With the vaccine’s rollout speeding up significantly in the U.S., a sense of enthusiasm has spread across hospitality that the industry might return to some semblance of normalcy soon. In fact, with the TSA already reporting that they’ve screened a record number of passengers since the early days of the pandemic, and Medallia Zingle research uncovering that 40% of Americans have stayed at a hotel since November, data shows that travel’s rebound is already underway. Yet, what hospitality looks like today is certainly a lot different than how it looked over a year ago.
For one, contactless solutions have become table stakes for all consumers, especially as evolving health regulations and social distancing guidance continues to impact travel and buying decisions. And this is a fact that doesn’t seem to be fading, as Americans continue to voice their expectations for a future where intelligent technology is seamlessly incorporated into the travel experience — and leveraged to deliver one-of-a-kind, personalized service. (The aforementioned Medallia Zingle report also found that 67% of consumers expect businesses to adopt contactless, touch-free check-in processes).
In this five-part blog series inspired by the recent Skift Trend Report, 5 Contactless Hotel Technology Trends for 2021, we are exploring the overwhelming benefits that contactless technology provides hotels and other hospitality brands, and how they can leverage them as an extension and enhancement to human-focused hospitality in 2021 and beyond.
Having already dived into the power of contactless tech for gathering real-time feedback and how guest messaging can stitch together an omnichannel customer journey, we will now explore trend #3: how artificial intelligence and personalization can take the guest experience to the next level.
Empowering Teams to Deliver More Intuitive Guest Experiences With AI
To the ordinary person, the use of artificial intelligence within an industry renowned for its human-focused service might seem out of place. But the truth is, when used correctly, AI can play a vital role in hoteliers’ mission to deliver consistently superior experiences throughout the entire guest journey. And the reason why is because it empowers hotel teams to more intuitively design, manage and automate specific interactions with guests, so that they can elevate the guest exchanges that deserve more of a human touch.
For example, since the onset of Covid-19, intelligent messaging has been a lifeline for brands as they have turned to text to improve customer experiences, operational efficiencies, and bottom-line results. In the past year, messaging has helped hotels, restaurants and travel companies quickly adapt their operating models and communication strategies as they face a whole new set of needs and challenges. This has also come with expectation for service teams to do more with less, something that’s set to persist as consumers and professionals alike prepare for the new era of travel. Which is why artificial intelligence is often the hidden key that helps hoteliers to manage proactive and personal outreach and response at scale, even when guests’ new health and safety standards limit in-person relationship-building opportunities.
And research into the benefits of doing this is plentiful. In a 2019 report released by Starfleet Research in collaboration with Oracle Hospitality, 86% of hoteliers agreed that AI even improved employee satisfaction. Meanwhile, the same study found that 89% of executives say AI has reduced their hotel’s operating costs.
Leveraging AI Insights to Enhance Service in Real-Time
With the above said, it’s important to note the integral role of context. Because without context, automating replies does risk crossing the chasm into what consumers fear: Impersonalized service that creates friction as opposed to mitigating it.
Rather, artificial intelligence leveraged at its highest value is when customer service teams effectively calibrate it to suit their unique needs, turning the level of AI assistance and automation up or down as circumstances require. Or, to word it differently, a well crafted communication system works on behalf of staff, so they are aware when a guest deserves that all important human touch, and anticipates where in a guest’s individual journey they could benefit from a lightning fast, automated response.
This is something L’Auberge Hotels in Baton Rouge has identified as the advantage they enjoy the most, in particular highlighting AI’s ability to capture real-time insights and thus, empower its teams to make service adjustments instantaneously or even predict guests’ behavior. For example, if the hotel’s intelligence shows that a particular guest requested two towels per day during their stay, staff can ensure that the next time they visit the property, they have extra towels in their room already.
Similarly, these types of insights make it easier for hoteliers to make strategic decisions based on guest characteristics, and ultimately tailor the experiences they offer their guests. Indeed, when used thoughtfully, AI opens up opportunities for businesses to augment and enhance their ability to build better customer relationships, whilst streamlining their own operational efficiencies. Both of which have skyrocketed in value, as 83% of Americans admit that their expectations for high-quality experiences and personalization haven’t faltered during this pandemic.
As contactless service becomes a convenient part of the travel experience, artificial intelligence is set to play a huge role in hoteliers’ ability to elevate the interactions they’re having with guests from a distance. At a time when consumers’ expectations of the brands they do business with is holding every company to a higher standard, hospitality brands have the opportunity to effectively introduce AI to not only streamline more interactions in an instant, but do so in a way that best represents the humanity in their brand. Which, needless to say, will be imperative for all businesses looking to emerge from the rubble left behind by the pandemic and thrive as travel ramps up.
In the long-term, however, the impact of AI for hotels goes far beyond Covid-19. In fact, how it’s leveraged by brands could pave the way for better service models that aim to delight guests in entirely new ways. From using insights gathered via AI to build segmented customer personas as different customer interaction patterns emerge, to streamlining future service interactions based on AI-generated feedback, the value provided by intelligent technology is truly immeasurable.
After all, hospitality is perhaps the industry that people look to the most for lessons in customer service as guest-driven brands continue to push the boundaries of CX. And as we’ve outlined, artificial intelligence is playing a key role with the promise of further growth in the future.
Check back soon for our fourth installment in which we explore Trend #4 — how contactless operations will guide hotels through recovery.