Chats, Bots, Messaging
Chats, bots and mobile messaging are major trends that are already changing consumer behaviour and travel in 2016 and beyond. Consumers worldwide are using mobile messaging tools on a daily basis, having overtaken text messages and SMS by far due to its convenience and free use. Chats have been around a long time but in 2016 with the emergence of bots, the mobile messaging and chat space is being revolutionised.
Bots are artificial intelligence platforms that use instant messaging as an application interface.
Facebook messenger and Slack users can add bots to their contact lists. A consumer can then not only message its contacts, friends or family but also message a bot which is similar to talking to a database that is storing information instead of talking to a real person. Chat bots in travel are nothing new and have been around for years. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are around 1000 chat bots available and many travel brands are now releasing their own travel bots.
For destinations, chats, bots and mobile messaging are all options to consider when wanting to re-think traditional customer service channels or find a better way of engaging with visitors before, during and after they have travelled to a destination.
A variety of chat tools and technologies are available for travel brands which are a new way for businesses to chat and interact with users directly through their website. Travel brands can now chat live to consumers, providing support for any enquiries or questions. Many of the chat tools also enable businesses to market to consumers or receive feedback about products and services through sending users an automated message. For travel brands, these tools are an ideal opportunity to efficiently provide customer support and service on the website. Here at the #DTTT, we use Intercom as a chat solution and tool, being able to assign enquiries to specific team members, answering enquiries. The chat functionality and backyard is quite straightforward. Team members are notified about a chat via email and once logged into the Intercom platform, they can see what page the chat user is on and answer any questions.
Chat is also used by destinations, both NTOs and CTOs are trying to get more personal, offering customer support through chat or phone to provide expert destination advice. From a technical point of view, the chat function is a plug-in for the website that sends the messages from the chat to team members that are registered as ‘experts’ within the chat application. Chat plugins are very affordable but do require human resources to respond to enquiries when needed. Several team members can be registered and depending on availability, individuals can respond to questions and enquiries. Although the chat functionality might seem to be more a gimmick than necessity, it helps to support consumers in their research and planning of a trip to a destination.
Visit Zürich have also incorporated a chat function into their website, allowing visitors to chat to someone from the tourist board, asking for help, advice and hidden gems. The chat is a straightforward tool for users, allowing for a more personal interaction with the destination. Having tried the chat, specific questions can be asked and the person responding to the questions can share links directing the user to relevant information, providing specific tips and recommendations. During office hours, the chat is manned and during out of office hours when no one is available to respond, questions can still be submitted and answers are sent via email.
The Austrian tourist board is another destination trying to make the research and planning process more personal for consumers. Visitors to their website have the opportunity to contact them via email or submit questions into a live chat or by submitting a form with the questions. Dedicated holiday experts offer consumers a free call back Monday to Friday during office hours to give individual advice.
- Opportunity to give personal support and recommendations
- Low technical investments but support staff or destination experts needed
- Virtual customer service
In the first half of 2016, travel brands such as Hyatt, KLM, Booking.com, Uber and Lyft all started to use the Facebook Messenger bot to help its customer with enquiries. Brands such as Kayak, Skyscanner, Expedia.com and Booking.com all launched their own travel bots to integrate them into already existing apps and solutions.
Although every travel brand that is now using travel bots, either in Facebook Messenger or as a standalone tool, is aiming to sell products or provide customer service through the bots, destinations still need to consider the implications of travel bots for them. Consumers are already using their mobile devices constantly – with the emergence of travel bots and immediate help, support and service, destinations need to be prepared for heightened expectations by travellers when it comes to travel booking, prior to a trip and during their stay too.
Booking.com – Experience bot
On 13th July 2016, Booking.com officially launched its ‘Booking Experiences‘ bot as a service to help consumers decide what to do when in a destination. ‘Booking Experiences’ is a mix of AI and machine learning to provide personalised recommendations to a user based on an extensive list of events and attractions, even enabling users to purchase tickets or make reservations. All of this will be possible through the brand’s Android and iOS app for Amsterdam. Further apps will also be launched for Paris, London and Dubai at the end of July, followed by a version for New York in autumn 2016.
For Booking.com this is a major step into the destination space, combining personalised recommendations with full booking options for hotels and experiences.
Expedia – Facebook Messenger bot
Expedia is using the Facebook Messenger bot to allow users to search and book hotels. The bot asks a few starting questions such as the destination of choice, travel dates and number of nights. It then finds the best deals and presents the five best option still within the messenger. Users can then select a hotel and book, the bot sends a confirmation via the messenger afterwards. Expedia’s solution is currently available in English only but the brand is working on expanding the bot’s availability.
Skyscanner – Facebook messenger bot
Skyscanner’s messenger bot works similar to Expedia’s solution. Users are asked about their origin, final destination and searches for the cheapest options. Once a user decides on the right option for them, the bot redirects the user to the Skyscanner website where a booking can be completed. By narrowing down the number of choices that the bot shows, it is much easier for a user to make a decision. Skyscanner suggests that their messenger bot integration is a more convenient and quick search and booking option.
- Seamless bot integration into Facebook messenger
- Ease of use and speedy delivery of options
- Booking through travel brand website
- Automatic confirmation through Facebook messenger
Mobile messaging is one of the fastest growing activities on mobile and quickly becoming one of the preferred ways of staying in touch with friends and family during a trip. For destinations, mobile messaging can be a challenge, as consumers are communicating in a closed environment. Although destinations could send messages to consumers, it really only makes sense for destinations when a consumer has a specific need and can turn to the DMO to help.
For travel brands such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies and tour operators, it makes much more sense to use messaging tools to provide great customer service and support to its customers.
KLM – Whatsapp rebooking service
In spring 2016, KLM started to experiment with the use of Whatsapp at Amsterdam Schiphol airport to give customers the option of a rebooking service. In times of large flight disruptions at the airport, customers are no longer dependent on speaking to someone at the transfer desk but can rebook or cancel their connections using Whatsapp.
The WhatsApp number is displayed in the airport on a large screen next to the transfer desk. KLM customers simply need to Whatsapp their full name and booking code and the airline will book them onto the next available flight. Booking confirmations are sent via WhatsApp too – self-service machines can be used to print the new boarding passes.
- Customers can avoid queues
- Through free wifi, customers can Whatsapp booking details and rebook flights
- Confirmations shared through Whatsapp
Starwood – Let’s Chat
In more than 150 Starwood hotels and resorts, consumers can chat to staff 24/7 through Starwood Let’s Chat. Consumers can choose between WhatsApp, BBM or iMessage to stay connected with the brand as part of their stay. The tool is a simple and efficient option for concierge services, being a personal option to meet consumer needs during their stay.
For the hotels, this is also a great way of engaging with their hotel guests, improving the in-hotel experience and enabling guests to communicate with the hotel on-the-go before, during and even after their stay.
- Ease of use and convenient for guests
- Personal and quick response to enquiries
- Opportunity for hotel to engage with guests more directly