How bots help OTAs with coronavirus, volcanos, and other IROPS events

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Feb 25, 2020
James Eisner
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Irregular operations (IROPS) events are as unpredictable as they are certain. While you may not know exactly what the source of the next travel disruption will be, you know that it will happen. IROPS affects companies throughout the travel industry. However, OTAs are in an especially precarious situation when a crisis hits.

You’re likely aware of the most recent example of a disaster causing significant issues for travel companies (and humanity at large): coronavirus. Since the emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China in December, tens of thousands of people in China and around the world have fallen ill with the virus. To contain the virus, travel restrictions have been imposed by some countries in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

The travel industry has taken a huge hit as a result. However, it isn’t only health crises that can affect travel companies. Environmental events can have an equally harmful effect. Look at the chaos caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010.

As travelers cancel their plans en mass, travel companies are forced to deal with a deluge of questions, cancellations, modifications, and requests. 

Online travel agencies (OTAs) find themselves at the front line during these crises. While losing a booking hurts, losing a previously loyal customer forever due to a bad cancelation or booking modification experience hurts even more.

During these times, human support agents need help from automation to keep up. However, your OTA can’t risk ruining the customer experience with poor automation technology.

AI-powered bots provide an ideal solution to OTAs dealing with a massive influx of requests. A bot can automatically resolve many of the key customer requests on a multitude of voice, messaging, and social media platforms without sacrificing service quality.

Canceling bookings

During an IROPS, your OTA will be bound to have a fair amount of cancelations. Managing each cancelation manually not only takes time but increases the potential for human error.

While a human may need to approve the cancelation, a bot can cut down the time it takes to process a cancelation by gathering all the information that’s needed to process the request. 

A bot will first ask for the booking number and the name associated with the reservation. Then, the bot will connect to your GDS and display the trip (or parts of the trip) that can be canceled. The customer will confirm the trip they want to cancel and the information will be forwarded to a human agent who can quickly confirm it. 

Canceling a Booking Through a Bot

Answering customers’ general questions

Customers will have questions when an unfortunate situation arises. More often than not, many of their questions will be the same. 

“When will I know if my flight is canceled?”, “Do you have updates on the travel bans?”, and “How long will the restrictions remain in place?” are all questions you could see a lot of during an IROPS event.

Iberia Bot Handling a Flight Status Request

Despite their simplicity, these questions will make up a huge proportion of requests during a crisis. When handled by human agents, these simple requests take a lot of time to resolve,  mostly in part to the sheer volume of them. This creates a backlog that keeps customers with more urgent or complex requests from reaching an agent. 

But what if there was a way to automatically answer these repetitive questions? You can probably see where this is going… 

A bot is more than capable of easily managing these types of frequently asked questions. By pulling information from databases and other business systems, a bot can answer the general questions as well as provide personalized updates on a customer’s trip. This frees up agents and reduces wait times, helping to keep customers happy. 

Modifying bookings

Once a customer realizes that they can’t or don’t want to go on their trip, they may want to reschedule. Much like cancelations, booking modifications can also be managed by a bot. 

Rather than having an agent manually enter all the information, a bot can use the customer’s PNR and booking information to locate their trip in the GDS. From there, the customer can make and confirm the updates themselves without the help of an agent.

Connecting to a human agent

While bots can handle a lot of issues, they can’t take care of everything. Sometimes, customers need a human touch. To avoid annoying your customers and ruining their experience with your OTA, your bot should include a very clear “Talk to an Agent” option. 

Even if a customer opts for a human agent, that doesn’t mean that a bot can’t still help. While transferring the customer to an agent, the bot can get valuable information about the customer’s issue. This gives the agent the context they need to provide the customer with faster, better service.

Bot Transferring Conversation to Human Agent

While you’ll never know what, when, or where the next crisis will emerge, bots can help your OTA be ready to weather the storm. By deflecting customer’s cancelations, booking modifications, and questions, you and your team can provide better, more responsive support to those with more complicated issues. Though making it through these situations isn’t easy, a bot can help minimize the impact on your OTA.

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