Voice automation: The new revenue driving machine?

Smart speakers are poised to become an integral part of the hotel industry, and are likely to have a major impact on how guests shop and book hotels.

Hey Siri, what’s the latest news on voice automation in hotels? Bixby, can you turn to channel 202? Alexa, turn on classic rock to volume 5? OK Google, dim the lights to my evening setting.

For every possible voice automation request you could make, it seems there are an equal number of articles or panel discussions on the topic. It’s hard to miss how the trend of supporting guest requests through artificial intelligence and voice automation has created “buzz” around the industry. However, voice automation goes beyond service requests.

Instead of just talking about hotels adopting smart speaker technology with new services, let’s take a deeper look at how smart speakers will become an integral part of our industry, why we should care now and how being on top of this trend makes us better hoteliers.

As smart speakers, voice automation and AI evolve, they will align to loyalty programs, distribution platforms and the back-office tools independent and branded hotels use. Over time, these tools will support the idea of delivering frictionless and seamless experiences, likely have a major impact in the customer decision-making during shopping and booking, and become far more integrated in our industry beyond simply supporting guest requests.

Let’s start here: Why this is a reality?
According to research firm Tractica, speech recognition usage will reach 82% of mobile devices by 2020. Further, voice recognition—such as biometrics in which a device recognizes an individual’s voice and thus their specific behaviors—will reach 36%. Garner & Edison research explains that in U.S. homes, smart speaker adoption was 7% at the beginning of 2017 and will reach 75% in 2020—an 85% compound annual growth rate. Since more than one person often lives in a home, there are expected to be nearly 260 million users by 2020. Growth of smart speaker adoption is actually faster than that of the smartphone.

However, this reach goes beyond homes. Auto manufacturers will begin integrating more powerful AI into 2019 models, with Amazon Echo beginning to appear in Lexus models and Google Assistant in General Motors, Honda and Hyundai vehicles. Proprietary platforms are becoming more useful and beginning to integrate through apps to the larger Google and Amazon platforms. And, a recent NPR Edison study found that 65% of consumers who have used AI through a smart speaker have said they “couldn’t imagine life without it.”

Now let’s think about this through the eyes of the hotel guest.

Hotel rooms are inherently unfamiliar places—they are not home. In many cases, people visit hotels and resorts seeking out escapes, looking for distinctive and memorable experiences that are different from home.

However, through guest satisfaction reviews, we also know that best experiences are consistently flawless, without problems, where team members deliver unexpectedly helpful service and something memorable happens. This is where voice automation and AI come in.

As more and more customers use these tools and services at home, in their cars and on the go, the guest will no longer see them as a unique element in hotels. Instead, these tools will evolve into an expected part of the offer.

Think back over the past 40 years. Cable TV, high-speed internet, beds with crisp white linens, flat-screen TVs, a decent gym and free Wi-Fi were all premium conveniences that made their way into everyday life before evolving into hotel industry table-stakes. Why should we think AI and smart speakers will be any different? They are the next experience frontier.

How will AI play into the evolution of guest experiences?
Imagine guests being able to sync a phone to a hotel room, using it to control all touchpoints. Through an app, or voice, a guest can have a touch-free experience that impacts all technology, amenities and special requests.

What’s more, if a hotel room offers a voice assistant that recognizes a guest based on a past stay at the hotel or at another hotel in the company’s loyalty program, or because of direct connectivity to the same voice assistant the guest has at home, the experience can truly become frictionless. Beyond requesting extra amenities and preferences, AI can set temperature, brighten the mirror, tune to the desired news channel, dim the lights for an evening return, play alternative rock on satellite radio or even turn on evening white noise. It becomes a game-changer and wow factor that has guests choosing one property over another.

Data that smart tools and AI gather is shared with companies (with a user’s permission), enabling better experiences and more targeted offers.

As an example in the F&B space, if you are a Yelp, TripAdvisor or OpenTable user, your interaction with those services helps determine which offers and programming you see through marketing and social channels. If I know you love Italian food and that you’re in a new city today, why not recommend a 4.5-star Italian restaurant? This is one simple and tactical touchpoint. It’s not at all a far leap to see how AI data becomes commonplace in the home and then the hotel across many touchpoints.

How should hoteliers think about and start applying this insight today?
The starting point today is simply awareness. It’s not critical to run out and buy a smart speaker for every hotel room tomorrow. The challenge for operators and developers is to consider how these disruptive technologies will quickly emerge on the radar of more and more guests, across hotel price-points.

If you’re embarking on a major renovation or starting new construction, is this a line item you’ve considered? If not, it should be. How is it prioritized? If you are the designer, have you had this conversation with the developer or vice versa? AI and voice automation are changing our lives in many ways, and quickly. The hotel guest experience is no exception, and savvy hoteliers and developers should get in front of it.

Here’s some fun homework: next time you find yourself in front of a smart speaker, ask it where voice automation and AI are going!

This article originally appeared on Hotel News Now in September 2018. Click below to check it out.