Covid-19 put the spotlight on digitalization as a recovery solution in all industries. Travelers expect tourism businesses to offer as much as possible services and products remotely, touchless, contactless, and digitally, and it is desirable to also provide them with self-service options.
Digital solutions are no more “good-to-have some-day-will-check-on-this”, but a must-have in the digital estate of each business to assist in sales, marketing, customer service, customer and employee engagement, and improve the overall customer experience while helping the tourism businesses decrease expenses and optimize employee time and resources, be more competitive and differentiate.
The pandemic opened the door for the AI chatbots to be helpful in solving such major challenges as face-to-face communication between customers and employees, the need to decrease the fixed costs, lack of staff when reopening, therefore being adopted fast and successfully by various businesses in hospitality and tourism.
Last year, Gartner named digital self-service as the core activity businesses needed to maintain their business and recover. Chatbots were listed in the top 5 solutions to implement. CBInsights also included chatbots with AI among 24 technologies that will shape and change the world and the business in the post-covid time.
In April’21 article, Doug Rice, Managing Director, Hospitality Technology Network, LLC, wrote about chatbots in hospitality:
“Chatbots are still far from perfect, but they can give guests quick answers to many questions or can dispatch staff to meet requests, all without human interaction. The guest gets a faster response and staff time is minimized.
Even pre-pandemic, I often had to wait hours for busy hotel staff to respond to queries I submitted through one major brand’s in-app messaging function. For most simple questions and requests, that frustration is entirely avoidable with a good AI agent. And using them helps free up staff to handle more complex guest needs where a personal touch is needed.”
Digitalizing and implementing an AI Chatbot by a hotel, travel agency, SPA center, restaurant or other tourism business has already recognized benefits:
- Generate more local business,
- Promote the business,
- Reduce/optimize costs and resources,
- Engage more with customers,
- Attract new markets through a new digital experience,
- Differentiate / Be competitive,
- Get data for better planning,
- Provide safe contactless self-service solutions,
- Provide environmentally friendly solutions,
& other benefits!
Implementing an AI chatbot, however, is not a plug-and-play-ready solution. A good chatbot can start at a considerably basic level when customers just click on the buttons in it, but this is the stage where feedback is collected on how users use it and what they are looking for to identify the future direction of the chatbot development. Chatbots are long-term projects that require attention, analysis, and upgrades so that one day a business can have a fully developed smart digital assistant. The chatbot itself provides feedback on customer behavior, which is important for making informed intelligent decisions in marketing, sales, and operations.
Chatbot + conversational AI is the perfect combination for a company when it wants to provide customers with a successful customer-centric digital self-service tool and balanced, convenient, fast, automated customer service. Here are the key functionalities and elements to have in a hybrid chatbot – a chatbot that provides automated assistance, choice of information by text or voice, broken down to the stage of customer service they provide, and why it is good to have them.
The basic bot
The basic bot with predefined logic delivers fast self-service assistance. Users can self-service on topics and tasks, predefined as content and accessible through navigation via buttons. For example, these are ready-to-use galleries with pictures and information about property services, rooms, restaurants, spas, and massages, or featured items in the restaurant menu or other core and commonly searched by the customers’ information. At this level are also built-in chatbot questionnaires, inquiry forms, links to the reservation system, and other basic self-service options navigated through buttons.
Chatbots are great for all that around-the-clock automation but there is a limit on how much information, buttons, and forms could be included in the bot to provide easy assistance before becoming too complicated. With such basic bots, this means that still, many customer questions would be answered by the staff.
This is when conversational AI comes to help. The conversational AI module identifies typed questions according to the available content in the dataset and provides an appropriate answer. The conversational AI turns on when the customer types or asks a question. The more customers ask the smarter and richer the conversational AI module becomes, and the more topics and questions it can handle without staff intervention, 24/7. For example, Umni has developed and offers hotels an AI module to start with that already has over 500 hotel topics in it with over 5000 common customer questions behind. This means the hotel chatbot can recognize hundreds of customer questions and answer them from Day 1 while adding more and customizing the AI module for specific property needs.
Collecting, structuring, and analyzing customer questions is the first step to automation and the most important functionality of the AI module. It helps the business gradually build a database with topics and answers and it turns customers’ questions into data.
These themselves help the company and the employees:
- Improve the quality of service and support,
- Increase efficiency,
- Predict trends among the customers’ search and interest,
- Improve operations,
- Improve management and marketing,
- Interacting with guests via messaging help with loyalty,
- Opportunities for using this technology to drive revenue.
Integrations of the chatbot with room reservation systems, CRMs, platforms, and other software make the magic to automate routine tasks as room reservations, questionnaires, hotel or other service inquiries, information search, etc. They allow customers to perform many routine tasks directly through the chatbot and in the chatbot instead of switching from the bot to other platforms and websites, calling the business, or emailing.
Live feedback on what is the customer behavior in the bot and other statistics is the AI chatbot “behind the curtain” important functionality. One of the most important statistics to look for, especially if conversational AI was activated, is the possibility to see search and message statistics, in other words, to know what customers are looking mostly for, what are their most common inquiries, what they are missing or have a hard time with. There are opportunities lying in this information for business development, improving employees’ performance and customer experience, or creating new experiences based on emerging trends.
When choosing a provider for the chatbot’ creating and maintenance service, the planning should consider not only the immediate needs and benefits of such project but also the long-term planning of its development, therefore the best would be to use a provider that could support technically all key elements and functionalities of a hybrid AI chatbot.
Here are some tips on how to start a conversational AI chatbot project for your business, cut on cost, and offer a safe self-service tool to the customers 24/7:
- Work on your chatbot project with a provider that has experience with chatbot creation, and understands the challenges of your business,
- Make sure that in your team responsible for the chatbot creation, the members are digital savvy and understand the need of having and implementing chatbots to ensure smooth communication,
- Test the technology on a budget – start small, plan for long-term development,
- Learn to use it and to benefit from it – collect active feedback from customers and employees, and adjust the bot and the long-term planning accordingly,
- Make an informed decision based on collected data on how to develop the chatbot further,
- Be open-minded and innovative – look for unique ways to showcase your business (VR, AR, video, gamification, and others can be implemented in a chatbot) and entertain your customers through the chatbot.
- Take your time to set up and grow your business AI digital assistant personalized to the needs of your business and customers but do not delay the implementation.
To have a successful fully developed smart digital assistant in a year from now and achieve the desired business results, today is the day to lay the foundations of such an AI chatbot project for your business.