A few years back, chatbots seemed like a less-than-useful way to pawn off customers onto a robotic response system.
But with advancements in artificial intelligence-based technologies, chatbots have become a viable resource for companies big and small to use as a means of virtual assistance for their customers. With rapid technological advancements, any travel brand or business that fails to move forward with chatbots will be left in the dust.
In recent years, travel brands have become a hub for do-it-yourselfers to actually perform all of the work a travel agency would have done in the past. Gone are the days of using travel agents to search for flight tickets, book hotel rooms, and create itineraries for personal or family vacations. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 2018-2028, jobs for travel agents will decrease by 6 percent, not including the over 35 percent decrease in the overall number of travel agents in the United States, down to 79,000 in 2018 from a whopping 124,000 in 2000.
With this in mind, DIYers have taken to sites like Expedia, Booking, and now Google to help them plan their trips from the bottom up. No middle-men and extra fees needed - everything is done at the customer's leisure within their self-made timeframes, and most importantly - is fee-free. But along with the aforementioned sites, travel brands need to be savvy and implement high tech solutions on their websites to make sure all users stay engaged.
One way to do this is implementing a chatbot for your OTA (online travel agency). Chatbots are wildly beneficial, and have become almost a near-requirement for modern travel brands in the internet era. Chatbots can help customers with a myriad of concerns, such as booking their flight, making hotel reservations, FAQs, and payment processing. What's more, chatbots can help your company acquire precious customer data without being too invasive. Let's dive into the five reasons chatbot implementation is crucial as 2020 begins.
As you might imagine, few people actually enjoy the difficulties involved with choosing a round-trip flight ticket or ticket package for their trip. With this in mind, what better way to ease this customer pain-point than with a chatbot? A chatbot specifically created for the booking process and the subsequent queries that people have once their trip is booked can be the answer to your prayers.
Airline chatbots can be the difference between solving a customer concern versus them taking their frustration out on your brand via Twitter. An airline chatbot can offer general support if a customer asks about flight delays or cancellations, but it can also help with ease of service features, such as expedited check-in through a mobile device.
Additionally, telling customers about loyalty programs and how they can earn more flight rewards and miles can persuade them to make upgrades at their discretion. This leads into how your chatbot can also act as a tool to upsell. For instance, if it can let customers in on an "upgrade deal" that can put them in first class rather than economy, you might have an opportunity to upsell to the user. You make more money and the customer feels like your chatbot was helpful; it's a win-win.
Hotel reservations are the second-most frustrating part of the entire travel booking process, right after booking a flight. Not only do website algorithms change their room prices based on your previous click-throughs, but it seems like you're never offered the lowest, most affordable choice no matter how many times you delete site cookies and refresh the page.
Implementing a hotel chatbot can help in multiple areas: making the reservation, retrieving rewards points (if applicable), registering for excess amenities, and providing concierge-based services all at the click of a chat button.
Travel brands must be accessible to an international audience. But it's nearly impossible to have round-the-clock customer service representatives available online or by phone. What may be 9am where you are might be midnight elsewhere. To remedy this issue before it comes about, you can implement a chatbot that replies with pre-programmed responses to common customer FAQs. Your natural language processing (NLP) software will determine how complex the FAQs your chatbot will be able to answer.
Regardless, implementing an FAQ feature that can be used even during off-hours will save your company time, money, and the hassle of answering the same generic questions over and over again. Plus, if a customer ends up having a more complex question, they can let the chatbot know they need further assistance, at which time the chatbot can provide an email link or form for the site visitor to fill out for a human representative to answer at a later time.
Another feature of chatbots for travel brands' websites is being able to connect payment processing software to the bot itself. When you go to a store and use your credit card, whether swiping or by inserting the chip, you're using payment processing software. The same is true when you enter your credit card information online. And what better way to search for, book, and pay for your trip than via chatbot?
Allowing people to make payments (e.g. pay for their flight ticket, book their hotel/vacation rental, or their city tours) via your chatbot will heighten the likelihood that users will make a larger amount of purchases due to the ease of making payments. How many times have you tried to make a payment on a website only to be redirected elsewhere? After the hassle, sometimes it's not even worth staying on the page to complete your order. Avoid this issue with chatbots. If the chatbot itself accepts payments via payment processing software, you won't risk losing a quick, easy sale that can translate into a larger bottom line.
While your chatbot is communicating with your customer, it can acquire valuable information that can help your brand market to the appropriate demographics. An end-of-chat survey can gather simple, basic information such as age group, gender, location, and the amount the person is willing to spend on a trip. None of this information is too invasive, but your chatbot can make sharing these details optional to provide respondents with complete transparency.
Once your chatbot gathers this information, you can have it set up to store customer data in a system that houses all of your customer analytics. If you discover that your site garners more visitors on the weekend between the hours of 5 pm and 8pm, you can plan specials and promotions on your site for those dates and times. If you discover that women between the ages of 25-35 are the main visitors to your site, you can cater targeted advertisements to them on social media platforms, which will encourage them to visit your site.
In sum, chatbots are a crucial feature for travel brands to have on their websites regardless of if you are an airline provider or use an e-commerce platform for your travel luggage brand. If you want to ensure people use your site (and not increase your bounce rate), implement a chatbot for each of the above use-cases. They’re a simple way to save money and manpower – all while making the trip-planning process a breeze for your customers.
BIO: Rebecca Reynoso is a content editor on the marketing team at G2. She has previously written about artificial intelligence, chatbots, and other high-tech content.
Many companies are building their own bots but go about it in the wrong way by focusing on the WOW effect rather than addressing real challenges.