Talking chatbots

May 30, 2018

Chatbots claim to be able to change the way your passengers interact with your business. Benjamin Coren cuts through the jargon to find out how

Artificial intelligence, chatbots and cognitive computing are buzz words that fly around the debate on future customer experiences, but what exactly are they and what can they do?

A bot is a small piece of software with pre-programmed interactions that allow a user to communicate with them in a natural manner. They can be used via software like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat but perhaps most excitingly, they have the ability to learn from every individual interaction with a human, making them increasingly useful.

Experts at tech travel giant Amadeus say: “Chatbots might finally be the way to provide the long sought-after hassle-free travel experience for travellers. By mixing personal travel data and destination content they could become the perfect travel companion, easily providing relevant and contextualised information to its user.”

But according to a recent report on the topic by the IBM Institute for Business Value, few travel executives really understand how cognitive computing can change their industry and even the most advanced companies are only making initial forays into chatbots and robots.

The report found that 52% of travel companies believe operational improvements are the best target for their cognitive investments. The potential for chatbots as travel companions is seen as still only in its infancy.

But by feeding chatbots with traveller data, a bot can relieve friction-points throughout a traveller’s journey, retrieving information when it matters and providing useful support en route. Pre-travel they can provide flight times, boarding gate and terminal information; en route they can answer a wide range of traveller queries and provide personalised recommendations based on the traveller’s location and preferences.

Over time they are able to anticipate needs and notify users of information ahead of time, warning of flight delays or offering hotel check-out reminders for example. It is these types of highly contextualised interactions that are most likely to encourage travellers to use chatbot services.

Some airlines have begun experimenting with bots as a way to improve customer service. Early adopters include AeroMexico, Finnair, Singapore Airlines, Icelandair, Lufthansa and KLM to name a few. According to SITA’s 2017 Air Transport IT Trends Insights, around 14% of airlines now use AI-powered chatbots, but wise up to what they can do as that is expected to rise to 68% by 2020.