Simplifying the AirBnB arrival process with conversational AI
This is the first in a series of blog posts where we’ll be talking about all phases of a guests journey, and how AI platforms like Home Service can help you as hosts and managers automate those phases, and better allocate your time and resources towards growing your business.
There’s a lot of engagement which happens during the course of the stay, but it’s entirely probable that some of the most important communications and touch points occur before a guest has ever set foot in your room or rental. Because every rental is different, there is never going to be a set procedure for what guests are supposed to do when they arrive. As a host or property manager, you’re always going to be running into this problem - a problem which is unique to short term rentals, vacation rentals, and AirBnB’s. Hotels don’t usually have to deal with this as there is much more homogenization and similarity in how they’re set up, organized etc.
It’s also a known quantity that guests don’t read guidebooks, instructions, etc. I certainly don’t. I know from personal experience that the most effective way for hosts to convey information to me has been through text - usually Viber and WhatsApp if in Europe, or regular SMS and iMessage when in the states. I also know that as a host, I’ve had much better luck getting the right information to guests through these conversational channels, as it’s much easier to confirm receipt of information, and ask for any needed follow ups.
It’s very important to note that most travelers don’t have the AirBnB app installed on their phone. They generally make bookings on their computer, and as such won’t have access to the messaging services on AirBnB or Hostfully or whatever platform they’ve book through. Occasionally, if they don’t have the app installed on their phone, they’ll be logged in through the web browser on their phone, but this won’t give them access to notifications either.
As a result, getting guests onboarded comprehensively can prove to be a bit of a challenge. Imagine the following scenario - guests book, they get whatever onboarding materials they need in an email and AirBnB message. Materials which include instructions on how to find the apartment/rental, how to get inside, where to find lockbox keys, and where to park their car. Like most people, they either ignore, or put-off reading these instructions, and end up in a situation where they have some difficulty getting in. This small, negative experience will impact the rest of their stay, and could subsequently impact how well they review your rental. Through no fault of your own, you’re stuck in a situation where you’re needlessly having to take the heat and potential non 5-star reviews.
The easiest solution to all of this is engagement - which is something you probably do anyway. Guests arrive, they text you, you message back and forth for a while, and eventually they’re able to get in without any problems. But what if you’re like me? What if you have a life which requires you to do other things - not just managing your AirBnB’s? What if you’re managing a rental business and you have 20, 30, or even 50 units? You could hire assistants or support personnel, for sure, but that costs money! Potentially lots of it! And if you’re trying to scale your rental business, any unneeded expense is to be avoided at all costs.
Fortunately, automation can prove to be incredibly helpful. We’re entering an age of technological growth where artificial intelligence, conversational platforms, and chatbots/smart assistants can take care of the vast majority of trivial, repetitive, and mundane tasks.
Yada ended up being the perfect name. And it had an unintended benefit. While it’s not a global saying, “yada, yada, yada” is commonly used to describe a never-ending conversation. And since our business is all about automating those “yada, yada, yada” conversations, the name was a perfect fit.
I took it upon myself to analyze thousands of conversations which happen during the course of a typical stay. Conversations which happen before guests arrive. Conversations which happen while guests are at your rental, and conversations which happen after they leave. Not surprisingly, I found that most of them, over 90%, were repetitive. There was a lot of variety, to be sure, but they all seemed to fall within a certain number of buckets and flows. Many buckets, and many flows, but patterns were definitely present.
As you can imagine, anything which is repetitive is a perfect candidate for automation. And in our industry's case, that automation takes the form of conversational AI. Whether it’s through SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, telegram, or through devices in your rentals like Alexa’s and Google Homes, guests' inquiries and questions can get answered by an AI at least 90% of the time.
This blog post is about guest onboarding, so we’ll talk about the ways that conversational AI and chatbots can improve this aspect of the guest experience. Let’s say you’re an American traveler. You decided to visit France, and booked an idyllic looking rental in Chamonix. It’s an apartment in a lodge which has three other rentals. You fly into Geneva, but it’s a little confusing how you’re supposed to get to the mountain. There are guides onlines, but you might not have good data, and more often than not they’re contradictory or plain confusing. So, you text your host.
She’s at work, on a call, and doesn’t get your message right away. You eventually figure out how to get there, but your first experience associated with that rental is a negative one. Your host finally manages to get in touch, and apologizes for not being more prompt in responding, but the damage is done. When you arrive you have trouble finding the exact entrance because there are quite a few of them in the building, and you can’t immediately find the lockbox. Thankfully your host is more responsive right now and you’re able to get the information you need. However, your host just spent a half hour of her time dealing with something she’s probably already dealt with multiple times.
In another part of the world, Rick, who manages 82 rentals in Hilton Head implemented automation in his guest onboarding process. From the moment guests book a room, they’re given a number they can text with. The 95% of their questions that the AI can answer, it’ll answer. The other 5% gets taken care of by the host. As a result, one manager can spend their time dealing solely with business critical events and emergency events. He doesn’t need to spend time dealing with the other 95% of trivial engagements. He also doesn’t need to spend valuable capital hiring people to take care of these repetitive customer service requests.
Guests who stay there have complete access to everything related to onboarding and arrival, instantaneously. They don’t need to pour over long email chains and guidebooks, they can just ask questions about things they’re unsure of, get the relevant information, and enjoy their stay!