Picture this: you’ve been waiting for your next vacation for ages. You finally have a travel plan on the horizon and excitedly search for the best available options. You find your dream trip and click on the “book now” button to set your itinerary. The moment is finally here! But oh no…you are presented with a giant form. As you scroll down the page, scanning through a seemingly endless number of required fields, the excitement that you felt about booking your vacation slips into a tedious job. Your eyes glaze over, so you decide to book it later when you have both the time and the patience to complete the lengthy task at hand.

Sadly, I’ve found myself in the aforementioned scenario and similar situations more times than I care to remember. And I bet you have too. But fear not! The rapid rise of chatbots and the emergence of innovative messaging channels combined with incredible advancements in AI and other technologies opens up a new world of possibilities to radically increase engagement and enjoyment across the entire travel industry ecosystem.

Interactions Should Be Fun!

There’s no reason to present customers with a long, boring form these days. Conversely, by eliminating this practice, industry players can meet or exceed the expectations of modern consumers while significantly increasing long-term customer retention through enhanced engagement and ease-of-use. Engaged customers are happy customers who are not only highly likely to return in the future, but are also inclined to recommend the service or product to their business associates, friends, and family.

Swift technological advancements are changing the game. According to predictions from Gartner, 85% of consumer engagement with businesses will be conducted using chatbots and self-service options as early as next year, all without the involvement of another human. This change marks an astonishing shift in customer service practices while presenting massive benefits for both consumers and businesses.

For customers, chatbots and messaging channels provide a fun and engaging method for interacting with businesses while saving time in the process. For companies in the travel industry, utilizing these technologies expands the potential depth and reach of customer relationships to an entirely new level at a lower price than traditional customer service strategies. In fact, Juniper Research estimates that the use of chatbots will save businesses a staggering $8 billion in expenses by 2022.

But do today’s customers want to contact companies via live chat support? The short answer is: “yes”! A report from Econsultancy states that 79% of consumers prefer live chat support because it provides almost instantaneous responses, while 51% of survey respondents use a live communication channel to allow them to multitask during the interaction.

The live chat consumer satisfaction rates are absolutely incredible. According to LiveChat’s 2019 Customer Service Report, 82% of live chat users are satisfied with the service they receive, based on data from more than 25,000 websites that offer live chat support.

Are You Real Or AI?

Whether you’re a software vendor, a hotel operator, or running a company in another sector of the travel industry, your customers want to interact via modern communication channels. Today’s travelers prefer to contact businesses through platforms that provide immediate responses to their queries, such as Facebook Messenger. And here’s the thing: automated chatbots can resolve many customer questions and concerns without the need for human involvement. Let’s look at hotel guests as an example. The majority of travelers reach out for assistance with simple tasks. They want more towels, or need the Wi-Fi password, or require valet parking. Scenarios like this can be easily handled through automation, with an AI-driven chatbot that quickly interacts with the customer to determine their needs before sending the request to the appropriate department for service.

So, how do you know whether you’re interacting with a chatbot or a human? The fact is that it’s increasingly difficult to determine, and it’s generally unnecessary to consider this question at all. Some interesting statistics on this topic come from a Hubspot survey, which showed that many consumers aren’t actually aware of when they’re using AI-driven technology. Although only 37% of respondents stated that they’d used an AI tool, 63% of those who believed that they hadn’t interacted with a chatbot actually had but didn’t realize it, thereby illustrating the effectiveness of virtual assistants.

I’m not suggesting that all customer inquiries can be effectively completed by a chatbot. While a virtual service agent can handle many requests on its own, these technological marvels also know when it’s time to get a human staff member involved to solve more complex concerns or to answer questions that go beyond automated abilities.

Increased Engagement, Higher Conversion Rates 

The value of bots cannot be overstated. Messenger bots are quickly becoming king, with Facebook leading the way. The social media giant now boasts 2 billion monthly messages sent between businesses and people on its Messenger platform. Although organic Facebook posts only reach an average of 1-2% of Page followers, Facebook Messenger messages have average open rates of a staggering 50-80% with an average click rate of 20%. Furthermore, Facebook Messenger messages convert 3-5 times better than Facebook ads, as a growing percentage of consumers choose to engage with messaging platforms.

Chatbots have also radically increased conversions for many brands. One excellent example comes from Sephora with an 11% increase in booking rates through its Facebook Messenger bot, which enables customers to schedule appointments much quicker than is possible when using the company’s app. Another wonderful success story comes from Tommy Hilfiger, who managed to reach an astonishing 87% customer return rate when the company used a Messenger bot to help people purchase clothing directly from the runway during Fashion Week in New York City.

The capabilities of today’s chatbots and messaging platforms are absolutely incredible, and while the technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, we all stand to benefit from its adoption. As we head into a brighter world with faster and more effective response times, increased engagement, happier customers, and lower operational costs, it’s time for all of those antiquated pages of required fields to fade into our distant memories. Boring forms beware – bots to the rescue!

Please share your thoughts about chatbots and messenger platforms with me on LinkedIn.

About the Author

Andrew Sanders has held executive and sales leadership positions at global companies specializing in enterprise hospitality technology solutions for over 20 years.  Andrew began his career at McDonnell Douglas Information Systems in the UK, leading sales, development and project management of a leading domestic hotel central reservations software platform.  Still serving hospitality enterprise customers, he continued to lead the strategic development and large system sales of unified PMS-CRS solutions in the UK, eventually moving to the USA in 2000 with the acquisition of an NJ-based PMS solution vendor (M Corp).

He is currently VP of Travel & Hospitality for North America at DataArt, a global technology consultancy that designs, develops and supports software solutions in select industries.

At DataArt, Andrew leads initiatives in the areas of business strategy and innovation mainly in the hospitality technology sector.

About DataArt

DataArt is a global technology consultancy that designs, develops and supports unique software solutions, helping clients take their businesses forward. Recognized for their deep domain expertise and superior technical talent, DataArt teams create new products and modernize complex legacy systems that affect technology transformation in select industries.

DataArt has earned the trust of some of the world’s leading brands and most discerning clients, including Nasdaq, S&P, Travelport, Ocado, artnet, Betfair, and Apple Leisure Group among others. Organized as a global network of technology services firms, DataArt brings together expertise of over 2,500 professionals in 20 locations in the US, Europe, and Latin America.

www.dataart.com