In order to satisfy the need for immediacy, a large number of hotels are equipping themselves with communication tools that allow for a direct and personalized exchange with their customers.
Alessia Falvert's Bachelor's thesis, conducted between November 2021 and June 2022 in the Tourism program of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis, focused on the technological tools used by Swiss hoteliers to communicate directly with their customers online. A benchmark of the websites and social networks of 201 Swiss hotels (randomly selected and covering all types of establishments) leads to the following observations:
These figures show that live chats and chatbots are not yet widely used in the Swiss hotel industry. Although they have been successful in other sectors (banks, e-commerce, etc.), these technological tools have not yet managed to convince and assert themselves in hotels. Even though this is only a sample of 201 hotels, these results provide an insight into the current state of direct communication in the Swiss hotel sector.
The vision of the hoteliers
To complete the comparative analysis, 11 semi-structured interviews (10 hotels from 3 to 5 stars and one non-rated hotel) were conducted. Thus, four hotels using basic direct communication channels, three hotels using live chat as well as four hotels using a chatbot agreed to answer several questions.
In these interviews, the most used direct communication channel is social networks, which allow a speed and proximity with the customer that other channels do not allow.
Live chats, despite their low presence in the benchmark, are perceived as a good solution to have a direct contact with customers. Thanks to their instantaneous functionality and their human aspect, these systems seem to be a good compromise between the so-called "traditional" means of communication and chatbots, which are still considered too impersonal. However, having to respond to these online requests 24/7 remains one of the main obstacles.
The only communication channel that can respond to guests without requiring the permanent availability of a resource, which can be described as "concierge", is the chatbot. Thanks to the latter, numerous repetitive questions can be handled by the robot, saving time for the hotel team. However, the loss of the human factor and the implementation of this digital solution represent undeniable obstacles to its use. Some hoteliers are not comfortable with the idea of a machine answering for them, as they make a point of creating a relationship of trust with their customers.
In general, the biggest issue with direct communication is the time it takes. Other points raised in the interviews were:
Recommendations for hotels
Based on these findings, several recommendations can be addressed to the Swiss hotel sector. First and foremost, a complete analysis of the hotel's needs should be done before implementing a communication system, be it a live chat or a chatbot. Each channel has its own specificities and it is important to be aware of them before implementing it in a company. Indeed, you should never implement a system without meeting a predefined need or objective.
According to artificial intelligence expert Jérôme de Nomazy, it is useless to set up a chatbot if an analysis of the hotel's needs and expectations has not been done beforehand. For example, if there are not 5 or 6 repetitive questions that represent 30% of the general requests, then the use of a chatbot will only represent a waste of time for the hotel. Indeed, the hotel will have to take care of the various specific questions that the chatbot cannot answer.
For the use of a live chat, it is very important to take into account the tone with which the communication team addresses the customer, and to keep the communication codes of the establishment. Indeed, widely used in the private sphere to converse with friends and family, live chat should not be perceived as a communication tool where one allows oneself a familiar or lighter communication.
Secondly, it seems essential, today, to have an account on social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. The publication of photos or videos offers a significant visibility for the hotel. In addition, hotels can respond to comments left on the page by Internet users, in a direct and quick way.
Finally, a hybrid system between live chat and chatbot could be a good compromise. This type of technology allows, on one hand, to use a live chat during the opening hours of the establishment, and on the other hand, to activate a chatbot during the closing hours.
The Swiss hotel sector is not yet very advanced in the use of direct communication technologies. However, it remains essential for any type of hotel to make a complete analysis of its needs before embarking on any of these technological tools. It must offer a digital service that is in line with its values, that it can control and use in order to guarantee a quality experience for its customers.
Alessia Falvert's Bachelor's thesis (in French only) is available to download hereunder. .
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