Conversational Interfaces Are The Next Frontier In Travel

Conversational Interfaces Are The Next Frontier In Travel

Billions of people use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat every day. Messaging apps to communicate with businesses as well as friends – Facebook says some 10 billion messages are exchanged between businesses and consumers every month. More than 100 billion WhatsApp messages were sent via the Facebook-owned platform on New Year’s Eve 2019 – more than any other day in the app’s history and more than 12 billion were images. Despite lacking the more than a billion citizens of China, this number of messages is equivalent to every person in the globe sending more than 13 messages.

Airlines were one of the first sectors to embrace chatbots back in 2016. Many carriers now run a simple chatbot, with some starting to exploit the potential for chatbots to offer enhanced and personalised customer service. Generating new revenue streams and upselling opportunities through a messaging bot are already happening.

Messaging is particularly prevalent in Asia. Air Asia, one of the region’s biggest carriers, launched its AI-driven multi-lingual conversational interface called ‘AVA’ at the start of 2019. In less than a year, the ‘Ava’ has matured and the carrier is now so confident in the conversational interface’s ability to answer customer service queries that it has shut down its portfolio of nine voice-based call centres.

Elsewhere in the region, Cathay Pacific developed a conversational interface with a specific use case – to make the airline’s disruption handling processes more efficient. ‘Vera’ – the non-human chatbot assistant – as Cathay Pacific call it – can help affected passengers through the reticketing and rebooking process, which frees up staff to deal with more complicated on-the-ground issues.

Asia is also home to an early example of how conversational interfaces might develop in the future. Malaysia Airlines has a transactional Facebook Messenger bot, which allows passengers to search and book flights without leaving the app.

Over the next decade, passengers will demand a highly functional conversational interface that will necessitate real-time access to airline systems. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable an exponential increase in functionality.

The challenge for airlines is to have a foundational conversational interface platform in place upon which future developments can be built. The starting point is to build the business case. The business case for a conversational interface platform is often a combination of reducing costs (for example, Air Asia), improving the customer experience (Cathay Pacific) or generating revenues (Malaysia).

The next step is to align this with the channel strategy. The easiest place to start is using existing FAQ as the source content, as this will be 80% of initial customer usage as they get used to the concept of interacting with an airline through messaging. At this stage, an airline can move on from basic functionality to create real customer value by improvement in service, engagement and ultimately, delivering retail capability through this channel.

The final step is around commitment. Committing to a conversational interface is the starting point to learning how they work, how they drive savings, and how they can increase revenue. Commitment is also required, because that means recognising the reality that messaging is part of your future of engaging with customers – one that will essentially take over all other channels in the next ten years.

By Bryan Porter, Chief Commercial Officer at OpenJaw Technologies

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