You have a phone number, an email address, social media pages, and a website contact form – all so that your guests can get in touch with you whenever they need to and however they prefer. But in our world of having information at our fingertips, many travelers want answers or information immediately and sometimes you’re not there to answer their queries. That’s where a chatbot on your website comes in.
We’d bet you’ve seen them and even used them, whether using it to reach customer service or simply asking Siri to look something up for you. Chatbots rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and are designed to be as human as possible. There are basically two options for chatbots: Rule-based or machine learning.
Rule-based chatbots will still sound as human as they can but they can only respond to specific words, commands, or questions. They only know what they’re programmed to know. Machine learning chatbots understand language and get better at communicating and interpreting our questions.
A chatbot is a great feature for your website or social media channels as it answers guests’ queries 24/7 and doesn’t need to be managed. If you go with a rule-based bot, you add all the questions or phrases you want the bot to respond to and what message is should respond with and you’re done. Your guests get the answers they need and you don’t have to constantly monitor your inbox.
OTAs and bigger hotel brands have already started using chatbots to assist customer service operations; the Radisson Blu Edwardian even has its own AI virtual host, Edward, that many guests thought was a real staff member!
Photo credit: Aspect
Chatbots can definitely save you time with rote questions from guests but there are some pros and cons to implementing them on your site or on social media.
- Guests have access to a chatbot 24/7
- Chatbots can help move guests through the booking process
- Chatbots are a set it and forget it tool, so you get time back for other operations
- Chatbots can be multilingual
- Free tools can be limited and guests could be frustrated with receiving error messages
- The better chatbots are expensive
- Some chatbots don’t mimic human speech as well and miss that human touch or empathy
If you’re thinking about using a chatbot, start reviewing how often you’re emailed with the same questions or how many calls you get about something that’s a simple answer. Instead of a chatbot, you might just need an FAQ page on your site or more information on your policies page. You can also try starting with a free chatbot – though keep in mind that it won’t be able to do anything and everything you want – and see how that works for your property.
If you have the budget and having that time back is valuable to you, then you might want to start pricing out chatbots. Activate predicts that by the end of 2018, 3.6 billion people be using messaging apps or services to connect with friends, family, and businesses. Figure out if you want a rules-based one that will most likely be more cost-effective or if you want to get as close to a real person as possible with a machine learning version. You’ll need to prepare a basic framework for what types of queries your chatbot will engage with and a series of answers and options for it to share with your potential guest.