Are chatbots really worth the bother?

If the customer is always right, then travel brands need to reach out to consumers where they are increasingly spending their time and attention – social media and messaging apps.

Deploying chatbots on these channels can yield real rewards according to a new report from EyeforTravel and Travelaer, which is free to download now.

The top travel apps may reach into millions of users today, with apps from Booking.com and TripAdvisor leading the way, but the top social media and messaging apps have already passed the billion mark. Facebook Messenger currently claims more than 1.2 billion users, and what is more usage of social media and messaging apps is estimated to have soared by nearly 400% in 2016.

So it is becoming a matter of necessity for travel brands to have a first-class social media strategy, with chatbots as a core element. The growth in chatbots is opening up a whole new channel where customers can make direct bookings with travel brands. It also helps to strengthen the link between brand and consumer, while at the same time lowering distribution costs. Already brands like Icelandair and Voyages-sncf.com, the digital arm of French national rail operator, both of which feature as case studies in the report, have made thousand of bookings using bots on Facebook Messenger.

As Arnaud Masson, Chief Operating Officer, Voyages-sncf.com said at the recent EyeforTravel Europe Summit: “You need to be there if you want to deliver a good customer experience.”

Indeed, the primary use for chatbots today is for customer service requirements. As consumers conduct more travel research on mobile devices and have to manage increasingly complex itineraries, chatbots are well placed to assist by helping to drive loyalty through faster, more accurate communication. Yet the report notes that travel brands are still struggling to take cognisance of this.

Our research shows travel companies don’t take Facebook Messaging with customers seriously

Mike Slone, Chief Experience Officer, Travelaer

“Our research shows travel companies don’t take Facebook Messaging with customers seriously,” says Mike Slone, chief experience officer at Travelaer. “Most don’t respond to customers via Facebook Messenger within a week, and even fewer have a chat bot. The small percentage of travel bots that are live don’t impact the customer journey in a meaningful way, are gimmicky and don’t fit into an overall digital strategy. Customer service is most in demand, not commerce.”

Therefore, travel and tourism brands need to work harder to improve their chatbot services and their ability to respond to complex customer requirements. Doing so can help to alleviate the load on teams across a business and increase customer service levels.

Indeed, it is critical for brands to focus on making chatbots work with rather than replacing humans, says the report. With such new technology most are using the system to help with most common questions, such as luggage queries for Icelandair and room service questions in the case of Edwardian Hotels, both of which feature in the report. Icelandair note that typically chatbots deal with just 10% to 15% of queries, but this is expected to grow.

Focusing closely on how the landscape for chatbots is evolving, the report titles Are Bots Worth the Bother considers:

  • How market conditions are creating an environment that is ripe for chatbots

  • The number of chatbots currently deployed with travel brands and what their level of functionality

  • How they work, what tasks they can perform, and their limitations

  • The costs and costs benefits associated with chatbots

  • Chatbots as a means to improving customer service.

  • The impact they are currently having and how this will affect the travel industry

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A brand new white paper from EyeforTravel and Travelaer delves into the latest developments in bots to deliver some useful insights into what the future holds
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