How can tools like chatbots enable better online booking and customer service experiences? Werner Kunz-Cho, CEO at Fareportal shares a few observations on how these technologies have started empowering the travel and tourism industry in a big way:
Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Werner, tell us more about Fareportal and how the platform caters to online bookings and travel needs?
Fareportal operates travel brands including leading online travel agencies CheapOair and OneTravel. The company currently serves travelers and their needs with our brands in the US, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Customers can book all their travel needs for flights, lodgings, cars and vacation packages via online desktop or mobile web, mobile app, chatbot, voicebot, SST and contact center live agents. Fareportal has been in business for the past 20 years and appears regularly on the Travel Weekly Power List.
Since 2020, Covid-19 has led to immense chaos in travel and hospitality circles, we’d love to hear from you on what it will take for global travel-tech companies to pick up as they navigate another year of uncertainty in light of the new Omicron variant and other restrictions?
The travel industry was indeed confronted with an unforeseen circumstance when Covid-19 appeared. Although while booking volumes tanked and cancellations and refunds requests soared dramatically, global travel technology companies were and still are in a very good position to create solutions for many of the problems that arose, learn from those needs, and apply that knowledge to new product developments. At Fareportal for example, the methods by which we obtain and then share with our customers updates on the ever-changing travel restrictions environment have evolved to the point that customers are able to feel informed and updated on requirements at any point of a customer’s journey. And they can do this all within our brand’s online ecosystem. As an industry, travel tech is all about innovation, so these companies are fully staffed to support the development of new products and services. In that way, I believe online travel agencies were actually in a better position to react to the pandemic than non-tech-focused concerns.
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During all of this, online travel capabilities have had to be strengthened to help travelers as much as possible in light on constant cancellations and changes in restrictions, tell us about technologies and tools that have enabled better travel and booking experiences during this time (like chatbots) and how you feel these capabilities will now become integral to this industry?
The surge in demand for customer service was an incredible challenge for the entire travel industry. Our enhanced chatbot experience was a key piece of our response to the situation. In addition, online cancellation, refund and future credit processing, a dedicated agent help desk to support covid-related cancellations and refunds, and the “Need Help” customer support page were all launched. The “Need Help” customer support page provides a clear intuitive path to the content customers are seeking, using issue category tile, menu, and a search option. The search function allows customers to enter long keywords and get a suggestion to most relevant category.
All the tech-based solutions created by the online travel industry will remain in use for years to come and are now integral to the industry. Consumers are demanding options and flexibility with their travel purchases; therefore, these innovations have been embraced by the traveling public and cannot be removed.
Take us through some of the most creative and impactful ways in which leading travel brands/airlines have configured the chatbot experience to drive user needs and hassle-free experiences?
Managing customer experience in travel is complex because of the long-life cycle of airline tickets. Any flight booking may have dozens of requests which can span over a period of 3-6 months. For example, a customer who purchased a flight today can come to query on the same day, a month from now they can come back to check seats. Within 3-4 days of travel, they would like to get a boarding pass and then final confirmation before leaving the airport. Over and above that, given the uncertain circumstances caused by covid, any flight can be canceled or rescheduled leading customers to change their travel dates.
Along with all this, there is a new set of needs that has come up in travel, especially for international travel; What kind of health-related documents are required to enter countries as well as re-entry requirements for the countries of a trip’s origin. These requirements are constantly changing.
A typical example of chatbot improvement is in the area of airline credit. Covid caused customers to cancel bookings while at the same time many airlines are issuing credits for future travel in lieu of cash refunds. Customers then must come back again later to redeem these airline credits. There are complexities involved in making these new bookings. Chat flows are designed to allow customers to easily make complex modifications to any type of booking.
A few thoughts on how you feel chatbots will evolve from here or should evolve from here to meet future online travel booking challenges?
The evolution will continue. AI will allow the bot experience to include predictive/forecasting conversations, and these interactions will become the norm for the travel industry.
Some last thoughts, takeaways before we wrap up!
Overall, I would say the pandemic, as difficult as it was and continues to be, did contribute to a renewed appreciation for the importance of customer experience. All travel sellers know this regarding purchases. Post-booking, however, as much as we all talked about it, was generally regarded as less urgent, yet servicing bookings at a superior quality level is the most important phase in a customer’s journey . Work in the area was of course ongoing, but the pandemic introduced a high level of urgency that resulted in many wonderful customer-supporting innovations across the entire travel industry.
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