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Nearly every day there’s a new headline about the latest application of artificial intelligence in the travel industry.
AI is having a significant impact on the way consumers experience travel at nearly every stage of the process: From booking travel reservations to in-flight entertainment and checking into hotel rooms.
Among the noteworthy recent developments is Kiwi.com’s decision to adopt the use of Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) for its enterprise customer care.
Created by Massachusetts-based Interactions, LLC, the IVAs will work with Kiwi.com customers to complete tasks traditionally handled by agents—doing such things as changing seats, adding bags or even adding a pet-companion to the trip.
It’s an offering that was particularly critical for Kiwi.com (which provides value flight itineraries), because the IVAs allow the rapidly growing company to communicate seamlessly with customers from all over the world, despite a customer’s native language.
The virtual assistants are capable of speaking to and understanding people, regardless of accent, slang or other challenges that might come up in common conversation.
“As consumers around the world realize that their travel and adventure goals are within reach, growth at Kiwi.com has exploded,” said Kiwi.com Chief Customer Officer David Reid. “Our vision is to make traveling simple and accessible to everyone. Interactions’ unique IVA solution means that we can support our customers, stay on-brand, not worry about miscommunications from accents and give them an incredibly accurate customer experience as we meet their travel requests.”
During a recent interview with TravelPulse, Interactions CEO Mike Iacobucci said his company has seen incredible demand for its IVA technology within the travel and hospitality industry. Brands are realizing the benefits of smart technology that conforms to the user.
“Intelligent virtual assistants allow us to create human-like conversations,” said Iacobucci. “It’s just like dealing with a live person.”
Beyond Kiwi.com, Interactions also counts amount its clients another well-known travel industry name: Hyatt.
It’s important to make a distinction here, however. IVAs are a gigantic leap forward from the automated customer service systems of year’s past that drew the ire of consumers everywhere.
“Automated systems were not necessarily put in place for the benefit of the consumer. They were used by companies trying to get cost savings and deflection,” explained Iacobucci, who pointed out that the AI virtual assistants designed by Interactions are capable of having far more granular conversations with consumers, going well beyond the type of communications that had been happening with automated systems.
There are numerous value propositions for the customer when it comes to the IVAs.
To begin with, customers no longer have to wait to speak to an agent when calling a particular company. And rather than dealing with a non-productive automated system, customers are served by a virtual assistant that helps them do whatever they needed to do.
“The consumer gets a frictionless transaction with the brands they’re trying to deal with,” said Iacobucci.
“Widespread adoption will come when decision-makers in the travel industry see AI technologies at work in the real world that provide a competitive advantage,” Iacobucci said.
It’s a point not lost on Chris Konya, a strategist at the innovation and brand design consultancy Sylvain Labs.
The New York and Virginia-based company specializes in understanding what the consumer really needs and how to deliver that most efficiently. Its clients include such household names as Google, Facebook, Patagonia and more.
Konya agrees that emotional intelligence must be balanced with artificial intelligence when it comes to serving customers.
“Today we see a number of travel brands missing the mark, leveraging newfangled technology in places and at costs where they simply don’t pay off,” Konya wrote in a recent white paper on the topic. “And when travel innovation misses the mark, not only do limited resources fail to create a true benefit, but consumer confidence in the brand is slowly chipped away.”
There are plenty of examples in the travel industry of technology (not limited to AI) that leans more toward the gimmicky end of the spectrum, Konya told TravelPulse:
“When you think about some of the technology people are focusing on, such as having one controller in a hotel room that controls the drapes, and the lights and the television and music—that’s great, but for the amount of investment someone puts into that, it could have gone into something that had a higher impact and created greater loyalty.”
To help make her point, Konya pointed to the evolution of the trending forms of travel: There was a time when adventure travel was the next big thing, followed by experiential travel and now, she says, we are on the precipice of transformational travel, or communing with nature.
But at their most basic level, all of these trends are really about helping people step away from the technology and the media that we’re inundated with day in and day out.
Also not to be overlooked within this evolution is the advent of Airbnb, which became immensely popular in many ways because it too offered something refreshing: allowing people to explore places in a way that was different, providing them with access to local people’s lives and worlds. It wasn’t about fancy remote controls or using a smartphone to order room service.
All of which is to say that if the goal is creating brand loyalty, then artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence in the travel industry will need to inform each other in order to ultimately get it right.
“I think it comes down to how you use technology in general,” said Konya. “I think if you feed technology with the right human inputs then it becomes really useful and powerful. But without that first input, how are you going to get to an output that is useful for people?” Click here to learn more...