Accor has taken part in the latest funding round for Mindsay, a Paris-based startup which developed chatbots.
The sector has seen an increase in digital assistants as it seeks to temper staffing costs and also develop its relationships with guests.
Mindsay raised EUR10m in the Series A round, which was led by White Star Capital, with participation from previous investors Partech and two of Mindsay’s current clients, Paris Aeroports and Accor.
Other clients include IAG, airport operator Groupe ADP, rail operators across Europe including SNCF and Disney.
Thibault Viort, CEO new business, Accor, said: “With a portfolio of 50 brands including hospitality solutions, we welcome over one million guests each day to our hotels. Accor seeks to be agile enough not only to anticipate future changes and customer needs, but also to be at the forefront. Two years ago Accor spotted Mindsay as a company that was way ahead of the curve in conversational marketing. Today the company continues to stand out thanks to its dynamic and determined team, its proprietary AI technology and its specialisation in the travel industry.”
The company said that the funding would be used to drive international expansion and to deploy Mindsay’s reinforcement learning model which, it said, allowed conversational assistants to improve using real-time conversations, in order to continuously increase the performance of its conversational solutions.
Guillaume Laporte, CEO of Mindsay, said: “Through the creation of self-learning conversational marketing tools, our mission is to provide the most effective and precise answers to the most frequently asked questions from online customers. This improves customer engagement and satisfaction and reduces workload for customer support teams by 80%, allowing customer service teams to focus on complex requests and drive efficiency.”
In 2017 Accor’s Mercure brand launched a bot, with the company commenting: “Offering a hotel experience anchored in a specific locality is the very essence of the Mercure brand and its venues. Only a bot is capable of memorising the full range of stories from so many places around the world. This handy tool will enable travellers and neighourhood residents alike to discover the ‘Local Stories’ that surround them, simply by geolocating and allowing themselves to be guided.”
Since then, the company has launched a number of other bots, including AccorBot on Facebook in 2018. One-offs included QueenBot, developed for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras weekend, of which Accor was the official accommodation partner.
The company said: “QueenBot is the drag identity of ‘AccorBot’, Accor’s original Facebook chatbot. It has helped thousands of guests with everything from providing detailed city guides, to assisting with customer care. QueenBot is able to assist with everything that AccorBot would normally, though throws a truly fabulous spin on how she does so.”
According to a study carried out on behalf of PwC last year, over half (54%) of customers preferred to use text-based communication when contacting a company with a query or complaint. This rose to 70% for 18 to 24 year olds. Forty-seven per cent expected a 24/7 response from service providers and this figure rose to 72% amongst 25 to 34 year olds. Sixty-one per cent of respondents under the age of 24 admitted that they actively avoided calling businesses in order to sidestep frustrating automated menus.
The majority (92%) of survey respondents said that shoppers should always be able to deal with a human sales agent on request. There were also concerns over data, with 87% of respondents commenting that they would be unwilling to share sensitive information with a chatbot due to these security concerns.
Ronan Fitzpatrick, digital director, PwC, said: “Chatbots present a significant opportunity for businesses looking to improve sales, automate their services and improve customer relationships. They can enable organisations to engage with their customers in the right place, at the right time with the right information as well as providing certain elements of customer service around the clock. With customer expectations rising, chatbots have the potential to be an excellent solution for better customer engagement. However, data protection and privacy concerns are key areas we need to ensure are addressed.”
HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: With staffing a colossal raging headache in the hotel sector, handing everything over to machines is very tempting. But worth bearing in mind that a cleaning robot only works with perfectly flat floors, so might not be the best choice in your listed manor house.
Jeremy Ward, co-host of Cloudbusting Podcast and former COO Iris Software Systems, told us: “Whilst chatbots can be part of a customer communication strategy it shouldn’t be your only strategy. They have their use for simple tasks and if, as a guest, I’m looking for some straightforward response then they work well. If, however, I’m a guest with a frustration – talking to chatbot will inevitably make the situation more frustrating and give a very poor guest experience. If you’re implementing chatbots, remember the other half of the equation is a human being who may be a customer you’re about to lose or one you’re going to keep for a long time – do you trust the bot to identify which and respond accordingly?”
You may not trust your human staff either. As ever, training is at the forefront.