These days, almost anyone who uses the Internet has interacted with chatbots – smart software programs that deliver advice and assistance by simulating human conversation, usually via text messages. With recent advances in natural language processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), these solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Today’s chatbots not only offer travelers value-adding services; they also provide travel operators with a wealth information, helping them set themselves apart from the crowd and tailor their services even more closely to customers’ needs.
Rapid Uptake Drives Strong Growth
In my blogpost for June, I spotlighted voice search solutions, showcasing their considerable potential in the travel space. By interacting with humans via spoken or typed queries, chatbots deliver comparable assistance – and value. And this is reflected by the rising uptake of the technology.
Fueled by our fascination with the latest hi-tech gadgets, chatbots are rapidly gaining widespread acceptance, with the global market for these solutions slated to top USD 994 million by 2024. Moreover, Gartner forecasts that, as early as 2020, chatbots will power 85% of customer service interactions.
So how exactly can chatbots benefit travelers and travel providers? And what should you be doing now to make sure you reap the business opportunities of the technology farther down the line?
Rapid, Personalized Assistance at Travelers’ Fingertips
Technological advances have transformed the way people now plan their trips: Travelers’ planning generally starts with a Google search and ends with a visit to an online travel agency. The challenge for travel providers is to find ways of attracting increasingly tech-savvy customers to their offerings. And this is where chatbots can play a key role.
For one thing, chatbots hold considerable potential for creating a seamless user experience. Not only do they provide 24/7 real-time information; they also deliver the interaction that many travelers crave. This has major advantages for customers, who no longer have to wait until a service employee is available before they can ask pressing questions, or plough through acres of website text to unearth the information they need.
What’s more, all user interaction with chatbots is captured and stored. As a result, travel providers can draw on a comprehensive conversation history to deliver made-to-measure services based on travelers’ personal needs and preferences.
The Upside for Travel Providers
But it’s not just customers who benefit. By automating routine interactions with travelers, chatbots cut travel providers’ staff costs while freeing up employees for more important tasks. Plus, interactivity and anytime availability can considerably enhance customers’ engagement with travel brands. And by attracting the attention of existing customers and prospects, a well-designed chatbot ultimately generates greater revenue.
Wide-Ranging Potential Uses
So, how can you put chatbots to work for your travel business? When thinking about this, it’s best to bear in mind that – their obvious benefits notwithstanding – chatbots aren’t about to replace humans entirely. Generally, even the most sophisticated solutions are best suited for comparatively easy-to-answer service queries requiring quick answers.
In light of this, the tasks for which chatbots can be deployed in travel include:
- Delivering customer service – transforming your website into a rapid-response virtual helpdesk
- Offering a virtual travel agency – helping users book tickets, rooms, and vacation packages
- Performing interactive surveys – engaging customers in informal conversations about their experience with hotels, airlines, and so on
- Acting as a mobile travel assistant – supporting customers’ trip planning, from booking to budgeting right through to real-time reminders and alerts
In addition, chatbots can also be integrated with payment systems – allowing customers to handle all aspects of their journey in a convenient one-stop, end-to-end solution.
The following are just two examples of chatbots currently at work in business settings. FCM Travel Solutions’ personalized travel assistant Sam supports travelers throughout their trip. Aimed primarily at business users, it provides a wide range of services, including booking, calculating travel expenses, collecting receipts, and ensuring compliance with company travel policies.
The Booking.com and Skyscanner reservation services allow travelers to search for flight and hotel recommendations, and make bookings via FB Messenger, Slack, and Skype. In addition to greater convenience, these chatbots offer the benefits of a more personalized customer experience compared to conventional websites and apps.
Boost Insight and Enhance Customer Service – Start Planning Now
Chatbots are now well on their way to becoming the norm in customer service and will play a key part in winning and retaining customers going forward. As a result, travel providers would be ill-advised to ignore chatbots. Integrating the technology into your existing online offerings is key to reaping the benefits discussed above.
Of course, what exactly you use chatbots for will depend on your company’s objectives and on the type of customers you serve – services for holidaymakers will obviously differ in important ways from those for business travelers, for example.
But one thing is certain: If your aim is to keep pace with the latest market trends and attract customers to your offerings, the time to start looking into chatbot technology is now.