That front desk agent may be virtual. And more helpful than a live one  

Mar 5, 2022

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Even before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to have a guest’s call to a hotel’s front desk put on hold (and often forgotten) or go unanswered. For a customer, it’s a frustrating experience. For hotels large or small, boutique or budget, it’s a sign of bad service.

Now, many hotels are welcoming back leisure and business guests but dealing with severe staffing shortages. And some properties are promoting existing tools and or new technologies to avoid leaving guests on hold.

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At many properties, guests can use their phone or an app to text questions to hotel staff who may be on or off-site. Elsewhere, guests’ calls to the front desk may at times get routed to call centers in another city or state.

And in some hotels, guests will now be interacting with a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) voice bots trained to answer and handle calls.

One of these AI-powered voice assistants is called Bella and was developed by Travel Outlook, a call center that supports higher-end independent hotels.

“Our overriding goal is to find a pleasant, automated way for hotel guests to obtain immediate answers to frequently-asked questions, allowing them to get back to enjoying their trip instead of waiting on hold or waiting for a call back,” says John Smallwood, Travel Outlook’s president and owner.

Smallwood says Bella’s technology is different from the Natural Language Understanding software that powers AI-systems such as Siri or Alexa because it is programmed using the way people talk. “It uses human conversations from movies, Reddit and other media sources instead of scraping Wikipedia,” says Smallwood. And that, he says, creates a technology that is “superior when it comes to understanding different accents, inflections, or callers that digress or ask long-winded questions.”

Smallwood says in use, outside callers to a hotel might be offered Bella as an option to have a question answered, while internal callers to the front desk would have all calls answered by Bella, but always with an option to transfer to a human instead.

“This is not call deflection,” says Smallwood, “Bella will always offer the option of an immediate transfer to a human. This is simply a way to provide accurate information to guests who don’t mind conversing with the technology.”

The Bella virtual call center can be programmed to understand and speak in almost any language and the voice used can be personalize by the hotel with their own talent. First introduced this past January, Bella is currently in use at the central call center for Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos brand properties and will also be on duty soon at Outrigger Hotels, Pacific Hospitality Group, and Atlantis in the Caribbean.

If you’d like to give Bella a test run to see how the technology works and sounds, Travel Outlet has set up demo at (318) 594-3787. While Bella is programmed to answer perhaps 100 questions, for this test version there’s a reduced number of programmed responses. Here are some questions to try:

  • Hi, I’m checking in tomorrow. What’s your address?
  • Do you have charging stations for my Tesla?
  • I’m actually coming in a big car and I’m not sure if it’ll fit in your garage.
  • Can I bring my dog?
  • I need to do some work while I am there – do you have good internet?
  • Do you guys have free Wi-Fi?
  • Is there a swimming pool?
  • What time does the pool open?
  • I need to get my car from the valet
  • Can I check in early?
  • I’ll be heading over to a nearby city the day after checkout. Can I keep my bags at the hotel and come pick them up after?
  • Last thing, I’d like to book a massage.
  • I’d like to make a reservation.

In addition to the common questions above, Bella is programmed to respond to many common phrases and utterances such as “yeah”  and “no thank you.”

Smallwood offered a few tips on getting along better with Bella. “Longer sentences tend to work better than very short sentences,” he says, and “try a few different variations if Bella doesn’t correctly understand the first time around.”

Featured photo by PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura/Getty Images.

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