4 Years With Alexa – Lessons Learned In Hospitality

My first foray into voice was with Lola Tech back in 2015 looking at proving out the ability to book an airline ticket using Alexa.  With the capability hooked into the airline API’s it was a solid use case and around the organisation we looked for other opportunities or stand alone products we could build…

I came up with the idea for Dazzle, an in room concierge, with a colleague in a Belgian Bar in Broadway Market and we swiftly knocked the business plan together and submitted the concept to the newly launched “Marriott TestBED” Accelerator.  Long story short, three months later we were running in Marriott Hotel County Hall and learning a lot.

The in room concierge allowed guests to make requests through an in room Alexa and those requests were transmitted to the concierge to action, it also answered FAQ’s.  A companion Facebook Messenger bot allowed access to the same corpus of information.  Marriott were keen to embrace innovation in an authentic way and tell that story, it later transpired that the entire TestBED concept came from the Marketing Team, via their agency.  The TestBED accelerator it seemed was a very cost effective way to produce authentic content that would blaze through their social channels and hit the brief of changing the perception of Marriott by Millennial’s.  I do also believe it helped Marriott talk about innovation through the business, well done Guy Kedlar 😉

Looking back, this was an incredibly insightful move from Marriott, they were riding the peak of inflated expectations (See Gartner Hype Cycle), the vision we were putting forward was in line with the image of innovation they wished to portray, even though the technology was arguably too early for it’s time.  We learned some lessons and rolled out to some other Hotel chains but once the use cases were clear Amazon then launched ‘Alexa for Hospitality’ in June 2018, effectively taking a layer of value on top of the core business model that made us have to pivot into bluer oceans.

Gartner Hype Cycle

So why is this technology not yet in all hotel rooms?

It’s a very complicated use case.  In order to deliver the experience, you really need to tie together a number of disparate data silo’s:

o   Loyalty

o   Smart Room

o   Local Knowledge

o   Hotel Knowledge

All this information, and often systems, are different in every hotel and a swift roll-out to multiple properties is challenging.  The better proven and easier deployed use case comes at the top of the funnel in discovery and booking, completely delivered through the same digital channels between all properties in a group.

So these kind of voice enabled systems are coming and companies like Volara re doing a brilliant job of pushing the market forward, but it will take some time.  At this point I really like to pull out this quote:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction” – Bill Gates

Why does this have to happen?

The “Billion User Club” (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple) are all pushing forward with their assistant’s front and centre of their offering and they are very good at gently ‘nudging’ the consumer forward into their way of thinking.  I saw a great example of this recently in Google’s latest hardware release and the Pixel smartphone wireless charging stand.  Simply, it stands the phone upright whilst charging.  When upright, the pixel displays a ‘call to action’ from Google Assistant encouraging the user to engage with the device like a smart speaker.  Then you put it in your pocket and continue using the assistant in this way whilst out and about.  Google is gently ‘nudging’ behavior and usage of it’s assistant platform.  This is coming, the pace of change may be longer than the media has told you but it’s most definitely coming. In 2019 we see the ‘tipping point’ where more than 50% of the world’s population are using messaging applications and the companies that realise that they have the opportunity to communicate with their customers on these conversational channels will have an advantage over those that don’t.

Messaging tipping point

There are 3 steps that need to be taken in order to make the most of these channels (Alexa, Google Home, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.):

1.       Trust

Customers need to trust that they can ask questions and immediately get back the correct results.

2.       Personalisation

Each engagement allows you to learn a little more about your customer and then deliver ever more tailored responses.  Over time you will automatically communicate with each customer uniquely.  This increases trust and relevance.

3.       Activation

Once you have an engaged customer, communicating with your brand through a trusted, personalised, channel they are more likely to positively respond to outbound offers and conversion rates will increase.

Things move fast and in 2017 ‘’Natural Language Question Answering” completely disappeared from the Gartner Hype Cycle meaning we’re on the way up the ‘slope of enlightenment’.  This is coming, like extinction, it will come slowly, slowly, slowly then very fast.  Don’t get left behind.

 About the author:

Charles Cadbury believes that everyone should be able to communicate seamlessly with the brands they love and is CEO and Co-Founder of Say It Now.

Say It Now specialises in Natural Language Understanding (voice and chat bots).  We can help you shape your thinking and realise the opportunity for increased sales conversion, brand experience or customer service.  Find out more at https://sayitnow.ai or talk to our charming chatbot at m.me/sayitnow

Charlie gave this talk at Buy Tourism Online in Florence, Italy in March 2019.  See full slide deck and recording of the talk below:

Does Hospitality Go AI from Charles Cadbury