Sponsored by TWISPER Business
Edwardian Hotels London has been awarded this year's Best Use of Technology Award for its artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, affectionately named Edward, which is so effective guests have mistakenly thought they have been interacting with a real person.
Edward was created with the objective of increasing guest satisfaction and empowering employees. Research conducted with guests following the launch of the group's online check-in and check-out applications indicated that they appreciated the ability to use more self-sufficient digital tools and an alternative digital communication platform to complement traditional email and phone calls.
Designed by the group's in-house tech team and launched in 2016, Edward contacts guests three days before their arrival via SMS, asking if they have any specific questions or requirements for their stay. The service is available 24/7 and can update every system in the hotel including property management and bookings, as well as F&B and HR, tapping into more than 1,600 topics in its knowledge base. Edward can order room service, provide directions, call maintenance and make requests for amenities, but also gives guests the option to request face-to-face support from staff. In 2018, the group extended Edward's offering to meetings and events.
Having access to a bespoke chatbot has also been transformative for Edwardian Hotels London's employee engagement. Edward can answer staffing questions and address HR needs, for example, notifying when a shift is taking place, as well as providing access to forms or videos on how to operate certain functions or objects.
Despite efforts to advertise Edward as ‘virtual', many guests think they are talking to an employee. One guest attempted to leave an envelope for Edward as a "thank you... for all his help". After the entire reception team managed to convince her Edward was not human, she refused to take back the envelope and said, "Keep it and buy him cables or whatever computers need."
Since being introduced, Edward has recorded a consistent 10% increase year-to-year in the total amount of enquires it has addressed, and has to date conversed with more than 400,000 guests from more than 90 countries in 66 languages. In 2018, Edward handled 58.3% of all requests, and last year this increased to 69%. This not only frees up employees to interact with guests, but the average room service bill of guests using the service is 10%-50% higher than orders placed over the phone. In one of the hotels, the average room service bill doubled after the launch of Edward.
The use of AI has enabled the company to completely transform its customer experience, with the app also playing a huge role in how employees communicate with the business. Edward has become a tool that answers questions that do not need human interaction, as well as constantly gathering feedback to develop and enhance itself even further, while enabling employees to spend more time focusing on being good hosts and doing what humans do best.
What the judges said
"Highly impressive use of technology to solve real guest problems. Particularly impressive as it was developed in-house, which demonstrated an extraordinary ability and ambition within the team to use technology to improve the guest experience. I liked the humanisation of the tech that was applied to such a degree that many guests did not realise they were engaging with a computer when interacting with the chatbot. A very worthy winner indeed." – Paul West
- D&D London
- Edwardian Hotels London
- The Genuine Dining Co
- Simon Allison, head of marketing, Inception Group
- Harpreet Cheema, head of promotions, digital and insight, Sodexo
- Mike O'Mahoney, director, Snapper Consulting
- Jane Pendlebury, chief executive, the Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA)
- Diana Spellman, managing director, Partners in Purchasing
- Carl Weldon, chief operating officer – Europe, Hospitality Finance and Technology Professionals
- Paul West, chief executive, Ignite Hospitality Marketing
- Martin Williams, chief executive, M Restaurants and Gaucho