In Newsletter #55: What hotel messaging can learn from a weather chatbot | Lee Pillsbury's look ahead | It's time to rally behind vendor APIs.
It’s been quite the few weeks leading into Thanksgiving. From our webinar last week on APIs, our plans for GoConcierge and the ALICE product… to HX: The Hotel Experience 2017 where ALICE finally beat robots to a tech prize!... to the DC Expedia show, where we were at this week, I am as ready for the holidays as you are.
Great stuff below from the shows for those who weren’t able to join us, as we cover chatbots, messaging and APIs. Also want to point you to the Hotel Yearbook 2018, that came out last week. At the risk of getting 100 phone calls from their team for a sponsorship next year, I think this is my favourite hotel technology read of the year. There I said it.
In the shows I was quite impressed by a few companies, so here is a little shoutout to them. Keep up the good work!
- Avvio - Avvio, the only booking engine that guarantees you increased revenue, just recently announced a new AI booking engine, Allora. It’s pretty impressive. They showed us how a hotel’s website would change based on the buyer. Take a golfer, for instance -- if a golfer visits the hotel website, with Allora, the website photos prioritize the golf course, the messaging reflects the sport, and the booking button turns green! Fantastic.
- OpenKey - These guys are smart and are playing in the inevitable. Now the largest keyless provider globally, yet they are only in eight countries... The industry is moving there. Every door is moving there. Question is, “how long will it take?”
- Maidbot - The housekeeping robot. This is really just a simple housekeeping tool that saves hotels time and money. Let the little guy vacuum, so that your housekeeping staff can focus on the rest. Congrats to their founder too, Mica Green, on Forbes 30 Under 30.
- Flip.to - I am always a big fan of companies where everything about them is beautifully designed. User experience is everything. But this team also truly gets the future of guest advocacy and we are big fans of their product.
– Alex Shashou
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK'S NEWS...
HX: Hotel Experience 2017 | The Growth of Chatbots & Guest Conversational Interfaces
Why it matters: At first blush, the pairing of Poncho (a cheeky chatbot that tells you the weather, with no obvious ties to the hospitality industry) and ALICE (a hospitality messaging product that doesn’t use chatbots) seems an unconventional choice to host a conversation at HX about chatbots and guest conversational interfaces. But, as a lively discussion between the panelists and audience made clear, there’s a lot hospitality can learn from the popular consumer product Poncho, and a lot more to messaging - especially in this industry - than chatbots.
Here are a couple of takeaways from ALICE co-founder Alex Shashou’s HX panel on Monday:
Attitude is everything
Whether your hotel’s messaging is chatbot-driven, completely staffed by humans, or something in between, deciding on a tone of voice that represents your brand is essential.
One of the things that distinguishes Poncho from other weather apps and conversational interfaces is its distinct personality - one that is both humorous and smart. The product’s founder knew what kind of voice he wanted from the product’s inception, and so he hired a team of writers from Upright Citizens Brigade, a renowned improv theater and training center here in New York, to infuse weather updates - something that could easily be dry and forgettable - to something compelling and sticky. Poncho updates its responses every week or two, incorporating current events, and learning from past interactions, to keep its users delighted and engaged.
Hotels starting with chatbots or messaging don’t need to do a lot of soul-searching to find their voice - knowing what tone to strike with guests is integral to a hotel’s brand and likely well established before diving into messaging. The trick is adapting this voice for a new medium.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas made headlines earlier this year when it unveiled Rose, its concierge chatbot that you can text for nearly anything you might need during your stay. Digital marketing agency R/GA worked with The Cosmopolitan to “create a spirited personality that reflects the mystique” of the hotel. The result is something that’s both playful and helpful, as well as a bit sassy - perfect for Las Vegas. When Travel + Leisure asked Rose where to find strippers, Rose apparently replies: “I love playing pretend, so I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” followed by the Hear No Evil monkey emoji. She also added “Let’s keep this PG-13 if you know what I mean.”
Whether you’re designing a chatbot or implementing messaging, establishing brand guidelines for the medium is essential to upholding brand standards and honing in on a particularly unique or compelling voice (like in the case of Rose at The Cosmopolitan) can even set your property apart.
