Companies in the travel industry who are interested developing or using chatbots should pay close attention to how their customers are already interacting with services like Facebook Messenger, said Mike Slone, the Chief Experience Office of Travelaer.
That's because customers typically turn to programs like Facebook Messenger after other customer support services have already failed them, he said.
"That's a space where chatbots would jump in to handle customer complaints," said Slone at the ITB Conference in Berlin. "So I think the easiest way to build a great bot is to observe the questions customers are already asking on Facebook Messenger."
Because building a chatbot that improves on the customer journey in a meaningful way is difficult, it's essential that businesses gain a sense of their customers' needs and complaints, said Slone.
"Companies need to think strategically about what their customers already need if they are going to try to do this," he said.
But even though over 80 percent of airline companies, hotel chains or online travel agencies (OTAs) have a presence on Facebook Messenger, many were not responsive to inquiries that Slone and his team sent as part of a survey on the travel industry on social media.
And of those that did respond, many just sent customers off in another direction to get answers to their questions rather than provide a helpful experience.
"Travel companies are not taking Facebook Messenger seriously or utilizing messenger even though it is a great tool," said Slone. "How do we expect companies to have good bots if they don't even respond on messenger?"
Companies need an idea of how chatbots fit into their overall digital strategy before they start using them, he said.
Still, Slone said he's hopeful that chatbots will eventually simplify the customer experience for booking online travel. A sample trip from Paris to Aspen currently has 200 digital touchpoints on mobile, email and elsewhere, said Slone.
"Trips are very complex," said Slone. "Chatbots can simplify this chaotic process – messaging services can eliminate the need for many apps around today."