Airlines and the growth of chatbots: potential and brand awareness
The use of chatbots has expanded rapidly among airlines during the last couple of years as those companies realise messaging platforms are becoming the preferred communication vehicle for travellers in terms of customer service, travel planning and booking.
There is no doubt that chatbots are an important tool for airlines within the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for tailoring customer offers, which should ultimately drive revenue.
Given the newness of chatbot technology, measuring its effectiveness is difficult; however, properly analysing user patterns is key to successfully ensuring high adoption and retention levels.
- Passenger preference for the use of chatbots continues to grow, and airlines are growing excited about the potential of bots to allow for better personalisation as their merchandising strategies evolve.
- Measuring the effectiveness of chatbots is an emerging science, but some traditional methods can be applied to gauging bot performance.
- Recent research by SITA shows that airlines are projected to adopt chatbot technology rapidly during the next couple of years.
Airlines spanning all different types of business models have opted to engage customers through chatbots, ranging from the Mexican ULCC Volaris to FSCs, including British Airways and Singapore Airlines.
At the recent CAPA Americas Summit, senior director for metasearch site Skyscanner Hugh Aitken stated that the company was handling millions of transactions per month through chatbots. Results from a survey released by Inbenta in early 2018 showed that 50% of customers prefer chatbots when shopping online, rather than calling a support centre.
Joining Mr Aitken at the CAPA Summit for a panel discussion, Caravelo commercial director Jonathan Newman declared that chatbots are going to be instrumental for millennial travellers, and those types of customers are not looking at desktops or mobile apps. “All their time is spent on messaging platforms”, he said.
Close to a year ago Volaris launched its chatbot Vale (Spanish for “OK, sure”), developed by Caravelo, and Mr Newman remarked that the airline was a good example of a company offering a full end-to-end shopping experience within a messaging platform. He stated that hundreds of customers use Vale every day to book tickets. Volaris has previously stated that chatbot technology and AI will revolutionise how airlines engage with their customers to tailor more personalised offers better.
Volaris’ rival Aeromexico also introduced its Aerobot in late 2016, and a year ago added group booking to its functionality. The company has estimated that six months after the bot’s launch, automation in its customer service department increased from zero to 96%. Additionally, during that same period, the average customer resolution time via chat fell from 16 minutes to two minutes.
In one month, Avianca’s chatbot Carla helped more than 1,000 customers simplify their business and leisure travel, said the bot developer Accenture. The company also stated that waiting times were cut by half when Carla was used to check in.
Companies are searching for favourable ways to measure bot performance
The value that chatbots can contribute to airlines through improved customer interaction and favourable travel sentiment has been well documented; however, according to the Inbenta survey, 45% of companies are not sure how to measure the performance of chatbots.
A recent article published by CMS Wire cited conclusions drawn by Ameex Technologies president Ranga Srinivasan who stated: “Everybody is learning the best way to formulate metrics to evaluate the bot performance, as is the case with any new technology. With bots we do not have a reference to compare it with, but some key traditional metrics still very much hold good and apply here, too”.
Some of those traditional metrics include monitoring conversion rates, increases in net promoter scores, the number of bot sessions initiated, and active user levels.
KLM was an early adopter of chatbot technology; a case study conducted by Digital Marketing of passenger use of the bot showed a 40% increase in customer interaction using Facebook Messenger and 15% of online boarding passes sent via Messenger. Additionally, the study found KLM had a Net Promoter Score on Messenger that was five points higher than its goal.
The CMS report also recommends that every conversation with a chatbot should be given the option to be rated by a customer. Other suggestions include developing efficient ways to see when a bot conversation entered an awkward moment, and analysing and determining the root causes of unproductive interactions.
Digital Marketing stated that KLM sends a survey through Messenger at the end of each conversation to ensure that the results are compatible with surveys used in other channels.
Forecasts show rapid chatbot adoption by airlines by 2020
Given the newness of chatbot technology, it is tough for airlines to determine which messaging platform will drive the most value. Experience The Skies has stated there are more than two billion active users on messaging applications, including the more popular platforms – Facebook Messenger, Apple Messages, WeChat and Whatsapp.
Some of the airlines utilising bots through Facebook Messenger include Aeromexico, KLM, Avianca, Lufthansa, Austrian and Jetstar, according to the publication.
Although chatbots hold much promise for the airline industry, in late 2017 SITA calculated that only 14% of airlines and 9% of airports were using the technology. However, by 2020 the company projects 68% of airlines and 42% of airports are planning to adopt AI-driven chatbot services.
That’s a significant increase in airline and airport chatbot usage in a short period of time, and it also means that many airlines in North America need to catch up with their global counterparts in adopting chatbot technology in the popular messaging platforms.
Airlines need to include chatbots in their brand awareness
As airlines continue to embrace AI and chatbot technology during the next couple of years, the ways in which to measure the effectiveness of those emerging technologies will be refined to allow airlines to glean more insight into their effectiveness.
The one obvious conclusion airlines currently need to embrace is the growing passenger preference for the use of chatbots for a range of services beyond flight updates. Airlines need to craft strategies for brand distinction within the messaging platform environment.