Chatbots definitely have more buzz right now, but maybe human-driven messaging, or a hybrid solution, will work better for your hotel.
When Alex asked who in the audience was already using chatbots at their hotel, one hotelier explained how she had intended for her hotel’s messaging program to be entirely automated, but realized it would need to include (and would benefit from) staff-generated messages. Indeed, having automated messages for certain frequently-occurring interactions saves her staff time, but there’s a long tail of possible exchanges that the average chatbot can’t account for. This doesn’t matter much when it comes to weather apps - if Poncho doesn’t recognize a user message he will tell you he doesn’t understand and prompt you to try again - but it’s incompatible with hospitality, which requires every guest request and exchange to be addressed to the highest standard possible. It’s for this reason we think the happy medium for most hotel messaging programs will be a mixture of automated and staff-generated responses. This will save staff time - particularly for a messaging program at scale - but still allow for real, truly personalized human exchanges.
When it comes to messaging for the first time, many hoteliers fear being overwhelmed by messages and being too slow to respond. Alex understood the concerns but reminded the audience that, before messaging, we were all concerned that we couldn’t engage with our guests on mobile at all. Alex’s advice to those embarking with messaging is to start slow. Pick a handful of guests to roll this out to at the start, see what engagement is like and how your staff enjoy it, and gradually promote the service to more people. As you expand, you’ll learn how long it takes your staff to respond to queries, and how frequently, and at what times of day, guests are most likely to reach out. One thing you’ll learn right away, Alex says, is that facilitating ten guest interactions over text is a lot more operationally efficient than taking ten guest phone calls. Even moving a few of those calls to the front desk to text conversations as you slowly roll out the program will have an immediate impact on your operations.
Choose a messaging platform to get all the benefits of messaging with none of the drawbacks of doing it from your personal phone
During Alex’s panel, a hotelier from the audience enthused about the power of text messaging to create lasting and profitable relationships with guests, describing how a guest engagement program born out of necessity (all she had was her phone) eventuated to something far more prized than a collection of customer emails. But what happens when she goes on vacation, Alex asked, or wants to sell the business? All that valuable data and guest history stays with the phone and its user. The same goes for all hotels that try texting guests from staff phones at the front desk and the concierge desk. If a concierge is having conversations with a guest on his own personal phone, none of that guest history or guest preferences gets recorded by the hotel, and none of that information is easily accessible to other staff members during that guest stay or subsequent stays. This is not scalable. That’s why we recommend using a dedicated messaging tool to run a messaging program at your hotel, ideally one that is integrated with the technology your staff uses to manage their work. That way, all guest information is retained and easily accessible, regardless of who on staff is doing the texting.
Hotel Yearbook - HYB Special Edition - Technology 2018 | Seeing Around The Corner in 2018 by Lee Pillsbury pg. 46
Why it matters: Hotel technology is on the radar of almost every General Manager, VP of IT, and even Director of Operations that you would meet today. There is no denying that technology is integral to the industry’s growth, as we have seen a surge in acceptance and adoption in recent years. A recent study by Skift showed that over 50% of hoteliers surveyed planned on investing more in operations technology. But the rate at which this is happening is not keeping pace with growing customer standards and still remains a challenge.
Costs for labor and acquiring customers are both on the rise, eating away budget for everything else, yet the rise in hotel profitability is only half as fast as the cost of acquiring customers. In terms of service, Airbnb and alternative lodging are constantly offering a level of innovation above hotels, and consumers and hotel operators are questioning what it really means to be a ‘hotel.’ As an industry, we aim to provide service and experience, but those services and experiences we offer could be elevated much further.
The good news, however, is that “people still love hotels,” as Pillsbury puts it.
With this in mind, we need to realize that as it becomes a no-brainer for hotels to turn to technology, the more informed customer is also expecting consistently higher-level service – one that read minds and predict desires, makes them feel special, and portrays your hotel not as an entity, but a friend.
