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Five potent ways chatbots can revolutionise travel

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Consistent innovation has always been the key to stay ahead in the game when it comes to the travel industry. Consider the fact that the number of monthly active users on mobile chat apps had overtaken users on social networking apps more than two years ago. To top it, rapid technological advances in the domain of artificially intelligent (AI) solutions such as neural networking and natural language processing have led to the designing of sophisticated chatbots that can simulate human conversations.

It is no wonder then, that 2017 saw chatbots becoming commonplace in the travel industry; they are predicted to completely disrupt an industry which is trying to cater to the ever-growing market demand, and appeal to digitally savvy customers.

Chatbots have an enormous scope for growth and market potential, particularly in the travel industry, where a vast amount of planning and research is required before a “purchase”. Most travel plans are made on the go; research and enquiries are made via smartphones, and customers are now used to instant gratification. This is where travel chatbots step in – they can not only reduce dependency on humans, but by taking up basic queries along with intelligent analysis, they have the potential to provide instant and streamlined user experience along with personalised solutions.

Let’s have a look at how this transformative technology has the potential to revolutionise the travel sector.

24×7, seamless customer service: Chatbots never sleep, never take weekends off, nor long lunch breaks. People can dream of travel during any time of the day, which means potential leads can come in even at midnight or the break of dawn. Travel bots are available around the clock, to address queries of customers who have by now got accustomed to instant gratification. By seamlessly integrating chatbots and live agents, one can increase the productivity of their call centre.

Increased customer engagement: According to CIO Today, 64 per cent customers would rather text message than call up customer service, and another 44 per cent prefer texting than being put on hold when they call customer care. These statistics go on to accentuate the fact that chatbots only lead to much better customer engagement than ever. At every stage of a trip, right from the planning phase up until post-trip, chatbots can continuously assist potential customers by providing them with personalised suggestions for trip ideas, timely reminders about flight date and time, act like an insider guide while the customer is on his trip, give recommendations on the best places to eat, the best options for local transports, etc, and finally, also collect feedback from the customer about the entire experience.

Enhanced efficiency: With sophisticated, mature chatbots and their faster resolution, one can achieve much higher levels of customer satisfaction and boost their agents’ productivity by involving them in more challenging tasks that involve decision-making. One has the power to transform their travel business into an agile and efficient one, by providing better customer experiences at a lower cost.

More revenue – cross-sell and up-sell: Travel bots can not just function as your improved and efficient customer care centre, but also augment your sales staff’s performance. Based on a potential customer’s travel history or preferences based on previous conversations, chatbots can act like typical salesmen, and recommend relevant options in an intelligent bid to make a sale. And if the user is already on his trip, the chatbot can suggest interesting itineraries and additional tours, thus upselling and adding to the revenue. Similarly, travel bots can cross-sell other travel products (insurance, hotel rooms, etc) based on the customers’ preferred price range.

Gather rich data: Since chatbots record every bit of communication exchanged with the users, they can utilise this rich data to get valuable insights about the users’ experience, purchase history, issues faced previously and accordingly, respond to customers in a highly personalised manner. This way, your organisation has access to invaluable data that can be intelligently analysed, in order to come up with highly personalised and targeted marketing.

Is travel the most ambitious sector for chatbots? The ultimate challenge with the travel industry is the awfully long funnel in comparison to other e-commerce domains. Right from the dreaming phase, to the planning and booking phase, there is a lot of research and decision-making that the customer must make. At each stage, users have varying information requirements. To develop a chatbot that can be utilised effectively at all these phases might be extremely challenging. We might need to isolate stages where travel bots can step in efficiently and help build an agile customer service and/or sales team. Chatbots, for now, are not meant to completely replace humans, so it would be advisable to choose one skill or a segment where this automation is required the most, and implement chatbots there.

Chatbots can’t fully replace humans just yet. Intelligent technology and human customer service agents will be working in sync to provide an enhanced customer experience, in the coming years. If your chatbots can identify when a user needs to be connected to a human agent and can do so quickly and seamlessly, augmented intelligence has the potential to transform the travel industry. However, it yet remains to be seen how soon can the final and most feared state of AI – autonomous intelligence take over travel, where chatbots can eliminate the need of humans completely.

The writer is co-founder and managing director of Holidayme. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policies.

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