2024 Vertical Market Case Studies: Speech Technology in Hospitality

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Golden Nugget, a luxury hotel and casino chain that also operates 600 restaurants, was struggling to handle basic customer phone calls once the COVID-19 pandemic eased and people started travelling again. The issue, according to Brian Jepperson, director of Golden Nugget’s contact center operations, was that though visitors were ready to return, contact center agents weren’t so willing.

To handle that staffing conundrum, the company, which is part of Landry Hospitality, turned to PolyAI for an interactive voice response system that could handle many of the calls without involving live agents.

Golden Nugget operates properties in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Laughlin, all in Nevada; Danville, Ill.; Lake Charles, La.; Atlantic City, N.J.; Biloxi, Miss.; and Cripple Creek, Colo. Although online booking for these properties is available, 70 percent of Golden Nugget hotel room reservations are made over the phone. Reservation calls are complex, with 15 different room types and different levels of loyalty club membership available. Each reservation takes around four or five minutes and requires capturing loyalty member or guest details, room type, dates, number of people, and credit card information for deposits. The voice assistant guides customers through the booking process in a way that feels natural and friendly but still follows business logic.

Golden Nugget had been using a simplified interactive voice response system from PolyAI, and near the end of 2022, it went forward with a very expanded version of the PolyAI virtual assistant.

“It really came down to how to make it easier for our guests to do business with us,” Jepperson explains. “We wanted to give them the chance to make reservations 24/7 with a virtual assistant. We were able to take a lot of volume off of the agents. It was able to take [callers’] information, look for availability, and book a reservation very simply and quickly for them without them needing to wait for an agent.”

The primary consideration was ensuring that callers had a good experience, according to Jepperson.

Before the implementation of the virtual agent, callers could wait on the phone a long time before getting through to a live agent, Jepperson adds. Those who insist on talking to a human can still do so under the current setup, but many callers are surprised at how quickly, efficiently, and accurately the virtual agent can handle the same request.

To put the numbers in perspective, one property alone handled 36,000 calls in January 2023, and the voice assistant contained a third of them. Within the 12,000 calls that were contained, 3,000 of them were for hotel room reservations, bringing in $600,000 in revenue.

Within just two months of launch, the voice assistant was averaging more than 300 completed reservations per week, which includes taking secure payment details over the phone.

And though some virtual agents make it difficult for callers to transfer to a live agent, PolyAI’s solution doesn’t have that drawback. The virtual assistant knows when it can’t handle a request.

“There are certain things that we have trained it to do. We’ve trained it to make full reservations for people. It can do that seamlessly.” Jepperson says. “There are certain things that will need to go to an agent. If anyone wants to speak to an agent, we’ve made it easy for them to speak to a live person.”

Another benefit of the PolyAI platform is its natural sound. “The good thing about the voice assistant that we chose with Poly AI is that it is very conversational. It’s a natural, human voice. It’s not robotic,” Jepperson says.

However, the biggest benefit, according to Jepperson, is that the virtual assistant has cut wait times.

“Many things that live agents can do, our virtual assistant can do more quickly because on-hold times are eliminated,” Jepperson explains. “I’ve seen studies that say 60 percent to 80 percent of people would rather speak to a live agent than to a virtual assistant. I also know that 100 percent of people just want to get their issue taken care of as quickly as possible. I’ve seen studies that say that people don’t want to wait on hold more than a minute to get their issue taken care of, so they’ll hang up. This just gives people the option to take care of the questions they have.”

With the voice assistant, Golden Nugget has reduced abandoned calls from 40 percent to 10 percent and average wait times from more than 40 minutes to less than five minutes.

Since its introduction, the virtual assistant now handles 34 percent of all customer calls and 87 percent of all non-reservation requests, which has made it easier on the human staff to answer those complex calls more quickly. That has saved the Golden Nugget the equivalent of three agent days per week. It estimates the savings from using a voice assistant at $21,760 each month, or $261,120 each year.

While the voice AI solution was not designed to replace contact center teams entirely, it has significantly reduced the volume of reps needed and allowed employees to give their full attention to more complex reservations or other operational needs while the voice assistant answers questions about when the pool opens, restaurant hours, and so on.

“It’s a great experience. [The voice assistant] doesn’t have a bad day; it shows up to work every day, 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents that were that nice,” Jepperson quips.

But he’s not the only one singing the system’s praises. In January 2023, one Golden Nugget property nominated the PolyAI voice assistant for employee of the month. While it was mentioned in jest, it highlights the value the voice assistant is providing to the contact center.

Jeppersen wants to continue expanding the use of the virtual agent and is looking into using it for booking reservations at the company’s free-standing restaurants that are not part of the hotel or casino properties.

Additionally, PolyAI’s team of dialogue scientists, linguists, and software engineers continue to work with Golden Nugget to execute on a road map of continuous improvement initiatives. These include the ability to negotiate dates with callers depending on a combination of room availability and personalized offer or to incorporate offer codes from email marketing campaigns. 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at spenterprises1@comcast.net.

The Payoff

The PolyAI voice assistant has achieved the following for the Golden Nugget:

  • It handles 34 percent of all calls.
  • It handles 87 percent of non-reservation calls.
  • It saves the equivalent of three agent days per week, amounting to more than $260,000 per year.

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