EyeforTravel's San Francisco Summit 2017

April 2017, San Francisco

3 Dos & Don’ts: useful titbits for chatbots in travel

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Conversational commerce may be in its infancy but now is the time understand how it fits into your digital strategy

With social media came the dismantling of the wall between travel companies and their customers. While it took time for people to completely drop their guard on social media, today customers are more comfortable than ever in this environment, and the rise of people using messaging services bears witness to this. By August 2015 at least 2.5 billion people were using at least messaging app, according to Statista, a number that’s expected to grow to 3.6 billion by 2018. Recognising that they need to be where their customers are, a number of companies have started to strategically align themselves with messaging services, most commonly Facebook Messenger. Some are also experimenting with chat bots.

As EyeforTravel MD Tim Gunstone puts it: “We are seeing many travel brands tapping into the power of messenger apps. Conversational commerce is going to be huge”.

There is certainly enough hype around many firms are racing just to get something launched in order to say they have joined the chat bot game. Mike Slone, chief experience officer at tech firm Travelaer, admits that, “we were guilty of this too, as we think it is an exciting space.” 

Here Slone, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel Europe 2017 in May next year, shares some helpful dos and don’ts for travel brands embarking on a conversational commerce strategy.

Words of warning

  1. Don’t get too caught up in the hype: Instead first take a step back and look at how bots fit into your overall digital strategy. Try observing existing user behaviour via Messenger and other one-on-one conversational channels before deciding to launch a bot. This is a great place to set a strategic baseline for how customers are already communicating. Firms that really identify the customer’s pain points and need will have a much better chance of success. 

  2. Don’t think of bots purely as a sales tool: Very often airlines and travel company customers turn to messenger services as a last resort after all other customer service agents have failed. This means that customers are using a messaging service to complain or get help and not to buy something. So launching a bot to sell the customer something when customers are not in the mindset to buy could backfire. Instead companies should observe pain points and opportunities throughout all phases of the customer journey and use bots to help solve these problems. 

  3. Don’t focus only on Facebook Messenger: Travel companies that are launching bots are sometimes too focused on singular messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, and not enough on a cohesive conversational platform that embraces all phases of travel. Messenger is one place to have conversations, but launching a bot strategy that excludes other platforms like text messaging, Twitter direct messages, Skype, WhatsApp and so on could lead to more work in the future.

Positive moves

  1. Do make communication continuous: Travel companies, like most companies tend to spend all of their time and money creating digital destinations (websites, mobile sites, apps and so on) and then spend advertising/marketing money on where customers are (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc) to get them to visit their digital destinations. This is the wrong mindset and one of the fundamental shifts that needs to take place before airlines adopt a conversational commerce strategy. Airlines have to adopt the ‘anywhere, anytime’ mentality and provide booking and customer service where customers already exist, not to try to pull them to their destinations for the interaction. 

  2. Do think strategically about making bots indispensable to the customer: When bots begin to make things easier on the customer and help them either solve problems or accomplish a task in a much faster way, bots will begin to replace other destinations like apps. Until then, people will only think of bots as gimmicky and/or novel and not something they use more than a few times. Right now we are seeing a wave of cute, possibly fun, non-strategic bots, that really don’t do much for companies strategically deliver a headline or blog post about their bot innovation. It’s great that companies are trying out this space, but it is now time to learn from their bot launch and start to think more strategically.

  3. Do test and learn: Even though bots today may still be quite basic, companies like IcelandAir (Guðmundur Guðnason, Director, Icelandair Digital Labs will be speaking alongside Slone at EyeforTravel Europe 2017), which already have something live, are well positioned to learn quickly and launch improvements. Without a bot, companies can learn absolutely nothing from customer conversations. So while it’s important to think about bots strategically in the very first instance, it’s better to launch and learn than it is to wait and be late. As a starting point brands could consider connecting their existing digital experiences to Messenger and begin to introduce Messenger as a place where one-on-one communication can take place between the company and the customer.

Can’t make the Europe show? We will also be talking conversational commerce at the EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit (April 24-25)

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