Pros and Cons of Hotel Chat Tools for Guest Communications
Ever think you’re talking to a person online and then realize their grammar is just a little too perfect? Possibly you’re connected to a chatbot because no one is that perfect. No typos, really fast replies…just too blasted perfect. Chat software or simply a “chat” is a form of technology that most people have encountered that can significantly help hotels and many other industries stay connected to their guests and potential guests. Hotel chat tools are an easy solution that enable contact from across the globe 24/7 with anyone who has questions regarding your hotel.
First off, it’s important to understand the terms. Chat refers to the human-to-human interaction similar to phone texting. You may get an immediate reply or it may be delayed depending on availability. A chatbot is artificial intelligence that is programmed to reply to keyword inputs and typically responds during times with no human availability. More and more we are seeing the two operating in sync depending upon the sophistication of the software. But… do people feel a bit put off when they realize they are having a “conversation” with an algorithm, or do they welcome the immediate response?
Hotel tech has changed dramatically over the past ten years, and chat technology has become a favorite new tool for hotels. There’s some controversy about their use on a hotel’s website, though they are intended to streamline the communication. With any tech advance, there are bound to be downsides that may affect the reputation of the hotel. Do the negatives of these apps outweigh their advantages with your guest communications?
● Immediate Communication – The beauty of this software is that a fast, accurate answer is available live by chat or can be stored within a bot. With a live employee, you run the risk of having them not know an answer and calling over a manager or thinking they know the answer and giving incorrect replies. This takes time…a lot of time. Also, foreign accents can be an issue for many. The chat, however, is quick and efficient with its answers. It may not be the most elegant answer you’ve ever received, but it’s an excellent solution for those who need a concise response to a simple question promptly.
● Easy Access – If someone has a simple question about your hotel, the chat ensures that the inquirer doesn’t have to phone anyone to get an answer. Let’s be honest; most of us don’t enjoy calling businesses to get answers to simple questions. There’s always some residual PTSD when calling a company. We’ve all experienced the excruciating pain of being on hold for an hour to have a two-minute conversation. Chats eliminate the tedious task of having to call someone and also create a seamless line of communication. An Ecoconsultancy survey finds that 79% of consumers who prefer live chat do so to eliminate being put on hold.
● Connection Anytime, Anywhere – Since we’re way past the days of Y2K and the fear of the demise of the internet, it’s safe to say the Web will always be around and readily available. While your staff is sound asleep, the chatbot can be having a conversation with someone halfway across the world about the price of rooms next month. 24/7 communication may not seem necessary, but it means that your hotel’s info isn’t restricted to the hours of operation. The chatbot makes them feel more connected than a one-way email send. According to a study done by VentureBeat, 51% of people feel that businesses should be available in some capacity 24/7 to answer any questions.
● Lower Booking Expenses – Getting fed up with OTAs and those fees? Chat gives you another avenue to direct connections with your prospective guests. Your highest ADR will always be your own website/booking engine, and anything that helps keep visitors on your site is a plus.
● “Talking” to a Chat – One of the main concerns of using a chat on your hotel’s website is losing the authenticity of speaking to a real person. Though chats and chatbots are available 24/7, their value is in providing secure information in the simplest way possible. The exchange leads to very confusing answers if the bot doesn’t understand the question. It’s kind of like asking a toddler how to get to the nearest grocery store. There are also many who prefer to speak live with a human for the security. With the paranoia about our safety over the internet, there will be those who aren’t comfortable giving information like email addresses to an unknown recipient. Nevertheless, Business Insider found that 63% of people are open to messaging a chat to gain information. However, that same survey indicates that 79% would want a human to step in if they asked to speak to one.
● Losing Interpersonal Connections – Customer service is inherently part of your hotel’s services, so by subbing a chat for a person you might lose out on that opportunity to make a connection with a guest. On the other hand, many people need information quickly and would appreciate any recognition as part of your customer service. VentureBeat found that 49% of people would prefer to get their information from a chat, which still leaves a slight majority wanting to talk to a human. Just know that these numbers are in flux and are trending toward a chat preference.
● The Deception – It’s not always apparent that there is no live human on the other end and people don’t like being deceived. An imperfect analogy is the 2016 Star Wars film “Rogue One,” which convincingly used CGI to resurrect Peter Cushing’s role, even though the actor died in 1994. If you are going to offer a chatbot on your hotel’s website, it’s best to be upfront about it. Once people recognize that they’re not chatting with a person, they’ll likely be more understanding when the answer to their question isn’t at all related. They will also be more likely to leave contact information, which is precisely what you want.
● Cost – Beyond the monthly fee paid to the software provider, there are also expenses for hiring, training, and managing people to handle chat messages. It is always best if a dedicated staff member can reply to those inbound messages immediately, which can be an issue during peak activity times.
So, are hotel chat tools more of a plus than a minus? It seems that like many innovations, the tide has turned in their favor recently since most of us accept them as inevitable. The trend seems to be heading toward an increased use in chats with millennials trusting them more than any other demographic. Gartner found that within two years, 85% of customers will use chats/chatbots when planning their next trip. While they can’t yet handle everything (that day is surely approaching), they do provide useful benefits that outweigh the costs. Those costs are also less than you might expect.
Your hotel’s service goes beyond the interactions between your staff and guests, and chats have an overall positive effect when it comes to customer relations. If you are thinking of adding one, be upfront about the fact that they won’t always be chatting with a live person and if the response seems funky, they will understand. Always follow up on chat messages as soon as possible. Feel free to check out our website’s chat in the lower right corner and let us know how you like it.