DENVER — RLH Corp (formerly Red Lion) successfully deployed an industry-first Artificial Intelligence Virtual Agent for Central Reservations to support all 1,400 system hotels. The AI virtual agent offers a more seamless experience for travellers and more revenue for hotel owners.
This announcement follows the successful completion of a three-month program pilot originally announced on April 24, 2019.
“The results of our pilot have been very positive,” said RLH Corporation director of Telephony Optimization & Analytics, April Weatherly. “We’re seeing travellers engage with the technology at a rate higher than we anticipated and are very pleased with the Virtual Agent’s ability to resolve traveller questions autonomously, reducing the cost of non-revenue related calls.”
When the telephony and AI pilot started, RLH Corp worked with five large U.S. resort-style hotels to find out which data would give them the biggest bang for their buck, developing an FAQ that answered the most common questions posed over the past five years. “We could then provide customers calling for those reasons with good customer service using AI,” said Weatherly.
April 24th was the soft launch, with the company working quietly and under the radar; now RLH Corp is read to tell the market what they've done.
In concert with the systemwide rollout of the Virtual Agent, new features and capabilities have been deployed to further support travellers. The second-generation Virtual Agent added broader Central Reservations Systems integration to support additional hotel information searches and the ability to confirm, modify or cancel reservations. It also enhances the Central Reservations Office ticketing system integration to ensure a seamless transfer for the caller to a live agent when necessary.
“Generally, when a guest calls the CRO without AI, the procedure is to create a ticket that tracks everything,” Weatherly said. “Now, when a guest is speaking using AI, it also creates a ticket so that when a guest is transferred to a live agent, that transfer is seamless. When the agent takes the call, a screen pops up and they see everything. The guest never has to repeat themselves.”
As an aside, the AI is quite sensitive to guest comments — if a guest drops the “s” word, they are immediately transferred to a live agent!
The broader integration with CRS means the technology is constantly learning. For example, if a guest wants to bring their dog, there's a location router showing which hotels will take pets; the guest can give the dates they want to book, and the AI can find out if there is a property nearby with a room.
If a guest is lost, the AI system can send them a link to directions.
When a guest asked the AI system if there was a room with a refrigerator, the system sent out an alert to the team saying, “Does this exist,” and the team was able to update the system. “We learn too — it's not just the system that is learning,” Weatherly said.
At this point, when the guest is ready to book, they do so with a live agent, because, at this stage, they have the best conversion rates. Before the AI was introduced, 60 per cent of guests who contacted a live agent were actually booking. Now that AI is being phased in, 75 to 80 per cent are going though and booking with a live agent.
“When guests have more information, that drives better results, and a better, richer experience for the customer relations agents,” said Weatherly. “They are there to book rooms, and the AI is there to tee it up.”
Over the next several months, RLH Corporation will continue to build out it’s AI capabilities with further enhancements to support reservations, Hello Rewards and telephony solutions. “As technology continues to change, so does the expectation of the guest and how they connect to our hotels. By providing AI through Central Reservations, we are opening up alternative channels and more options for our guests without sacrificing the positive experience they’ve come to expect from RLH Corporation,” said Weatherly.
“This is the wave of the future — everyone wants information now. If the guest wants to talk to a live agent, we let them. But if there's a quick, easy answer, we've got it.”