One of travel’s hottest trends is the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning to facilitate a better customer experience. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said, “AI is one of the most profound things we’re working on as humanity. It’s more profound than fire or electricity.”
In travel, AI and ML technologies are quickly maturing from rudimentary, automated FAQ response pages to chatbots that continuously learn how to answer questions better over time, as well as interact with users. These chatbots continue to evolve to higher purposes, including upselling and cross-selling.
Here are five bots that are improving the customer experience in travel.
Amanda on Amadeus Selling Platform Connect
For more than a year, Amadeus’ chatbot Amanda has been conversing with travel agents in 90+ countries across Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. On an average day, Amanda answers more than 1,000 questions from travel agents, approximately 120 conversations per hour. On call 24/7, she handles any question customers pose via Amadeus Selling Platform Connect. Amanda is friendly, polite and smart – and assists customers in Spanish, Portuguese, French and English. According to Argentina travel professional Roxana Lascentre, Amanda is so fast that in the time it takes to write her question in the chat window, Amanda is already posting her answer. “Amanda helps us with simple questions, anytime, without having to contact the help desk by phone,” says Roxana.
Mildred and Vane on Facebook Messenger
Airlines, hotels and travel agents need to be available 24/7 on whatever channel the customer wants to use at the time. Messaging apps from WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat have billions of users around the globe. Like many new technologies, messaging apps started off as a way for people to interact with each other. But now they offer a way for businesses to engage directly with consumers. Last year, Facebook told investors that “we now have 10 billion messages being sent between people and businesses every month.”
Lufthansa’s chatbot Mildred helps passengers search for the cheapest flights for up to nine months into the future. Users can narrow their search results to specific dates and booking classes. Created specifically for Facebook Messenger, Mildred knows the nearest airport from which Lufthansa departs, and then finds the cheapest prices for outbound flights. Users who want to buy a ticket are directed to Lufthansa’s mobile website where they can book flights directly from their phones. Mildred recognizes places and dates and speaks English and German.
Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris is one of the world’s most innovative airlines when it comes to adopting new technologies and experimenting with new approaches. Volaris’ Vane chatbot also uses Facebook Messenger to enable multiple channels of communication with customers across different devices. Chirps Vane: “[Let me] help you with your check-in! Get on Facebook Messenger with your name & booking number and you’ll be on your way. Happy travels!”
Connie at Hilton Worldwide
Named after Hilton Worldwide founder Conrad Hilton, the chain’s AI concierge, Connie, is the hotel industry’s first AI-powered concierge bot. Standing nearly two feet tall, Connie interacts with guests when they arrive at the check-in desk. Using the computing power of IBM Watson, Connie advises guests on local attractions and interesting sites. She also has the ability to fine-tune her responses by learning from frequent requests.
Zoe on MSC Cruises
Exclusive to MSC Cruises, Zoe is the latest interactive feature of MSC for Me, a multi-channel digital cruise experience that helps guests get cruise information in a personalized way. A free, voice-enabled assistant found in every cabin, Zoe answers hundreds of questions – in seven languages – about life on board. She also helps guests reserve restaurants and excursions, check their bills and more. Like Amanda and Connie, Zoe is conversational and professional, and is programmed to keep learning with every interaction.
People still want to deal with people
As Gilles Trantoul, Amadeus Director of Strategy and Transformation, writes in Breaking Travel News, AI technologies and bots can indeed do beautiful things – like predict traveler behaviors at airports and reduce wait times through self-service desks. But what machines can never replace is the human touch.
Trantoul reminds that at multiple points in the traveler’s journey, people still prefer to deal with people. Amadeus’ recent report with IHG reinforces the need for excellent agent servicing, from ordering a taxi to making a complaint. During hotel stays, travelers still prefer to interact with staff rather than use self-service options. And when they face unexpected disruptions at the airport, there’s nothing like a real travel professional to help them book the next flight out.
Humanizing the exceptional
Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light and the whitepaper, Chatbots: Conversation for All of Us, says, “To provide a seamless customer journey, it is important for [chatbots] to be able to hand over to an agent when/if necessary. Being able to hand off to an agent, with all previous chat history, is essential to providing a smooth experience.”
Amadeus VP of travel channels customer service, Joerg Schuler, sums it up best: “We want to automate the predictable so we can humanize the exceptional. It sounds a bit theoretical, but I think it’s very valuable in everything that we’re doing around the chatbot Amanda.”
If AI is one of the most profound things humanity is working on, what other innovations will the future of travel bring?