Whether it’s for destination inspiration and booking flights or for hailing rides, booking restaurants, taking photos while away, the smartphone is now an essential element of the modern vacation experience. Therefore, travel brands must target the device in order to keep their customers satisfied.
Research shows that 48 percent of U.S. consumers are already happy researching, planning, and booking entire trips using nothing but their mobile device. For Japanese consumers, that figure jumps to 59 percent while in Europe 45 percent of UK and 44 percent of French travelers feel similarly confident.
“A focus on mobile is now an absolute necessity for any travel or tourism organization looking to attract new business or boost the experience of existing customers,” says Joe Reynolds, VP, Business Development at Sitel Group. “But regardless of vertical, all consumer-facing companies must constantly refine their digital channels so that they truly align with customers’ changing needs and behaviors.”
“It is imperative that the customer’s first touch point is not a painful one,” says Reynolds.
In the travel and tourism industry, this means a web presence optimized for the smartphone screen that begins loading in under two seconds. Additionally, this initial screen must be simple to navigate with thumb or finger with the most searched for information located front and center.
“Just because consumers can now drill down further and further into any subject and conduct hours of research, it doesn’t mean they want to,” warns Reynolds. “If you can’t get the basics right, you’re creating a pain point, not a touch point. Ipsos data shows that instead of turning to another channel, such as web chat or voice, nine in 10 consumers will simply switch to another website or app if they feel their needs aren’t being met.”
At the booking stage, in particular, a customer is only likely to put one brand above another if he or she has already experienced it.
“Loyalty has to be earned,” says Reynolds. “The Travel Playbook Omnibus study, which polled over 2,000 U.S. travelers, found that 79 percent of consumers put more value on information itself, not the brand providing it.”
However, what is not in dispute is how much value consumers place on their smartphones. As well as feeling more comfortable using a mobile device for booking a break, 70 percent of American tourists say they don’t feel comfortable unless they take their smartphone with them every time they travel (as recently as 2015 that figure was just 41 percent).
“Organizations are beginning to wake up to the possibilities of being in constant contact with consumers,” continues Reynolds. “The smartphone is the new vacation concierge and therefore a way of adding value to the customer experience.”
Furthermore, this could mean using carefully timed texts and emails in the days leading up to departure, or curated information on topics such as attractions and facilities pushed out to devices on arrival. But as useful as this information could be, it could cross a line and feel like technological harassment for vacationers. Enter the chatbot.
There is no question that consumers want help and guidance. Google research shows that 85 percent of leisure travelers don’t bother planning any of their vacation activities until they arrive at their destination. They know that any questions they may have can be answered by reaching for their phone.
“This behavior is a perfect fit with a chatbot,” says Reynolds. “It can answer a host of questions on any topic relating to the vacation and is always available, regardless of the time of day, but is never intrusive – it only speaks when it is spoken to. Customer experience is now all about understanding where your brand story overlaps with your customer’s life story and making absolutely certain you are ready to deliver and serve at that moment of intersection.”
TSC, Sitel Group’s digital CX agency, has been developing chatbots for deployment on all of the major social messaging platforms since 2016. In that time it has built up considerable expertise when it comes to aligning brands with their customers for conversational exchanges.
“Each chatbot represents a unique challenge,” explains Geoffrey Boulakia, DG EMEA of TSC. “In addition to offering its users an immersive experience and a genuine service, it must reflect a brand’s personality – and none of that is possible unless the chatbot can be supported with the data to be able to understand a request and to answer pertinent questions.”
But with all of the right ingredients, a chatbot can be the perfect solution to helping vacationers help themselves and ease pressure on other channels.
“A chatbot can answer the most frequently asked questions and on the occasions when the request or demand is more complex or requires a human touch, it can pre-qualify a customer so that when he or she speaks with a customer service representative, the agent already understands the problem and how best to help them,” says Boulakia. “Even in the digital age, the key to delivering an exceptional customer experience is deploying technologies that best enhance and augment the human touch.”
This is key: a chatbot promotes self-service and makes its users feel empowered. However, it will only aid in making a consumer’s experience feel tailored and personal if it is developed as a complement to other channels. As a digital CX agency that is also part of a global group specializing in delivering omnichannel customer experience, TSC can leverage its own or the entire Sitel Group’s expertise, data insights and understanding in order to deliver solutions that align with brands and their customers.
From understanding and developing a clear business case to creation, promotion and chatbot deployment, TSC and Sitel Group as a whole accompany organizations on every step of the journey toward conversational business.