Chatbots: The Future of Travel

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The world is at a turning point.

In 2016, Facebook CEO Mark took to the F8 Stage to announce the availability of the Messenger Platform. He claimed that bots would take the friction out of digital interactions. The platform would enable organisations to build “chatbots” that can interact with people who request information, order products and have customer service issue. It connects organisations to their audience in a more personal way, real-time.

Fast-forward a year later and we find ourselves in a time where messaging apps have surpassed social networks. According to Business Insider Intelligence, “the combined user base of the top four chat apps is larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks.” The combined global monthly active users of the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn is at 3.5 billion while the top 4 messenger apps WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber is now at 3.7 billion. Majority of users are a young and important demographic for brands, advertisers and publishers.

Gartner predicts that by 2019, 20 percent of user interactions on the smartphone will take place using virtual personal assistants.

What Are ChatBots and How Do They Work?

These artificial intelligence programs are designed to imitate conversations with users through a chat interface. There are two types of chatbot out in the market today. The more common type of chatbots drives the logical flow of conversation by predefined use-cases set by the company that uses them. They need to be manually programmed with a set of rules and answers from frequently asked questions.

The second type, is the more complex chatbot driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence. This type understand language, commands and learns from usage.

There are several chatbot platforms available in the market such as Chatfuel, Octane AI, Engati and Rocketbots. These help companies build their bots even without programming background.

Chatfuel makes it easy for anyone to build chatbots for Facebook Messenger. It has millions of users including publishers like TechCrunch and Forbes and NFL and NBA teams. Launching a chatbot with this platform takes about 7 minutes.

Octane AI is used by musicians, artist and brands like Kiehl’s and Warner Music Group. The customer product finder is a great feature. For the brand Kiehl’s, it does this by asking questions to match the user with the perfect product from the line. During the course of the conversation, it also tells the user more about the company.

Engati is a platform for building, managing, integrating and training chatbots in minutes. It works on Facebook messenger, kik, telegram, line, viber, skype, slack and webchat. It supports English with more languages coming soon.

Rocketbots works on Facebook Messenger, Wechat, Skype, Slack and Webchat and can be built in more than 15 languages including English, Chinese, German, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian. It uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning which adapts to customers.

Chatbots and the Travel Industry

In the travel space, it’s catching on fast. Expedia, Booking.com, Cheapflights, Kayak and SkyScanner have started using chatbot to service their customers.

Chatting with these brands on messenger allows the user to book a hotel, get information on flights, rental cars or activities. Skyscanner’s chatbot presents the user with answers to select from, making the progression of the chat faster and smoother.

For instance, when a new chat is opened for SkyScanner, the user can select between finding a flight deal or “tell me more”.

The user can then select from available weekend trips, input their destination directly or click on “Don’t Know” to receive recommendations.

This allows customers to easily manage their booking without needing to wait for another human to intervene. For travel business, the potential for using chatbots is huge.

It can serve as 24/7 customer care centre – servicing customers in any destination even after hours. Chatbots can respond to questions, search for information, handle customer service requests when they need it. It can also offer alerts and information. As technology progresses, it can communicate in multiple languages.

Travel businesses can also supplement their sales and marketing activities by using chatbots to deliver campaigns and offers, make recommendations or upsell products and offer loyalty incentives. On the e-commerce front, chatbots can be used to place orders and process payments.

“Our brand promise is all about making the process of researching and experiencing air travel smarter and simpler,” says Samantha Otter, marketing director at Cheapflights about their decision to use chatbots. “Cheapflights Chat is another step towards frictionless dialogue with our users, and we’re looking forward to seeing how we can further develop this way of interacting with them in the months ahead,” she adds.

Kayak, which processed 1.5 billion searches in 2016, is putting chatbots on platforms where users are spending most of their time. “So far we’ve focused on Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa (voice), Slack and, most recently, Google Home,” says Matthias Keller of Kayak. “We want to help users plan, book and manage their travel without . . . needing to switch to another website or install an app.

How Your Brand Can Benefit from Chatbots:

  1. Promote operational efficiency – Chatbots can streamline the sales process by offering products and services based on previous interactions, purchase history and data that may suggest when the customer is most responsive to an offer.
  2. Reduction of Overhead – With a lot of the functions now available through chatbots, the need for contact centres can be reduced drastically, if not removed entirely.
  3. Automatic Lead Capture – Building your email marketing list has never been easier. Where websites struggle with lead captures, chatbots automate the function. Once the user chooses to chat with your bot, you automatically get their full name, language preference, profile photo, timezone and gender from Facebook. This means you no longer need to ask for an email on your website and have a double opt-in.
  4. Gain a Rich Resource of Market Information – The interactions customers have with chatbots is a goldmine of qualitative data that can help companies better understand the needs of their customers. Brands can then customise and refine their offers to respond better to these.
  5. Engaging in the Moment – One of the main benefits of using a chatbot is breaking the 9 to 5 time constraints that have limited travel companies’ ability to service customers. Customers can interact with the bots on their preferred time, not the company’s. This is essential in the travel space where time zones shift as customers move around in flight or on the road.

While there is still a lot of testing to be done for this technology, being an early adopter and building out specific uses cases early on can give travel companies a big advantage over others who resist the move towards AI.