Service Industry Goes All In On “Concierge” AI

Customer interactions in travel, dining, and shopping could change in a big way.

With the summer travel season underway, the beaches, bars, shops, and other tourist hot spots will be at full swell.

83% of consumers say they’ll hit the open road this summer, according to a new study from Sales Factory. Yet 68% of travelers say they’re financially limited as inflation takes a bite out of the summer holiday budget.

Enter the “concierge AI,” as artificial intelligence systems seek to upgrade the hospitality industry and ensure each tourist gets the most bang for their buck.

That’s the call from researchers at Ohio State University, who say artificial intelligence-driven concierge services “have the potential to improve how hotels and other service businesses interact with customers,” according to a recent report.

Ohio State researchers have created an early version of what consumers can expect an AI concierge tool to look like. Data analysts at the university see the AI tool as a “virtual caretaker” that merges natural language processing, behavioral data, and predictive analytics to fully anticipate a customer’s needs. The tool suggests “certain actions and automates routine tasks without having to be explicitly commanded to do so.”

The Ohio State team notes that while a fully formed AI concierge is several years away, early project work looks promising. “(Our data) indicates that insight and analysis from hospitality fields, including service management, psychology, human-computer interaction, and ethics research have identified “opportunities and challenges” that emerges after AI concierge engages in human encounters,” OSU noted.

Study researchers also piggybacked on existing concierge user experiences when creating an AI version.

“The traditional service industry uses concierges for high-end clients, meaning that only a few people have access to them,” said Stephanie Liu, lead author of the paper and an associate professor of hospitality management at OSU. “Now, with the assistance of AI technology, everybody can have access to a concierge providing superior experiences.”

Big Advantages

Liu sees two primary advantages in a fully functional AI concierge customer service application.

• First, it would allow companies to offer around-the-clock availability and consistency in their operations and improve how individuals engage with professional service organizations.

• Secondly, as the younger workforce gravitates to more tech-oriented jobs and global travel becomes more common, generative AI could be an apt solution to deal with the escalating demands of evolving hospitality trends, Liu noted.

“The development of AI technology for hotels, restaurants, health care, retail, and tourism has a lot of potential,” she said.

Liu also said the ideal AI customer service concierge tool would include four components, “each with distinctive attributes that would provide consumers with different levels of convenience,” she noted. Here’s what Liu has in mind, according to the study.

— The first type is a dialogue interface that uses only text or speech to communicate, such as ChatGPT, a conversational agent often used to make inquiries and garner real-time assistance. Many of these interactive devices are already used in hotels and medical buildings for contactless booking or to connect consumers with other services and resources.

— The second is a virtual avatar that employs a vivid digital appearance and a fully formed persona to foster a deeper emotional connection with the consumer. This method is often utilized for telehealth consultations and online learning programs.

— The third iteration is a holographic projection wherein a simulated 3D image is brought into the physical world. According to the paper, this is ideally suited for scenarios where the visual impact is desired, but physical assistance is unnecessary.

— The paper rounds out the list by suggesting an AI concierge that would present as a tangible or touchable robot. This form would offer the most human-like sensory experiences and would likely be able to execute multiple physical tasks, like transporting heavy luggage.

Already, some early versions of an AI-powered concierge tool exist in a limited capacity. The OSU study points to a robotic concierge known as “Sam” that helps senior living community members in their daily lives, providing medical diagnoses, helping seniors schedule events, and providing on-site support staffing services.

“Different companies are at different stages with this technology,” said Liu. “Some have robots that can detect customers’ emotions or take biometric inputs, and others have really basic ones. It opens up a totally different level of service that we have to think critically about.”

Liu adds that future research should determine how certain design elements, “such as the perceived gender, ethnicity or voice of these robotic assistants, would impact overall consumer satisfaction.”

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