From live chat to big data, technology can complement traditional methods of improving customer experience. We look at the innovations to consider in 2020.
Treat customers well and the bookings will come. This simple ethos has helped high street agents thrive.
But when people are becoming more technologically adept, is it enough to rely on offering clients a glass of bubbly?
Abta’s 2020 Travel Trends Report revealed travel agents must rise to the demand for digital customer service, with holidaymakers now seeking myriad ways to obtain support during the booking process – whether through social media or messenger applications.
Technology’s influence on customer experience isn’t limited to travel. Adobe’s 2020 Digital Trends report in collaboration with Econsultancy – which surveyed 13,000 professionals in marketing, advertising, e-commerce, creative industries and IT – found firms leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) for automation in marketing optimisation, product recommendation and dynamic pricing had a clear advantage over competitors.
Here, we hear from three specialists to ask how agents can use live chat, big data and AI to improve customer experience in 2020.
“These days the battle for your customers’ attention is not taking place on the high street or within a newspaper, but rather on the internet,” says Andy Soloman, founder and chief executive of customer experience and live chat specialists Yomdel.
“People are increasingly impatient and want everything now. Around 50% of all website visits take place outside of standard business hours. This means that for any agency, half of their potential customers are active and seeking support when they are not open.”
Live chat can benefit agencies by building client rapport and generating leads – but it requires resources, says Soloman: “When a customer [uses] chat, they expect an immediate response, and anything less risks delivering a substandard experience. In practice, this means responding to live chat requests within 15 seconds.”
He recommends agencies with limited staff work with a third-party live chat partner that offers 24/7 live chat support.
“Using a quality live chat partner [is] not expensive; it’s certainly cheaper than using a highly paid resource in your own office. Through using experts, the results will be significantly stronger. This allows you to focus your in-house resources on converting leads and closing business opportunities that the live chat operators have created,” he explains.
Put simply, big data are data sets that can be analysed to reveal trends. For agents, this could mean understanding the client’s website journey – what they look for and book – allowing for a more personalised marketing strategy.
“Understanding big data is the difference between treating people as an average and trying to treat them as individuals,” says Andy Owen-Jones, chief executive at bd4travel – a tech company offering travel businesses AI-driven personalisation solutions.
“If you don’t use technologies like big data or AI, there is no way you will create experiences that are anything other than average.”
Investing in technology firms to help understand big data may not be financially viable for smaller companies with “less than 80,000” monthly website users, admits Owen-Jones, but there are still simple ways agencies can better understand their customers.
“It’s very hard to get data from third parties these days, so you need to have strategies to get first-party data. My favourite for smaller travel agencies is to host events and gather client data there.”
He adds: “You can start trying to understand what your customers are after on your website. Afterwards, you can rebuild certain aspects of your channels if people are not able to book easily in certain ways, or you’ve found that you have distinct sets of people that are bouncing around and never booking.”
How Brand USA bossed AI to understand customer behaviour
Even today, national tourism boards and destination marketing organisations struggle to determine whether their digital campaigns actually encourage people to visit a particular destination.
Brand USA partnered with Inspirock in 2018 to find out if its digital campaigns resulted in tourist conversions.
Encouraging clients to book through Inspirock’s machine-powered trip planner, Brand USA was able to collect information on which destinations clients were seeking, duration of stay and average cost of the trip.
By the close of 2018, some 18,129 US holidays had been booked on Inspirock’s platform, generating $13.5 million revenue with visitors staying in-destination an average of 16.7 days.
Anoop Goyal, co-founder of Inspirock says AI’s importance will only increase in the future.
“Historically, the travel vertical has lagged behind others when it comes to adopting new technology, but we believe 2020 is the year AI becomes a must-have in the industry.”
For Anoop Goyal, co-founder of trip-planning software Inspirock, the main benefits for agents of embracing AI include the automation of less important and repetitive tasks, freeing up time to develop a deeper relationship with the client.
“Customers today expect personalised, high-quality responses, and they expect them to be fast and accurate,” he says.
“It is impossible to be an expert on every destination, [or] to optimise trips for complex searches in a timely manner. Embracing AI and technology is not about replacing human agents, it is about utilising recent advancements to make agents even better at their jobs.”
Goyal suggests travel agencies purchase trip planning software that uses AI to gather millions of data points based on clients’ preferences, helping agents find the best holiday match.
“Inspirock has more than 750 million data points and 80,000 destinations and can help agents answer questions such as where, when and how to travel, and what to do when you get there. Agents can share these plans with their travellers via the white-labelled solution we create for them.”
The software, which is also mobile-friendly, offers real-time collaboration with clients, enabling them to fine-tune the details before deciding to book.
He adds: “For companies that combine AI with great user experiences, customers and agents alike will find every aspect of the travel life cycle – from inspiration and planning to booking and sharing – become more personalised, intuitive and enjoyable.”