How AI-Powered Communications Technology Can Help Hoteliers Alleviate Their Staffing Shortage Problem

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When a customer calls the reservation department of your hotel, they want their questions answered and their reservations booked immediately.
By John Smallwood, CEO of Travel Outlook - 8.2.2022

The hospitality industry has always been a people-centric line of work. In fact, human interaction has always been the hallmark of travel experiences. A smiling face behind the front desk of a hotel cannot be replaced.

Technology, on the other hand, has continually shifted the way guest service representatives interact with travelers and hotel guests. Each generation brings a new disruptive technology that shakes up the way the world does business. With each change, there is resistance, but progress always wins out.

A recent story written by Michael Heflin, CRO at Stayntouch, notes that “although once a heavily labor-intensive industry, hospitality is increasingly leveraging mobile and SaaS-based technology to simplify operations and enhance guest experiences.”

At the end of the day, a face-to-face connection is valued, but convenience is preferred. There is no getting around the necessity of customer service within the hospitality industry, but there are areas in the industry where efficiency should be placed ahead of the importance of personal interaction. In today’s modern, information age, check-in, bookings, restaurant reservations, and FAQs can all be made simpler with new technology.

Technology’s influence on the hospitality industry

New technology is always resisted before it’s accepted. Before the Bell Telephone was widely accepted in business, it was rejected by those favoring more traditional methods of communication.

When email first came about at the dawn of the internet age, many believed it was just a passing fad that would be no more useful to businesses than a fax machine.

When online booking platforms emerged at the fringes of the hospitality industry, traditional travel agencies swore customers would prefer the personal touch of a travel agent over the ease of booking on the internet.

In each case, those who resisted the inevitable tide of new advancement were left behind when that very technology became a revolutionary wave of change in all industries.

A new age of technological advancement

The last two years have introduced a new age of technological advancement and dependence that is here to stay. From Zoom conference calls and the ability to work from the couch, the beach, or anywhere else on the planet to instant food delivery, streaming brand new movies, and taking virtual classes, technology now occupies a new place in society. Consumers are now accustomed to the ease of service on-demand on their terms, and the hospitality industry must adapt accordingly.

While personal guest service is always appreciated, today’s modern traveler wants a contact-free delivery experience at the tap of a screen. The hospitality industry must strive to capture the efficiency of modern technology that today’s travelers have grown to expect.

What the future of technology holds

The way we communicate has changed, in no small part thanks to new technology. Communication has become streamlined. And, sadly, formalities are no longer necessary.

When a customer calls the reservation department of your hotel, they want their questions answered and their reservations booked immediately. If today’s traveler is picking up the phone to use the voice channel, chances are they’ve exhausted all other options. They have looked extensively online and were unable to find the answer to their question. They don’t want to wait on hold or chat with an archaic voice bot that redirects them incorrectly and has a limited menu.

Engineered to meet the demands of today’s modern traveler

Annette™, The Virtual Hotel Agent™ (Annette), represents the next generation of artificial intelligence that is designed specifically for the hospitality industry. Using data collected from various hotel and hotel chains, the team behind Annette discovered the most Frequently Asked Questions hotels face and programmed Annette to answer them all.

Kimberly Berry, Director of Digital Business Development at Travel Outlook, notes that a hotel chain with more than 800 hotels found that 91% of emails/messages have one of the same 18 questions. “Another chain with 30 hotels found that 63% of emails/messages have one of the same 8 questions,” she said. “Another study found that more than 50% of pre-stay and in-stay requests from online travel agencies such as Expedia go unanswered.”

Making your voice channel increasingly valuable, desirable, and effective

The goal behind the conception of Annette was to find a pleasant, automated way for hotel guests to obtain immediate answers to frequently-asked-questions, allowing them to get back to enjoying their trip instead of waiting on hold or waiting for a callback.

Annette will answer common FAQs like, “Hi, I’m checking in tomorrow. What’s your address?” or “What time does the pool open?” She can also handle more complex questions like, “Do you have charging stations for my Tesla?”

Beyond Annette’s ability to answer customers’ FAQS, she has an unapparelled ability to communicate naturally and effectively. The team behind Annette used social media, pop culture, and movies to develop Annette’s flawless natural tone. When callers hear Annette’s voice and conversational manner, they’re don’t hear a robotic voice bot, they hear a familiar voice with a conversational tone.

Additionally, Annette can be programmed to understand any language. Her voice can be programmed to emulate whichever voice talent the hotel chooses, even hotel employees. So, customers can always hear a familiar voice when they call your property.

A veteran in the hospitality industry, John has owned, developed, and managed hotels for many years.  After earning a BBA from New Mexico State University, he started his career with AT&T, gaining invaluable insight and experience in the early years of the data revolution.  His experience in technology and hospitality merged in his development of Travel Outlook, the world-class hospitality contact center.  More recently, he has branched out with the creation of ExpressRez, the premier contact center for the Bed and Breakfast industry, and with the creation of Annette™, The Virtual Hotel Agent™, the first AI-powered voice bot for the hotel industry.

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