Capturing social impact on travel services industry in 2018

Travelers today, have a lot of options – driven more so by choice, reviews and experience brought on by digitalization. In turn, for Travel companies, social has become one of the key channels for customer service – from personalized online interactions to bookings, recommendations to reviews and content to communications. And over the years, it has grown to provide an easy access platform for analytics – capturing interest, trends, CSAT, changes in buying habits and customer expectations that can be monetized.  In 2017, we saw AI, automation and data come together on social, and this year the stakes has never been higher.  While social is no longer the “Big Bang” trend, let’s look the social impact on the travel industry in 2018.

So the ideal 1800-number is dead.  A Rational agency 2016 study found that 67% of consumers had used a company’s social media channel for customer service, and that another 53% expect a response within 1-hour. And Gartner summarizes that not answering customers on social channels can lead to a 15% increase in the churn rate for existing customers.  As a result, customer service technology in social continues its role in leading these interactions. Businesses looking to provide differentiated customer support in 2018 will need the right balance of 4A’s of social – AI, Analytics, Automation and Agents.

Already, in the race to connect, engage and commercialize social media, travel companies have allocated increased budgets towards managing social programs, IT tools and support. AI, automated and self-service technologies will further free up BPO agents from basic tier-1 support tasks so they can focus on more productive work. The changing landscape now means IGT social media services includes end-to-end multi-channel customer service management of the traveler’s social journey from custom engagement strategies to content management, customer support to analytics, and crisis communications to AI-enabled solutions like chatbot.

AI and smart IAs (Intelligent Agents): Currently, there are over 34,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger, which reveals the scope of the opportunity here. In a bid to boost travel, AI has seamlessly connected real-time, information and ease of service to sustain travel verticals like airlines and hotels in this competitive marketplace.  AI with its set responses reduces time taken in meeting expectations or re-routing to an agent, allowing for improved support.  To put a revenue tag on it – timely communications can bring additional $9-$20 more for brand services with improved CSAT.  For ex: LateRooms.com, UK’s hotel booking specialist developed a ‘Concierge’ service that alerts and responds to any issue on social in a matter of seconds, resulting in a 30% sales conversion rate. When accounting for hiring and training cost of an agent ($8500), the alternative AI works as cost-control technology.

Intelligent Agents: Coming to social care agents, they won’t be going away, but coming back stronger in 2018.  Agents will continue to improve their efficiency and productivity levels as they are supported by timely data, insights and tools.  Studies state that 88 percent consumers expect a seamless transition between automated self-service technologies, and a human agent when booking, purchasing a product, or contacting customer service. Human agents—or IAs (intelligent agents) meeting the AI and RPA—together will create a blend of intelligent airline customer service in 2018.

The integration of IT and BPO will extend to other channel as well. With Mobile continuing to push its influence as the ‘on-the-go’ platform, it’ll remain key to social as well.  Studies reveal that 70% of all OTA bookings will be via mobile by 2020, and mobile apps will continue to take a more central role here. Bringing omnichannel customer service is a cornerstone of CX strategy, and can help control costs and cut down-time.  The integration of social customer service technology integrations has potential for sustainable top-line growth putting it on the list of investment priorities this year.

To personalize at scale requires a coordinated omnichannel strategy in 2 key things – data and quick movement of those data insights. In other words, analytics and automation will redefine how we bring a greater level of personalization to bookings, recommendations, ancillary services or new mobile apps.

Analytics: Social has become a crucial platform to understand traveler/guests’ sentiments and respond to them with relevant & timely information, content and support. But data fragmentation continues to challenge travel providers in analyzing data from disparate systems to deliver automated and personalized interactions. For the travel sector, the use of predictive models and social analytics in almost real-time will be vital to managing brand perceptions and expectations.  Multilingual social media customer service monitoring has become a crucial industry practice for strategy and customer relationship management. By combining and analyzing big data, machine learning and AI, travel companies can deliver an unrivaled level of personalization throughout the traveler journey. Consider this:  In using social media to research bookings, 62% travelers changed their original plan. Brand’s loyalties are continously challenged on social:

  • 33% have switched hotels
  • 10% switched resorts
  • 7% vacationed in a different country
  • 5% switched airlines

Automation: High volumes of social engagement have fueled the need for maintained focus on automation of processes for continued optimization of customer service.  Additionally, with the explosion of social data the need for personalization has never been greater. Travel companies are hard-pressed to understand customer data coming from disparate platforms and channels; and utilize it in real-time. This can occur, only when certain processes can tap into these silos in an efficient and automated manner.  Automation will soon apply to more elements of travel–like seating upgrades; flexible check-out, and other ancillary services.

Ultimately, it’s a multi-channel, multi-platform world where the consolidation between BPO and digital engagement now extends to technology and innovation. Travelers are always on and travel companies need be socially established with best practices & tools. At the same time, AI, analytics and connected platforms will drive the automation of processes and delivering insight in an omni-channel, digital world.