way that makes sense for your property.
Next, determine how far you want to go with automation
From auto check-in to mobile guest communications to fully automated rooms, there are many different ways to enhance the guest experience. But you don’t have to do them all at once; budget constraints and service considerations may dictate how much hotel automation you can reasonably bring to your hotel. For example, you may wish to install smart technology in your rooms for the convenience of your guests, but keep the reception desk staffed with human beings for a personal touch. Or you could do it vice-versa and install self-service check-in kiosks in your lobby.
Make sure it works well — and have backup
Japan’s Henn-na hotel aims to be the world’s first hotel staffed almost entirely by robots, but as the author of this Guardian piece notes, it’s not always a seamless experience. Sometimes, there is a need for human intervention. In the eyes of the guest, inefficient or malfunctioning technology can often be more frustrating than no technology at all. And while it’s fine to automate the check-in process, for example, some people will prefer to talk to a human if they have additional questions, and others still will need a human’s help if the robot goes on the fritz. It never hurts to find a middle ground between technology and old-fashioned customer service!
Never use chatbots to deal with an unhappy guest
When guests are dissatisfied, they want to feel like they’re being heard, and chatbots will give them the impression that they aren’t. This approach could come off as flippant or uncaring, which will only serve to make the guest more upset. As reported by Business Insider, American Airlines learned this the hard way. When their Twitter account auto-responded to incensed users by thanking them for their support. In the grand scheme of things, this kind of error might be minor, but you should avoid alienating your guests at all costs.
Use a mobile guest engagement solution for the best of both worlds
A mobile guest engagement solution like The Loop Experience Platform can help you find the middle ground between hotel automation and stellar customer service. With this technology at your fingertips, you can program a series of carefully-crafted auto-responses for simple guest interactions, but take control of the conversation when things get more complex. It provides the efficiency of bot technology without sacrificing the warmth, personality, and high-quality service guests expect of their hotels.
How have you been working with hotel automation on your property? Let us know on LinkedIn, Facebook, or on Twitter @Benbria.