5 lessons for building a successful travel chatbot

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As costs come down and the technology matures, chatbots are proving their value, as a new white paper from EyeforTravel reveals

Chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated and capable of mimicking human conversation. But what exactly should bots do and how can they be successfully deployed by travel brands? Answers to this question begin to emerge in a report titled Are Bots Worth the Bother? from EyeforTravel and tech firm Travelaer.

1. Know that costs are coming down

The good news is that implementing a relatively simple chatbot is not a huge investment. Costs are coming down as more providers emerge and natural language processing becomes more sophisticated. Typically, the price tag on a bot ranges from between €15,000 to €50,000, according to the report. “This isn’t a significant investment for an airline when they’re spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, a year on other digital experience products,” says Mike Slone, chief experience officer at Travelaer.

2. Do it with data

Travel brands do, however, need a solid foundation of data and the resources to monitor, test and support the bot. Without data, brands will not be able to identify and understand their customers’ pain points. The report recommends these should be identified first rather than randomly setting objectives; in other words don't just make assumptions. 

Data from luxury hotel brand Edwardian Hotels, for example, showed that staff would benefit from an app that would enable them to record notes on guests, service rooms, check breakfast tables and monitor their work schedules.  Meanwhile, Icelandair started with their social media team to establish what came up most frequently in their interactions.

In both cases, these brands looked at what their customer-facing staff were being asked most and then sought to address these queries with technology. This freed up staff to focus on more complex tasks.

3. Consider the customer journey

“Instead of saying ‘we’re going to build an acquisition tool’, we look at the customer journey, how a customer interfaces with a firm and its existing digital products,” Slone says. “We look for a gap where there’s a huge customer need and maybe a chatbot could help. Then we come up with a strategy to apply the chatbot to solve it – that way, we know the chatbots will be much more successful in terms of customer satisfaction and metrics.”

4. Monitor and learn

Brands also need to monitor their bot and ensure that it is learning from each interaction in the right way. Guðmundur Guðnason, director of digital business development for Icelandair, gives an example of what issues might arise: “Our first version was built around understanding key words but had difficulties with the difference between ‘what’s the luggage allowance for Europe?’ and ‘I lost my luggage in Europe.’ It’s a delicate situation to handle a bot telling the customer who has lost his luggage that the luggage allowance is two bags!”

5. Do it right and you can fool your customer

What the report highlights is that brands like Edwardian Hotels, Icelandair, Skyscanner and KLM that have built bots are seeing results. Bots are helping to drive bookings, boost ancillary sales and increase customer service. In fact, in some instances customers have even been fooled into thinking they are talking to an actual person and have left TripAdvisor reviews or cash tips for their artificial helpers!

Download the report here for more insights into what bots can do for your brand 

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