May 2017, London
Conversations & data: building blocks of connected travel
In a fast-changing ecosystem of technologies and interfaces, Air Baltic and Voyages-sncf are working hard to stay on top of the connected travel game. Andrew Hennigan reports
The connected traveller is a demanding individual with ever-rising expectations.
Jouni Oksanen, SVP Sales, eCommerce and Marketing at Air Baltic puts it like this: “More and more people are used to getting service and answers on every channel that they like or prefer.”
They also want the service to be instantaneous and they want their needs understood. For this reason Okansen believes we can expect to see more "conversational interaction" in the future, with bots playing a central role.
Air Baltic is already using bots in three main ways. To:
Serve customers by providing data driven information and assistance that is as accurate as possible
Sell the airline’s services and products on the channels where consumers spend their time
Integrate the conversation into marketing communication and to generate leads
Although today Air Baltic is offering a chat bot service on Facebook Messenger, it has plans to offer something similar through the company’s website and eventually via the WhatsApp messaging app.
Data driven developments
While chat bots are becoming increasingly important, they are not the only way connected travellers can interact with travel companies and more alternatives are emerging through the analysis of customer data.
“By identifying trends and patterns in customer search behaviour, companies are able to deliver them the information and options which will most suit them at the most suitable time and via the most convenient device,” says Arnaud Masson, Chief Operating Officer at Voyages-sncf.com.
One of these sweet spots is the moment when customers are planning a trip using their Outlook365 calendar. Voyages-sncf.com recently integrated a plug-in for Outlook365 that lets consumers book their train tickets directly from their personal Outlook calendar, making the process more seamless. Like Air Baltic, the company also added Facebook Messenger as a booking tool, so travellers can book train tickets and receive reminders before they travel through the social network.
Building a connected traveller experience is complicated by changes in the digital infrastructure. “One of the biggest challenges faced by any online company is to take into account the evolution and disappearance of interfaces,” explains Masson, who believes “the trick is to keep on top of it and select from all the new technologies that are constantly evolving and to integrate the right ones in your offering.”
Another test is the multitude of channels to choose from. “There are so many fronts for improving the customer experience that we have to find the right ones and focus our resources on those,” says Oksanen.
Air Baltic tackles this by starting projects with the service design first; then it quickly makes a prototype and interviews real customers.
One of the most obvious trends in connected travel experiences is the move towards social selling. “Businesses are increasingly embracing social media as a sales tool,” says Masson. And, why not? “Consumers are comfortable using these channels so why not extend them to include purchases and financial transactions?”
Businesses are increasingly embracing social media as a sales tool
Consumers already spend huge amounts of time on social media and feel increasingly comfortable interacting with brands through this medium. “We need to be present in the spaces that our customers are occupying and be ready to engage with them at any time,” Masson says.
Like Air Baltic, Voyages-sncf.com is focused on development to keep up with a fast changing eco-system.
“We are working with feature teams internally to identify new trends and customer demands and to brainstorm, and develop new features within a tight time frame,” explains Masson. Voyages-sncf is also working with startups to harness young talent and bright ideas to help give customers the simplest most intuitive experience.
Developments underway include:
Integrating voice controlled interfaces using Amazon Alexa and Echo loudspeakers
Applying VR technology for a more immersive experience for potential customers
“We believe that adopting an open approach is the future of e-commerce,” says Masson. “To remain innovative companies must test, experiment and continue to make the connected traveller experience a reality by evolving existing features and technologies.”