Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? For many travelers, anticipation and enthusiasm are high, and, for hospitality companies, the pressure to deliver an excellent customer experience is on. In fact, a recent survey found that 68% of Americans agree that they have a greater appreciation for travel because of experiences missed during the pandemic.
Yet it is also a precarious time for the industry, as due to pent-up demand, hotel room prices are skyrocketing globally. Between October 2020 and October 2021, hotel room rates increased by 184%, while, in Europe, Rome and Lisbon experienced room price increases of 23% and 20%, respectively. Adding to this problem is the lack of supply in guestrooms and staffing, as, still unable to open at total capacity, many hotels are operating at 60% to 70% occupancy, due to a labor shortage caused by hotels letting staff go in order to survive the pandemic. Many service staff have also resigned, simply burnt out after needing to double-up shifts to cover for colleagues who were let go from their positions (in March 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the leisure and hospitality industry faced a quit rate of 5.7%).
With excitement at the prospect of a return to travel, and expectations that are higher than ever, now is the time for travel and hospitality companies to harness new tools and technologies to amplify the guest experience, providing ones that are memorable and leave a lasting impact.
Powering the Hospitality Guest Experience with AI
Meeting guests where they are
Guests expect support across an increasing number of channels, and travel companies are falling short.
Our recent Travel and Hospitality Customer Service Benchmark Report found out that, for many global travel and hospitality companies, support delivered through various platforms (email and social media) is not quite up to par. Of those companies that do have a readily available email address, shockingly 68% of them ignore customer emails. What’s more, responses often lack thoroughness, as well as empathy (only 11% of travel and hospitality companies displayed empathy in their email responses by acknowledging a customer’s concern surrounding COVID-19’s potential impact on their travel plans).
AI-powered virtual agents can answer repeatable queries, allowing hospitality support teams to scale to new channels without the added headcount. Helping to scale 24/7 support across an increasing number of channels, they work alongside human agents to provide immediate resolutions to questions frequently asked via email, chat, social and messaging platforms, inquiries that are both repetitive and high-volume, such as those regarding room availability, room status and upgrades, check-in and check-out times, rewards programs and billing.
Empowering frontline hospitality teams in a digital world
For hospitality workers, harnessing AI-powered solutions helps to make aspects of their jobs less repetitive, alleviating some of the monotony of their day-to-day lives. This new era of travel also comes with a host of new COVID-related inquiries regarding cleaning procedures, vaccine and mask requirements, and cancellation policies. Providing answers to these pressing questions in a timely manner is critical. These virtual agents can also gather information from a customer before routing to a human agent, helping to dramatically decrease resolution times.
With AI managing the repeatable queries, customer support teams can instead focus their time and attention on complex customer issues, and on little appreciative gestures, such as attending to loyal and VIP guests who frequent the hotel for their annual summer holiday, or helping to source potential venues for a wedding rehearsal dinner. The result? Agents are more fulfilled, so companies see lower agent attrition and save significant resources when it comes to hiring and training new employees.
Indeed, hoteliers have been embracing new technologies amid a changing, and digital-first world. The 2022 Hotelier Technology Sentiment Report from StaynTouch and NYU Tisch Center of Hospitality found that, between the beginning of the pandemic and the end of 2021, the number of popular hospitality technologies used by hotels increased by 31%, a number that is projected to increase by 19% in 2022. During the pandemic, technologies offering guests contactless check-in/out (such as mobile check-in and/or self-service kiosks) increased by 66%.
A personalized and proactive approach to customer service
Additionally, this wealth of knowledge for customer service teams – a 360° view of the customer – can also pave the way for hospitality guest experiences that are more personalized. Prior to interaction with a support agent, for instance, a virtual agent could gather a guest’s background details, such as the city of their departure, flight details, the purpose of their trip, and any dietary restrictions they may have. This allows for opportunities for personalized touches upon their arrival at the hotel (such as being welcomed with gluten-free cupcakes in their hotel room, or a list of recommended nearby vegan restaurants)! An AI virtual assistant could pull in customer data, such as previous visits (Peter stayed at the hotel eight years ago when traveling for a business conference, but according to a feedback survey, he was not overwhelmed with the breakfast buffet).
Such an approach also allows for customer service that is more proactive, as opposed to reactive. How can go above and beyond, making the first move by anticipating any budding issues and halting them in their tracks? For instance, detecting that a guest’s early morning flight has been cancelled, an AI-powered virtual agent could ask if they would like a late check-out.
Adopting an AI-first approach to provide a five-star guest experience
Travel is not the same as it once was. With the resurgence of excitement in travel, hospitality companies are seeing an influx in demand, and with it, increased support volumes. It is critical for hospitality companies to cater to evolving needs and expectations of guests, and there is an opportunity for them to leverage AI-powered solutions to offer experiences that are more personalized, to ensure a seamless end-to-end travel journey.