If you’re in the travel industry, you know better than anyone how much things have changed over the past few years. And we’re not just talking about Covid here (although it goes without saying that the pandemic changed travel forever). Prior to the pandemic, the travel industry was seeing a rapid digital shift. In 2018, 82% of all travel bookings were made online through a website or mobile app. And now that travel is back, consumers not only expect to be able to make bookings online, but also to be able to get instant, personalized customer service across digital channels.
This increasing shift toward digitalization — which was of course accelerated by virtually every business being forced to do business online in the pandemic — coupled with high customer expectations mean that customer service has become a key differentiator for travel companies. And one of the ways to ensure efficient service and fantastic customer experiences without scaling your customer support team is to automate some of your customer requests. Leading travel companies are adopting technology like chatbots and virtual agents to take some of the burden off their agents and get back to their customers faster.
Why travel and customer service automation are the perfect pair
Automated customer service technology like chatbots and virtual agents are ideally suited for travel companies for a number of reasons. Firstly, the travel industry is full of customers asking similar questions over and over, like inquiring about baggage policies or wanting to change the date of a room reservation. These types of inquiries are very easy to automate end-to-end, meaning the customer never even has to interact with a human agent. This allows your support team to focus on the more complicated questions that do require human intervention, and saves time for your customers and saves money for your business.
Secondly, travel is inherently an industry that requires 24/7 support in multiple languages. Whether you’re a hotel or an airline or a car rental agency, travelers from all over the world will likely need to contact you at all hours of the day with unexpected changes or questions. Even the simplest chatbots can provide answers to FAQs 24 hours a day. But with advanced AI technology, the best AI chatbots and virtual agents can understand what your customers want and respond intelligently in any language.
What’s more, a great virtual agent platform allows customers to contact you via wherever is convenient for them. So whether it’s easiest for your customers to email your team, start a live chat on your website or DM you on Instagram, your virtual agent can answer inquiries across all digital channels.
Lastly, travel tends to have varying demand — whether that be unforeseeable fluctuations due to things like the pandemic or predictable peak seasons that occur every year. This means that many companies have to hire and train temporary employees or risk overwhelming their current team. Automating the simple, repetitive requests allows customer support teams to instantly scale their team without actually increasing headcount. And best of all, as your business grows, the best AI-powered virtual agents, like Ultimate's platform, will continue to scale with you. This is because the AI can learn from your customer conversations, so it improves and gets more accurate as time goes on.
Learn how Finnair managed a 900% increase in inquiries in March 2020 with our chat automation solution.
Read more about AI and automation for the travel industry
What can a travel chatbot do?
An AI chatbot or virtual agent has a huge number of possible uses within the travel industry. As previously mentioned, the easiest "intents" or requests to automate are the simple, repetitive inquiries. This means that many queries can be completely taken care of by the virtual agent, such as:
- Changing a flight
- Inquiring about a booking status
- Upgrading a room
- Asking what travel documents are needed
- Taking payment
- Booking additional baggage
- And so much more
This is possible because your virtual agent can be integrated into your CRM and other backend systems, giving it access to all the same information that your human agents have, including customer info, reservation systems, and more. Just be sure to check that the automation provider you choose has security certifications, like SOC2, to ensure your customer data stays safe.
Of course, not all customer requests can be automated. Here, your chatbot or virtual agent can act as a first line of defense, asking the customer questions to gather context and passing that information on to an agent so the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves and their query can be resolved faster.
Read more about how generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT are leveling up the customer experience for travelers
Furthermore, although they are primarily used for customer service, chatbots can make a difference to your business’s bottom line with upselling or cross-selling opportunities. For example, if a customer is already engaged in a chat or email thread with a virtual agent to change their flight, your virtual agent could prompt them to upgrade to business class or add an extra piece of luggage. Additionally, Ultimate’s client, Finnish tour operator Aurinkomatkat finds that chat customers tend to be more qualified leads,
“Chat conversations also lead to a sale much more often than calls because most people are already at least thinking of buying a trip. So the virtual agent has been working very well for us."
- Olli Vikman, Service Manager, Aurinkomatkat
Read how automation helped tour operator Aurinkomatkat bounce back from Covid-19.
Who can benefit from customer service automation?
Travel companies of all shapes and sizes can benefit from implementing a chatbot or a virtual agent. Whether you’re an online travel agent (OTA), an airline, a tour operator, a car rental agency, a public transportation system or a hotel, chances are you have a high amount of repetitive requests, customers wanting to communicate in many languages, a demand for 24/7 support that your team may not be able to keep up with, and fluctuations in volume of support queries. By automating your customer service, you can ensure your travelers get the information they need and your team stays happy.
See how Ultimate's virtual agent platform has helped customers like GetYourGuide, Finnair, HomeToGo, and Aurinkomatkat scale their customer support with automation.