Written By: Sherif Mamdouh, official guest blogger for HITEC® Amsterdam 2018
I have had the pleasure of a front row seat at a very special panel discussion. The hospitality industry’s top tech executives got together at HITEC Amsterdam today to discuss artificial intelligence (AI) and voice recognition. The challenge: to make sense of all of the changes happening in information technology and articulate value-adding solutions for the hospitality industry. How do we turn a land of confusion into a land of opportunity? The panelists had a few secrets to share.
- Jorge Carmona, co-founder, Veovox
- Gwendolyn Graman, global proposition lead conversational commerce, Capgemini
- Kees Jacobs, digital proposition lead, Capgemini
- Hampus Ljunggren, head of strategy, Travel Appeal
- Frank Reeves, co-founder and CEO, Avvio
Each panelist, through his own experience and colorful storytelling, perfectly exemplified the tremendous potential for an enhanced overall customer journey through technological innovation.
Exploring future usages of these promising, yet still untapped, technologies is something that entices a growing number of companies. The required investment (time, training, expenditure) remains however, a major roadblock in the quick adoption of the many tools, products and services being developed.
Communication is changing, expectations are changing too, and immediacy has become expected of anyone under the age of 35. If you have a question, you want an answer NOW. If you need room service to bring a toothbrush up to your room, an unanswered call by reception will kill your customer satisfaction.
From a conversational point of view, chat bots offer the possibility to cater to this (slightly capricious) expectation that everything must be delivered at the very moment we have an enquiry. Voice recognition is said to greatly enhance the in-room experience. But let’s put all the technical stuff to the side for a moment…
One of the most interesting ideas, on which all the panelists seemed to agree, was that you can have all the tech in the world, but if you don’t reach your customer at an emotional level, you won’t make a difference. This statement takes on a whole new dimension when it is made by people who make a living from interacting with emotionless machines.
“Rational drivers are still too predominant. Emotional drivers need to be further explored and leveraged,” said panelist Kees Jacobs of Capgemini. Only then will innovations such as voice recognition make an impact. And when it happens, it will definitely be disruptive.
Who cares if we can control our room with our voice, you ask? Well… humans are lazy (yes, you too). Convenience and ease of use have been the root of much of the world’s innovation — ever since that one guy got tired of pulling on raw meat with his teeth, and decided to smash a rock and use its cutting edge (see what I did there?) to cut through those annoying nerves.
It’s not only about using voice commands for single actions, such as “switch on TV.” Yes, you could probably spend fewer calories just pressing the little red button on the remote. Where it gets interesting is when several actions can be initiated by a single voice command. Imagine the command: “computer, I will go and cook now.” The oven turns on, the kitchen lights turn on and your favorite cooking music starts playing on the speaker located in the kitchen.
Frank Reeves, whose company Avvio uses AI to offer a unique booking journey, agreed and explained that when it comes to booking engines, they all “serve up same experience to everyone.” AI effectively allows a company to individually and proactively engage the user, personalize the experience and incorporate said emotional triggers. This is done, he says, by building up users’ digital footprints.
Overdependence on OTAs can be upset by using AI to directly reach customers with that missing emotional element. It often equates to basically having an online brochure that offers the same experience to a 21-year-old American spring-breaker and a 76-year-old Turkish grandmother. Why cross-sell car rental services to someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license, for instance? Good use of technology allows you to make the journey more relevant, more engaging. Show your customers you know them and you’ve thought of how to make their experience unique.
Jorge Carmona’s voice recognition company Veovox also recognizes the emotional implications of a seamless voice command experience. Preliminary feedback has shown a tenfold decrease in customer complaints. This is not only good for the sake of increasing customer satisfaction. Getting back to the psychology of it all, we can see that bad voice recognition increases frustration. Frustration raises anxiety, and anxiety is a big deterrent when it comes to spending. So bye-bye to cross-selling and up-selling. Gwendolyn Graman of Capgemini echoed this strong customer-centricity as well. “Focus on the customer. IoT and conversational interfaces must be used to better understand the customer’s wishes and offer concrete assistance,” she said.
It turns out AI and machine learning isn’t only good to “stalk” your customers. It’s also good for “self-stalking.” Hampus Ljunggren, head of strategy for Travel Appeal explained how he uses big data to help hotels adapt to risks and opportunities almost in real-time by “scrapping all available public data relevant to the hotel and its surroundings, identifying patterns and making them actionable through daily recommendations to the hotels.” This can help with things such as pricing, cultural specificities of certain guests, or any other touchpoint where a potential improvement has been identified.”
Voice is also an interesting way to identify someone. Recognizing the speaker offers the possibility of tailoring the answers given by the voice recognition device.
None of the panelists seemed too worried about data privacy issues and agreed that people have become used to sharing their personal information, especially younger generations. In fact, millennials expect to have their personal data used to improve their experience. The underlying tacit agreement is therefore, “I give you my personal info, and you make my life easier.”
AI could create a far better, overall human experience. As a hotelier, if you know what flight your guest is arriving on, send him a WhatsApp message asking if he would like an early check-in (we all hate those 15:00 check-ins!) or if he would rather book a massage while he waits for his room to become available.
Exceeding the customer’s expectation is when you really start tapping into the emotional side of things. And it’s a win-win: you gain legitimacy for cross-selling or up-selling, and the customer is proactively provided with solutions to problems he didn’t even know had a solution.
Sherif Mamdouh is the external communications manager at Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne (EHL) and the official guest blogger for HITEC® Amsterdam 2018, taking place 11-13 April 2018 at the RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Please check back on HFTP Connect for a third and final blog post from Sherif detailing his experiences and insights at HITEC Amsterdam 2018.