Hotel Speak first met Edward™, Edwardian Hotels‘ Virtual Host, at EyeforTravel Europe 2017, when the man fundamentally responsible for ‘his’ creation, Edwardian’s Director of Information Technology, Michael Mrini, presented the Artificial Intelligence technology to a very enthusiastic crowd.
Michael discussed the origins of the technology, how it integrates with their PMS (Property Management System) Opera, it’s understanding of 900+ interactions and how well it’s been received by their guests.
Edward was ‘born‘ in May 2016, so has recently just turned one! We thought it was time to celebrate Edward’s first anniversary by catching up with Michael to hear what it’s been like using a virtual host/hotel chatbot for over 12 months:
Happy Birthday Edward! How have the first 12 months been?
Fun and very educational!
Edward uses a NLU (Natural Language Understanding) interface that allows guests to use more natural, conversational, language when communicating with him. Do you think this makes it less obvious that he’s an Artificial Intelligence?
Yes and no. NLU enables Edward to understand the request and the sentiment. However what makes him appear less artificial and sound more human is how we taught him to respond. Edward is a hospitality ’employee’, a ‘Host’, therefore we train Edward like we train our other employees. As much as possible Edward demonstrate a ‘Yes I can’ attitude; Edward never says I don’t know or I can’t help you (except if the request is out of the scope of a hotel employee.) Instead it says ‘we’ll get back to you shortly’ and gets someone else to help. For example, if a guest says ‘where do I get some ice’, Edward doesn’t say ‘there is an ice machine on your floor’ instead he says ‘I’ll send you some ice’ and asks room service to deliver the ice. If Edward doesn’t have the answer to a particular question such as ‘do you have a tennis court’ Edward sends the question guest relations and gets them to reply, then adds the answer to his learning.
Have there been instances where the lines between human/AI have been blurred?
There are daily instances where this happens. In fact I believe the percentage of guests who think Edward is human is over 90%.
Some examples of guest responses to Edward that help illustrate this:
‘You’re a star!’
‘Nice one Edward mate’
‘Hello Edward we are back! Has taken much longer than expected but we are home please can I have lots of mayonnaise with my pizza thank you and if you can do skinny chips that would be brilliant if not no worries thank you for your help xxx’
‘Thank you Edward x That’s so kind xxx’
‘Dear Edward we are in our room for the next 10 minutes. We would be grateful if you pop to our room or we meet you at the reception’
Here Edward sends a message on Saturday night telling guests that breakfast gets very busy on Sunday morning…
‘Hello Edward, thank you very much for your kind suggestions. I will definitely come down early now, since I’m sure you are right, and I will be very happy to use the luggage room before we depart. Thank you very much, hope to see you again if we can’t speak again.’
Here Edward handles a keen fan…
Guest: Hi Edward. Do you have a girlfriend?
Edward: Hello Jane, I wish I could! But I’m just a computer program.
Guest: Sorry about that Edward, that was my daughter messing about. So sorry for bothering you.
Edward: No bother at all.
Guest: Thank you! I’ll make sure she doesn’t bother you again.
From reviewing your TripAdvisor reviews it seems that Edward has a lot of fans! Have any guests reacted less favourably?
I read all conversations with Edward and I can honestly say that in over a year, I have only seen one comment along those lines, that went as follows:
Guest: Rrrr piss off.
Edward: I am terribly sorry, but that type of language is not in my vocabulary.
Guest: Sorry I thought this was a robot I do apologise.
Edward: No bother at all.
How does Edward handle guest complaints? Do you find that guests prefer to complain human-to-human?
I think people find it easier to complain to Edward. It’s easier because it is not face to face. It is less confrontational and at the same time it is recorded and people can review what was said and when. This is obviously great for us because if someone is not happy with something, we want to know and we want the opportunity to make it right for the guests there and then.
How have the team reacted to Edwards introduction?
There was obviously some doubt and some anxiety during the first couple of weeks. AI is not something you see in hotels therefore very unfamiliar to most people in our industry. Especially the way we developed Edward as not only a question and answer tool but a system what works almost entirely like a customer service person. He answers questions but also tells other employee to do ‘stuff’. When Edward says I will send you a bottle opener, Edward tells whoever is on duty in room service ‘Take a bottle opener to room 1234’. Understandably, it was weird for a human being to be told by a machine to go and do something!
However, very quickly, Edward became part of everyday life and everyone talks about Edward as if he was another employee. In fact the everyday conversations go as follows:
‘Michael, we are organising drinks this evening for our VIPs, could you tell Edward to let them know please.’
‘Can you get Edward to help us with…’
‘I don’t know! Ask Edward!’
Edward has become a tool that enables our employees to spend more time focusing on being good hosts and doing what humans do best while Edward answers questions that do not need human interaction or takes care communicating those requests from the guest to the staff.
Does Edward have commercial objectives? Has he driven new bookings for your properties?
Absolutely, again just like any other employee, Edward promotes our products and services in a non-intrusive way. For example, Edward has been very successful as generating more Spa Treatments bookings simply by checking the Spa booking system and identifying available treatment spots during the day then letting the guests in house (and those on their way) know that we have availability. He tells the guests ‘if you’re interested let me know and I’ll send you more details.’
However, more importantly, Edward’s aim is to provide a service that will increase our guests’ engagement and loyalty. Of course there is nothing more powerful than what we used to call ‘word of mouth’, although today it’s much more than just ‘word of mouth’; it’s that plus Facebook, TripAdvisor, Twitter etc.
Finally, you’ve taught Edward to respond to over 900 different interactions, but what has Edward taught you?
Edward has enabled us to learn so much more about our guests. For example:
- Many of our guests do not know whether their booking includes breakfast or not so the confirmations we send are not the most effective way of communicating such information or there is probably too much information and they need to be reviewed.
- Most of our guests don’t know what hotel facilities we have such as the Spa, parking, business centre etc.
- To the best of our knowledge no guests have ever asked an employee if the coffee & tea making facilities in the room are complimentary, yet Edward has been asked many times.
- Many of our guests arrived at the airport then realise they don’t know the hotel address.
- Many of our guests forget their room number during their stay and ask Edward to remind them. This happened to me in a large resort not long ago and it took me about 20 minutes to walk back to reception, ask for the room number then walk back to the room. I had the key card but not the key wallet with the number on it.
- Most of our guests would like to know throughout their stay as soon as their room has been cleaned, whether they are out visiting the city or attending meetings. They would like to know if they can come back to their room. So this is something that guests love, they ask Edward to check and within seconds Edward tells them. If the room is not ready Edward tells them; ‘I will let you know as soon as it’s ready’.
- We have definitely learned that guests appreciate getting specific information on-demand rather than having to browse a website and search for answers.
- Edward has made our service much more efficient; because those guests’ requests and questions are obviously as important to them as a clean, comfortable room. Edward makes it easier for us to anticipate our guests’ needs because if a guest asks for a soft pillow, the next time the guest comes back, Edward tells housekeeping to put the soft pillow in the room without waiting for the guest to ask again. Edward monitors our response time to such requests and escalates them according to our SLAs to make sure that no request is forgotten or delayed.
Want to ‘meet’ Edward?
Edwardian Hotels have 12 properties in total; 11 in London and 1 in Manchester with a 13th property (in Leicester Square) currently undergoing development and re-opening in 2019.