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Hospitality sector welcomes AI voice services

By Jon Buss | managing director UK and Northern Europe



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September 4, 2018 | 6 min read

Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Siri from Apple have initiated a revolution in search, and it is a significant transformation within the marketing and customer services industries.

A view of the London skyline with augmented reality information tags attached to landmarks.

The key change for marketers is that, a typed search entry typically generates multiple results, while voice search often offers just one spoken result. Consumers using voice assistants now depend on the information within this first search result, rather than the option to choose from several options, as they did previously. This means that businesses are vying for this top spot: second place means their brand just won’t show up. So, how can businesses and brands boost their online discoverability through voice search?

Amazon, the key player in this space, has a direct integration with Yext to ensure that the business information - locations, contact information, hours of operation, and more - of Yext customers is accurate and up to date in Amazon Alexa. Through this integration with the Yext platform, Amazon now sources business information straight from the Yext customer; directly from the business itself. This management and syncing of business data is known as Digital Knowledge Management (DKM), an essential marketing process to ensure that consumers can discover, locate and engage with a business’ products, people, and services.

Put into practice

Taking the example of the hospitality sector, a consumer may ask Alexa: ‘Where can I find a quick lunch near me?’ Alexa will search through the online information available and select the most relevant restaurant or cafe for the answer. It is therefore essential for local restaurants and cafes to show up as a possible option for Alexa: they need to provide accurate and structured online information so Alexa can easily discover them and deliver their brands as the one relevant search result.

In this way, it is DKM which can determine the visibility of the restaurant. Not only will DKM surface a restaurant as the one search result, but plentiful information within this result should boost the customer experience. For example, Alexa can detail the opening hours, drinks served, and even available discounts, which should all help the customer arrive in the right place, at the right time, and enjoy a perfect service.

Indeed, we are already seeing the adoption of voice-controlled devices and interactive advertising by some of the world’s biggest hotel chains.

The Best Western hotel chain, for example, has expanded its partnership with IBM’s Watson Ads, developing AI-powered interactive digital advertising units. Hosted by The Weather Company, these intuitive ads offer mobile users a voice-based and personalised conversation which includes holiday tips and recommendations.

“You can’t show up with an ad anymore that just tries to get someone to click and buy something,” notes IBM Watson Advertising CRO Carrie Seifer. “With [our] ad unit in particular, it has Watson information infused into the ad units so Best Western can have a two-way dialogue that shows the value of their service by going beyond just making a reservation...” Consumers now expect more from their interactions with brands and want to see brands adding value to their customer experiences.

Best Western's decision to follow up The Weather Company campaign with the release of a chatbot later this summer supports this notion. The decision will enable the hotel chain to have an ongoing dialogue with travellers, which in turn will help drive its rewards programmes.

Alexa For Hospitality: feel ‘at home’ on the road

Amazon’s ‘Alexa For Hospitality’ is the latest innovation in customer service within the hospitality sector. For a consumer, Amazon Alexa in a hotel room is a no-brainer, particularly if you are used to using Alexa at home. The Marriott International chain is set to be the first hotel chain to feature this innovation, through the installation of in-room Echo smart speakers.

‘Alexa for Hospitality’ will offer hotels the opportunity to give guests and platinum members bespoke and personalised interactions. Since travellers are choice-rich and time-poor, the ability to tailor guest experiences to their needs will be a key differentiator for hotel brands.

Indeed, a hotel could also look at connecting the guest’s Amazon account to their hotel loyalty account, something which would unlock useful data about frequent requests, favourite music playlists and lots more. These insights present an opportunity for hotels to make their guests feel fully ‘at home’ while they are on the road.

In Amazon’s words, Alexa for Hospitality “helps deepen guest engagement through seamless voice-first experiences, which offer new ways for guests to access services and amenities during their stay.” This advancement just scratches the surface of the possibilities which local voice search can offer guests in helping them easily discover the local area.

A revolution on a knife edge?

These hotel chains have made astute moves in the hospitality sector; travellers are increasingly dependent on online information. The adoption of these technological innovations stands to enhance the quality of care for each guest, while also providing the opportunity for technologists to bring new consumers into the voice ecosystem.

Voice search is an ultimate convenience; it brings instant access to fast, accurate, and context-appropriate information on services, businesses, and entertainment options in the local area. It's why technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa and IBM’s Watson will be rapidly adopted across the hotel and hospitality sectors.

In order for these technologies to flourish, online business information must be correct and up-to-date. Accurate brand knowledge for the ‘on-demand’ consumer brings immense value in the new age of hospitality, however ensuring business information is accurate and updated across the digital ecosystem is a complex task. Using a platform for DKM, which is integrated into all the digital platforms which consumers use for search - Facebook, Google, Apple Maps, TripAdvisor, among many others - is essential. A business powering accurate, plentiful and structured information to each digital touchpoint, is empowered to maintain an informed and happy customer base, and an enhanced brand reputation.

Jon Buss is managing director (Northern Europe) at Yext

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