Powering Customer Experience with Travel Chatbots

Increased social media and mobile devices consumption, has given travelers unprecedented power to voice their opinions or preferences and demand better customer service across the entire value chain. Many customers now prefer getting instant service through these newer mediums to calling a call center or waiting for an email response. According to a research by Phocuswright, 67% of US Travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device and 69%% mobile travelers feel they can find the same flight and hotel information on a smartphone as on any other device.

These advancements have conditioned travelers to expect prompt responses and quick resolutions to their needs and concerns. Businesses that offer the best customer service throughout the various phases of a traveller’s journey can expect to build their brand, improve sales and ancillary revenues, minimize customer churn and reduce service costs.

The emergence of Chatbots is bridging the gap between customer expectations and a business’s ability to deliver on demand and immediate service to its customer wherever they may be. Chatbots are automated conversational agents that are able to communicate with customers using text and speech in a natural manner.  Using Natural Language Processing and Machine learning, the bots are able to interact with humans as if they are talking to a customer service agent.  This helps businesses power customer experience, provide convenience and reduce contact center costs.

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Why are Chatbots getting popular now?

Appreciating the capabilities and value that Chatbots deliver, it is become a focal point for the customer facing technology strategy of every travel business. The application of chatbot can result in large gains in cost saving while delivering a superior customer experience.

While chatbots have been around for decades, it’s the wave to technological and social changes that have spurred the chatbot revolution now.

1. Advances in Cloud Computing and AI
AI has been a field of research ever since the first computer was created. However, for the most time, the computing power required for complex chatbot processing was only available in research labs and universities. With the advancements in cloud computing and breakthroughs in AI, the building blocks of chatbot are now available to developers everywhere.

2. Overwhelming success of Chat/Messenger Applications
Chat is quickly becoming the defacto means of personal communication. Millennials prefer typing out a quick text than calling someone in their immediate circle. This social change is also affecting the expectation of customers when it comes to interaction with a business. Customers are starting to prefer texting queries rather than calling up the customer service support to get assistance. According to business Insider, about a year ago the top four mobile messengers surpassed social networks in global popularity.

3. App Fatigue
There has been a downward trend in app installs and usage. On an average, users spend 80% of the time using just 3-4 apps. This indicates that users may not be inclined to download apps and use then unless it offers a lasting value. Since chatbots are platform agnostics, they open an efficient channel for customer communication on the device/platform of customer’s choice.

4. Opening up of Messenger Platforms
The final push for Chatbots came when existing messenger platforms like Facebook, Slack, Telegram, Kik etc opened themselves up to developers. This has made it possible to plug a chatbot into interfaces that users love and use. This has made it exceedingly easy and intuitive to for users to connect with a brand without having to install a new app or log on to a website

Designing and Developing a Chatbot

Development of a Chatbot requires a specialized skill set. The traditional models of developing web and mobile application cannot directly be applied to chatbot development.

Iterative Approach to Development
The most effective approach to development of chatbot is iterative development. Businesses should focus on determining a use case where chatbots can be implemented and should try and do it well rather than targeting multiple use cases at once

Bring in the Experts
A large part of the bot’s intelligence is correlated to training. Designing a conversational model requires lot of care. Incase the chatbot is required to process domain specific requests, it is best that training be done in close collaboration with the domain experts who understand the nature of requests.

User Feedback
No matter how well trained a bot is, it is not possible to predict all the messages that the user may throw at it. Therefore, it becomes imperative that a feedback mechanism be establish which is able to sift through the user inputs that the bot could you answer and use it to further enrich the bot’s intelligence.

Channel Specific UI
Messaging channels provide a set of UI components that enhance the conversational experience inside a chatbot. Representing information in visual cards and pre-empting user responses by means of quick replies is a great way to reduce friction. Before launching a bot, one must consider this ‘hybrid approach’ and decide what parts of the conversation can be offloaded to these UI components such that the flow of the conversation become more natural.

Human-Bot Combination
There often will be cases where the bot is not fully equipped to handle the use case. This will particularly be in cases where human judgment will be required. If the cases where a bot is not able to fulfill the customer query, there should be a mechanism to offload the conversation to a live human agent so as to not lose the customer.

In conclusion, chatbots show great promise and 2017 will see a lot of experimentation, adaptation and new solutions develop this technology further within other industries. . In travel providers will find chatbots can leverage unique opportunities in rethinking the customer experience and introducing game-changing personalization in customer interaction.

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About the Author:

Shivam Mishra is a Business Consultant working as part of the Mobility Centre of Excellence at IGT Solutions. An experienced professional in the digital travel technology space, he is responsible for identifying use cases for emerging technologies in Travel and Hospitality domain and developing digital solutions. He can be reached at shivam.mishra@igt.in