An Introduction to Chatbots in Retail & Hospitality


April 4, 2018


Mel Frazer-Reid

It’s no news that digital disruption has shaken up retail and hospitality. Consumers have new levels of choice and power due to the research they can conduct online, meaning brand loyalty is scarce. Converging technology has changed the way people make decisions, redefining the ‘buyer journey’. The rise of new competition enabled by low-cost digital tools and innovative revenue models presents a threat to traditional business strategies.

An Introduction to Chatbots

One of the biggest emerging trends in the technology landscape is Chatbots. Put simply, Chatbots are “computer programs that mimic conversations with people using artificial intelligence”. They come in various forms including SMS texts, website chat windows and social messaging services across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with their aim being to provide an interactive experience as ‘real’ as possible.

Today, Chatbots are most commonly used in customer service, assuming roles traditionally performed by humans to save money and staff resources. In fact, we use Bot technology at Startle to automate some of our customer support and provide a better service to our customers, and this has worked very well for us!

So what are the main benefits of Chatbots?

They enable instant responses to customers and prospects

They can automate time-consuming tasks

They’re generally low-cost to implement

They use machine-learning to adapt responses to different situations

They can operate 24/7

All of this can help businesses like busy retail and hospitality brands to improve the customer experience by offering quicker, real-time communications and around-the-clock support.

Challenges of Chatbots

Like most emerging technologies, Chatbots can also present challenges. For example, Natural Language Understanding (NLU) can struggle to understand slang or foreign languages. While they provide great opportunities for personalised communications, data must be used appropriately and correctly in order to provide the benefits. If not, it could have the opposite effect!

In pubs, restaurants, stores and the like where consumers now perceive high levels of personalisation and automation as the norm, it’s important that Bots are integrated seamlessly and utilise data effectively to ensure an experience that can match or complement human interaction.

Chatbots in Retail & Hospitality Businesses

There are various reasons why retail and hospitality businesses may decide to incorporate Chatbots into their communication strategies. For stores, they can enable out-of-hours support on queries like opening hours, returns and order updates, as well as providing additional useful information on products while customers are considering a purchase. In restaurants, bars and cafes, brands can gradually gather information from customers to deliver a personal experience that makes them feel valued - for example, offering a coupon for their favourite hot drink the next time they visit. And for hotels, Chatbots can assist in driving a user on the website to book a room directly, rather than going through an intermediary or potentially ‘bouncing’ and eventually booking with a competitor.

With the flexibility and customisation Bot technology brings, it also presents opportunities for entertaining consumers and further enhancing that all important ‘brand experience’.

Startle Jukebot

At Startle, we’ve recently overhauled our digital jukebox system to provide our retail, hospitality and leisure customers with their very own Facebook-integrated bot, which allows consumers to choose their favourite tracks to play in a venue through a smartphone. Not only does this provide a great way for a user in a venue to interact with brands in a fun, engaging way, but the act of driving users to the venue’s social media channels in the first place presents new opportunities for marketing to them.

Where our historical technology required customers to text a code in order to request a track through the Jukebox, the new Startle Jukebot service aligns the experience with customer expectations of easy-to-access technology, and ultimately makes this more frictionless and enjoyable. This is another example of how Chatbots have impacted our own business in a positive way, enabling Startle to continually improve our product offering.

To learn more about Startle Jukebot and how this technology works, visit the Startle Jukebot web page!

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