Does My Hotel Really Need Robots? Artificial Intelligence Trends for Todays Hotels

By Tema Frank CEO, Frank Reactions | April 29, 2018

When hotel owners and managers hear about cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, they typically have one of two reactions. Some are excited, eagerly looking for ways to incorporate the latest and greatest into their business. This is often a reaction from big, high-end hotel chains that have money to invest in leading- edge experiments, such as Hilton's robot concierge, Connie.   At the other end of the spectrum are those who figure it is all over-hyped, and even if there are some cool things new technology enables, it is way too expensive for their hotel. For most hoteliers, though, the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle.

AI is rapidly changing the industry. Some of the applications are flashy and – for the moment – expensive. But many others are behind the scenes, enabling higher profits and more satisfied customers, often at a price that even small hotels can afford.

In fact, you are probably already be using AI without realizing it. When Netflix recommends the perfect show for you to watch next, Google predicts what you are about to type, or Siri answers your question, you have benefited from the powers of AI. At its simplest, AI is software that uses an approach called "machine learning" or "reinforcement learning" so that not everything has to be pre-programmed. Instead, the machine "learns" in ways similar to a human, through trial and error. Because computing power has increased and its costs decreased so dramatically in recent years, it can go through many more rounds of trial and error and thus improve much faster than a human can, and it can detect patterns that are too complex for human brains to spot.

So, for example, instead of Netflix being programmed to suggest the latest Avengers movie to males between the ages of 25 - 45 who live in Chicago, it can go much deeper, combining what it knows about people like you (using far more than just age, gender, and where you live) and its knowledge of what you personally have enjoyed in the past to come up with much more accurate, personalized recommendations, that change as your interests do. The more data the system gets, the better it gets at knowing what to suggest next.

Hilton's robot concierge, Connie.... the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry

AI has already started shaking up the hospitality world and its potential applications are booming. Here are a few examples:

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.