Hoteliers should look before they leap with chat bots
 
Hoteliers should look before they leap with chat bots
11 MAY 2016 12:04 PM

Facebook's Messenger chat bot announcement has many companies excited about the possibilities, but there are a lot of wrinkles to iron out before hoteliers should go all in.

Anytime Facebook announces a new initiative, the world pays attention.

Take for instance CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s latest announcement at last month’s F8 annual developer’s conference. During his keynote, Zuckerberg announced a new messenger platform that would allow developers to create bots that can automatically interact with customers.

Our initial thought in the Hotel News Now office was that this could change the game for hoteliers. That thought quickly fizzled for me when I started reading all the “chat bots gone wrong” articles that followed. 

But first let me back up and talk about how these chat bots could work and become useful once out of the beta testing phase. Thousands of brands around the world are pining after the connected generations. Many companies believe messaging with consumers through Facebook Messenger is more efficient than email, phone or native apps. I can’t say I disagree with their line of thinking. Think about it. How many of you open your Facebook app before your email or other native apps? I’d be willing to bet the majority.

That brings about a question that prompted me to write this blog. Should hotel companies look into developing Facebook chat bots or should they remain status quo?

Full disclosure, I am far from a technology expert. But what I do pay close attention to is all the ways hoteliers can better their reputation.

That’s what this boils down to: protecting your hotel’s reputation.

Because chat bots are in early stages of development and testing, they require us as users to learn their language instead of vice versa. For example, one of the first chat bots to hit Facebook Messenger was Poncho, which tells you the weather in the voice of a computerized cat (what’s not to love). Except it didn’t quite go as planned for some users.

Rather than have Facebook’s computers automatically pass locations to Poncho, one user wanted to tell Poncho himself. Easier said than done. After replying with a zip code and then the state and then the city and state, Poncho still didn’t have an answer.

This can be a huge issue for the inexperienced chat user. People who aren’t accustomed to communicating with computers, and don’t really know the cost and time associated with building them, could decide altogether that bots aren’t worth their time after one hiccup.

Imagine if your hotel guests encountered that same situation with a chat bot after trying to request information about their stay? Can you imagine the TripAdvisor reviews? The consumer is not always understanding of what goes on in the background. They care most about what inconveniences them during their travels.

Hyatt Hotels Corporation has been experimenting with Facebook Messenger allowing guests to ping the company with questions about accommodations. However, there’s a real human behind the computer screen. We even did an experiment in the HNN offices to verify.

I believe keeping things status quo is a smart move for hoteliers right now. In six months, I might change my mind. But until then, paying close attention to what Booking.com does might not be a bad idea. The travel company recently announced a chat communication service that allows its users to interact more easily with hoteliers before and after their stays.

Users can use the chat service in two ways, according to Venture Beat. They can start by asking a question of their host from within their Booking.com account on any device. That includes messaging directly from the desktop, mobile or within Booking.com apps. Users can initiate any kind of conversation they’d like with the accommodation.

Alternatively, a chat can be initiated from the host’s side. A hotelier can send a notification to the user’s phone, which pulls the user into a conversation within the Booking.com messaging service.

Booking.com plans to integrate with Facebook Messenger at some point. But hoteliers need to keep an eye on how this unfolds. It could tell an interesting story and become a case study for what hoteliers should and shouldn’t do.

Email Samantha Worgull or find her on Twitter

The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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