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Voice Recognition in the Hospitality Industry

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June 18, 2018
Voice Technology
Siva Kantamneni

In the not too distant past, the idea of talking to machines and instructing them to perform tasks would have been the stuff of science fiction, but with recent advancements in voice recognition, speech processing and allied technologies, this has become practical and possible; therefore, advancements in voice recognition are becoming part of the evolving industry landscape.

Voice recognition is a technology where one speaks to a “smart” device which processes human speech, deciphers a question or command, and returns an appropriate response. This technology has been leveraged by many technology manufacturers who have equipped mobile phones with assistants in addition to building products for the home. The ability to tie in to other technologies, thereby allowing voice-driven automation, has captured consumer mind space and share of wallet.

In a technology space that is becoming rapidly crowded, different industry players are forming alliances with the objective of staving off competition. It is no surprise that major hospitality industry players have been exploring opportunities to leverage voice recognition technology as well.
The Hospitality Connection
The hospitality industry is a customer-centric, high-touch environment where “the guest is God” (roughly translated from the Sanskrit phrase “atithi devo bhava”). In a crowded market where brand proliferation is the norm rather than the exception, the hospitality industry is always seeking opportunities to create marketplace differentiation by leveraging chain scale-appropriate technologies that can enhance the guest experience while providing ROI. In the case of voice recognition technology, the hospitality industry is one that possesses multiple touchpoints that could benefit – guests interact with a hotel’s staff even prior to check-in all the way through using different amenities and services, and as a result, the hotel operator or service desk are contacted multiple times a day by most guests. A suitable voice recognition technology-driven service engine can be adequately equipped to enhance guest experiences with various touchpoints while providing empowerment and immediacy.

In addition, business rules can be used to deliver relevant offers and service enhancements. This would allow hotels to step away from discount strategies, free upgrades and other complimentary services and instead provide distinguished and personalized offers which have the propensity to make guests feel special; this also has a positive derivative benefit of boosting one’s brand and enhancing top-of-mind awareness.

Boiling the ocean is easy, but if a voice-driven technology fails to deliver on expected promises, brand reputation will suffer. Unmet guest expectations will likely result in disappointment, especially in the case of erroneous or irrelevant responses. Hotels should be wary of this while determining how many touchpoints to integrate with voice recognition-driven assistants.

Many global hotel chains have identified this rising trend and tapped into its potential to give their guests an improved service experience. Typical guest-facing voice assistant-driven examples include virtual concierge, dining recommendations, room automation control (for TVs, air conditioners, thermostats and blinds), communication with the front desk, and hotel/resort navigation. While most hotels are following suit and tapping into similar areas to push voice-based services, a few of them are also being innovative by enabling personalized greetings and lighting controls that are powered by simple “good morning” and “good night” commands to add in a flavor of fun.

While several guest-facing use cases exist (green dots shown in the graphic), there are a few untapped opportunities which are color-coded yellow or red depending upon the complexity of integration required to surface the desired capabilities. Some of them include features that are already in place, but need to be refined in order to deliver a superlative guest experience while others are futuristic capabilities that will require obtaining solutions to complex technical, business or regulatory challenges, some of which are listed below:

Pre-trip voice-driven engagement opportunities abound and have great potential to be leveraged for example reminders, weather alerts and travel tips (which exist today) – but will require integration with guest itineraries to ensure relevance. This technical integration is not outside the realm of possibility but requires a sound business case-driven assessment. Additional pre-stay functionality such as payments and loyalty program integration are likely to face regulatory challenges and have to alleviate guest concerns but will require time to bring to life. Therefore, hospitality companies should select technology partners and systems integrators who can address integration challenges, operational/change management issues and provide support to deliver relevant use cases in a cost-effective manner.

Numerous employee-facing use cases also exist, for example departmental business briefing and forecasts (similar to a weather forecast). We can almost hear a computer-driven voice assistant recapping yesterday’s RevPAR, occupancy and today’s forecast. Voice assistants could also be programmed to be used by hotel housekeepers to call in maintenance requests, and when the jobs have been completed, close the request via a voice assistant as well.
Looking Ahead
With the passage of time, it is not outside the realm of possibility to see hotels taking advantage of voice-driven assistants to deliver useful services, thereby freeing up staff for more value-added personal interactions with guests. The future of this technology is promising for the hospitality industry as some of the use cases were already brought to life in some shape or form. The race is on.

Contributed by Siva Kantamneni and Amitava Chatterjee with input from Sri Myneni, Abhinav Varshney and Bhavana Kolluru. Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee (“DTTL”), its network of member firms, and their related entities.

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