Today, more tech-savvy hotel guests are looking for easy ways to obtain information without bothering hotel staff. And hotels are finding ways to meet this need. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), for example, is trialing new tech to improve both the guest experience and service efficiency. This year IHG launched trials of a smart Facebook Messenger app or “bot”, as well as in-room Amazon Echo assistant. The Facebook Messenger Bot and Echo services aim to help customers with everything from bookings to discovering nearby things to do.
IHG is trialing its Amazon Echo assistant at select Crowne Plaza hotels. The service uses an in-room Amazon Echo (pictured), paired with IHG’s custom software to answer guests’ questions about the hotel and the surrounding areas. Guests can verbally ask questions of the Echo (e.g., “Where is the gym”, “what time is checkout”, etc.) and the device interprets and answers those questions.
To expand the hotel’s communication with the guests, IHG also built a portal that allows front desk staff to update the Echo’s responses with timely information, such as the hotel restaurant specials for the day.
Facebook Messenger Bot helps Hotel Indigo guests
When Facebook announced at its F8 conference in mid-April that they were opening up their Messenger platform to allow businesses to build “bots”–small programs that can monitor incoming customer messages and automatically respond with text or graphical templates–IHG saw the potential. The company believes that bots can be used to create personalized experiences at scale that allow the brand to simultaneously reduce the costs of customer service and live agents.
IHG moved fast and within eight weeks the company designed, developed and launched the Facebook Messenger Bot for its Hotel Indigo guests. The Bot allows guests to opt-in to receive messages from Hotel Indigo through Facebook Messenger–and even customize their room choices.
Once a guest books a hotel room, he or she is presented with a “Send to Messenger” button. By tapping the “Send to Messenger” button, guests immediately receive confirmation details, including a neighborhood guide with curated local recommendations for dining and entertainment.
On the day before their stay, guests are sent a second message reminding them that they can customize their stay: such as a high or low floor, a room near an elevator, or other preferences.
Hotel reservations through Facebook is a completely new channel for IHG. For its Messenger Bot trial, the company had three main objectives: to 1) create a unique and personalized experience for Hotel Indigo guests; 2) learn how and when Hotel Indigo guests would prefer to communicate with Hotel Indigo through a social messaging channel; and 3) generate awareness for Hotel Indigo as an innovative brand.
How IHG created its Messenger Bot service
IHG believes that Hotel Indigo guests closely fit the profile of active Facebook’s 900 Million Monthly active users (F8, 2016)–digitally engaged millennials who prefer self-service when traveling. For its Facebook Messenger Bot trial, IHG is targeting only Hotel Indigo guests in North America.
IHG says its creative strategy was minimal, because the templates available within Facebook Messenger are highly regulated. The most critical part of the strategy, IHG learned, was getting the “tone” of the Bot just right. Now, its Bot responses are highly tuned to make messages feel personal and in the same voice that a Hotel Indigo staff member would use.
IHG’s Facebook Messenger Bot uses the Facebook Messenger Send/Receive API, which was publicly released in April. The product was designed to work equally well across the Facebook Messenger desktop website, mobile website, and most importantly–Messenger mobile app.
IHG believes that during travel guests will interact with the hotel primarily through the mobile channel, so it sees its timely post-booking and pre- check-in notifications as critical to building awareness for the Bot functionality.
As this is the first few months of the Facebook Messenger Bot program and the use of automated bots in messaging apps is new territory, IHG sees its trial effort as about establishing the baseline for how it might be improved in the future. The current project is too new for the company to measure its impacts on revenue.
So far though, IHG seems to have met its main goals for the trial, which are to delight guests with a new technology experience and allow guests to use another booking channel.
Here’s a one-minute demo video that shows the Facebook Messenger Bot service in action:
IHG’s mobile innovations don’t stop there. Read about its IHG Translator app, plus a kids travel adventure game.
2016 Mobile Star Awards Sponsor & Winner:
Success Story: Mobile Customer Service — IHG Facebook Messenger Bot
Mobile Entertainment or Lifestyle Innovation — IHG Amazon Echo service
Mobile Game — Planet Trekkers
Translator App & Travel Convenience App — IHG Translator
IHG® is a registered trademark of InterContinental Hotels Group.