The only thing about flying worse than getting through security checkpoints at the airport is being stuck in travel purgatory — forced to sleep on the floor at the terminal. When it comes to travel, unavoidable issues can come up. Whether it’s as minor as an IT problem or as significant as a blizzard or hurricane, crisis can strike in a matter of minutes, destroying plans and leaving travelers in the dark about their next steps.
When it comes to these kinds of travel emergencies, one of the biggest problems is a lack of direct communication. A couple weeks back, United Airlines grounded all of its domestic flights due to a “computer glitch.” The company announced this issue in a single tweet, forcing customers to voice their problems and utter frustration via social media. Twitter can be great for engaging with customers, but the platform can also open up a brand to a whirlwind of candid criticism, especially during a crisis. In United’s case, making social media the only communications channel ultimately made matters worse — leaving pertinent questions unanswered and customers unhappy.
It’s clear that single-channel customer service isn’t enough to meet people’s needs. With Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report showing 9 out of 10 (90 percent) global consumers expect self-service options, brands need to think about how they can provide customers with the ability to quickly and accurately solve their own problems — without turning to the call center. Developments in artificial intelligence and natural language processing are making chatbot services a smart option to help customers feel like they are speaking to an actual person, while providing them the proactive support they need during an emergency.
Twitter didn’t suffice for grounded United customers, and neither is a one-channel chatbot — information like that needs to be communicated across every touchpoint customers interact with. Put yourself in this situation: A traveler is flying out of Miami to visit family in Boston. While at the airport, she sees on Facebook that the airline is experiencing delays due to a hurricane just outside of the city. Unsophisticated technology will point her to the website to find information, which ultimately irritates her and causes her to look for the nearest airline representative to yell at. On the other hand, if the airline has implemented an omnichannel smart chatbot, the traveler could instead open a chat on Messenger and ask, “Is flight #555 affected by the latest alert?” Once the flight is ready to go, the customer will receive a notification via the airline’s mobile app, making for another touchpoint she can interact on. In response, she might ask a follow-up question regarding the status of her checked luggage.
The key here is that the traveler is able to access information from any touchpoint and continue conversations across multiple channels without having to repeat information. This is really important to consumers: Forrester research shows that 77 percent of U.S. online adults believe valuing their time is the biggest factor in providing good customer service. This is the true definition of omnichannel — not just offering the option to chat on any channel, but ensuring customers have a continuous conversation with a brand.
When major problems occur, customers expect immediate answers that apply to their current situation. It’s likely that the situation 10 minutes ago is different from what’s happening right now.
Say a traveler’s flight is delayed due to technical issues. He takes to the airline’s website to chat with an agent to see what the expected wait time is, and the chatbot replies that the problem should be taken care of within the hour. After 30 minutes pass, he asks the same question. An outdated chatbot might still give the “1 hour” response, leaving the traveler annoyed and confused as to whether the situation is taking longer than expected or the company was just too lazy to update. Meanwhile, smart chatbots allow travel brands to easily and quickly update their alerts or feed their bots with real-time data to reflect new notifications that are important to customers. So even if no update is manually added, these smart chatbots have the ability to relate context to a specific timeframe, updating answers on its own in order to reflect the remaining time to the “deadline.” Providing the customer with the accurate time frame of 30 minutes will not only make him feel secure that the issue is being taken care of, but also assures him that his questions are important to the company.
Another consistent issue with customer resources is that they can just be outright not helpful, and it is irritating when we run into the same problem with a particular brand over and over again. Smart chatbots combat this problem. If a customer notes to a chatbot that its answer isn’t useful, the channel will report this information back to the company’s customer service department, which can then make relevant adjustments to ensure the chatbot is more valuable to the end user. This distinct ability to collect customer feedback allows brands to further improve responses and better serve their customers.
Personalization is crucial to improving the customer experience. Recent Microsoft research shows more than three-quarters (77 percent) of consumers have a more positive view of a brand that sends proactive customer service alerts that matter to them. During a travel emergency, the ability to communicate how the specific issue could impact particular people’s travel plans will show customers that they are a priority. Instead of simply spouting out every alert an airline has, smart chatbots can go into an individual’s account, recognize which alerts are relevant to their flight, and provide specific information on the applicable alerts.
Crises are oftentimes out of the customers’ hands. By providing them with smart tools that keep them updated and offer tailored, actionable responses, travel companies can diminish frustration and make for a satisfied customer post-crisis. Furthermore, this also allows customer service teams to alleviate call center volume, reducing wait times for customers who truly need the extra assistance and preventing further chaos.
When a crisis breaks for an airline or other travel company, travelers are often left to fend for themselves. Smart chatbots change that. By driving proactive, personalized support while also allowing customers to quickly and accurately solve their own problems, chatbots really do save the day when it comes to travel emergencies.