To be able to do that, we have to admit that predicting the next shift in the industry is just way too out of our depth. We will always be a step behind innovation – hotels are keeping up a good effort, but will always be chasing guests and their expectations. Unless we start seeking predictive technologies. It is not within our capabilities to foresee the future, but the rise of platform technologies has made it possible to better embrace what’s coming next in this age.
In the 2016 book, Platform Revolution, a platform is defined as a business model that “uses technology to connect people, organizations, and resources in an interactive ecosystem in which amazing amounts of value can be created and exchanged.” Platforms connect all departments of a hotel on a single digital page to track all guest and staff activity in one centralized system. With an open Application Programming Interface (API -- more on that below) to connect with other systems in place, platforms harness massive data reporting functions that can provide insights into recurring challenges and reveal trends that grant you the ability to predict the future. This is just one of the seven reasons why platform technologies is to hoteliers like how Jarvis is to Ironman. By wielding the power of platforms, hoteliers are now able to “have the accountability to address any recurring issues and be proactive instead of being in the reactive state,” as just testified by Christian Cooper, VP of IT of Dream Hotels Group, which is using ALICE across several properties.
Similarly, just as Tony Stark is to Ironman, we need to realize the importance of people in the equation. People will always bring an edge of human value and connection. As we embrace the enhancements that machines offer, it is the duty of hoteliers to find ways to value-add on top of the work they used to do that is now accomplished by technology.
Hotel Yearbook - HYB Special Edition - Technology 2018 | The Open Truth About API's by Armand Rabinowitz pg. 62
Why it matters: How many of you are currently waiting for an integration to get a solution live (or working to its full potential)?
In our webinar last Thursday, ALICE Co-founder and CTO Dmitry Koltunov broke down the definition of API to something less intimidating, telling us to see APIs like a “menu at a restaurant”- a catalogue of everything that your product can offer, if it were to collaborate with other technology products.
Legacy technologies that hotels employ do not interact with each other, and it is almost impossible to service guests in a holistic way because of the critical information held in these disparate systems. Hotels are constantly trying to communicate across all departments and with their guests, and integrations, or the lack thereof between their technologies, create barriers to the execution of great service.
As technology vendors, we want to be able to configure our systems to our clients’ needs and the speed at which we can achieve that is all about transparency. That is why tech vendors should strive for public APIs. When hotels request for specific workflows amongst different systems that they use for each of its best features, vendors can simply order functionality from each other and turn wishes into reality. This potential can be seen in the success of Salesforce and even Facebook - the ability to log in to other apps with a Facebook sign-in has revolutionized the way users connect and engage across different technologies - and this could happen for hotels as well.
The difference between smart tech and just tech is in the API. And this is how hoteliers should differentiate technologies to find the best solution. Open APIs will translate to many possibilities in the future because of their adaptive ability, as current technologies have room to be constantly remodelled to fit into new technological landscapes and stay relevant.
If it is true how Rabinowitz posits that titans “limit the ease of integration to protect their position,” vendors will have to come to terms with the fact there is no way to deter competition from entering the space. If vendors are to continue with partner APIs in hopes of rejecting new technologies, they will find that they in turn cause themselves to be rejected from the circle. Just as CEO of Accor Hotels preaches, “Either change or you will be changed.” Tech vendors have to forego their outdated mentality and create a collaborative environment with open APIs in order to be part of the movement to advance the industry. “Many great solutions die because they could never successfully join the ecosystem” - you can’t beat them, so integrate with them.
- Two of Mexico’s Premier Luxury Hotel Groups Trade Their Radios and Spreadsheets for Operations Technology HospitalityNet
- For Hotels, the Airbnb Threat Could Be Receding Barrons
- Meet Rose, the Sassy New Bot Concierge in Las Vegas Travel and Leisure
- Hilton and Marriott Turn to the Internet of Things to Transform the Hotel Room Experience Skift
TRAVEL TECHNOLOGY SPOTLIGHT
80 DAYS Benchmark Service: The team at hospitality digital marketing agency 80 DAYS has recently unveiled Benchmark, their free service for hotels to measure their website and digital marketing performance versus the industry averages on a monthly basis. Find out where you have opportunity to grow your reach. Learn more at http://www.eighty-days.com/digital/hotel-benchmarking/.