It’s hard to miss the fact that bots are suddenly everywhere for travel. New ones seem to be launched weekly and every company seems to be building the next killer bot. If you’re unsure of what a bot is, they perform both simple and structurally repetitive tasks at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human - by typing in a query regarding travel plans it will return options to you much quicker than you going through and doing a search online.

Since major messaging platforms like Facebook Messanger and workplace-chat app Slack introduced bots earlier this year, four travel brands — Kayak, Skyscanner, and Cheapflights— have launched bots of their own.  Bots really interest me in terms of how they are going to evolve and what they can bring to the customer experience with a brand.

I was the Product Owner for the UK & Ireland team at Skyscanner when they built and launched their conversation platform and integration with Facebook Messenger.  When the Facebook Messanger bot was launched it was surprising how many people didn’t actually appreciate what a bot was; that it really wasn’t a person, and for us it was important to ensure that this didn’t result in a poor customer experience. Social media obviously constitutes the new word of mouth that can broadcast worldwide within seconds. 

Just recently, Skyscanner have joined up with Skype to launch their bot, which can be used in a group Skype chat. For example, you’re chatting with your friends and you suddenly decide that you want to check out how much it costs to get to Barcelona next weekend because the weather in the UK isn’t that great.  

I’m constantly thinking about my next trip and as well as helping to find it the bots can also be a really good tool for inspiration.  You can ask “Where can I go for £200” or “Where can I go in 2 hours from Edinburgh” – without having to answer questions / tick boxes and just type away a simple query.

The interesting part for me is how we can keep the conversation and community relationship going with customers or even potential customers whilst still making better use of the increased capacity provided by bot technology.  

While technology is great and can add to a consumer’s experience, we do also need to consider the important benefits of retaining a human aspect to at least some of a company’s communications.  You may have seen across your social media feeds and also main news sites from the, and that a customer recently ran a search on the Skyscanner site from New Zealand to London and one of the options provided allowed for a 47-year layover.  Rather than an automated response, Jen the social manager at Skyscanner came back with a witty reply, offering up options for what he could do with his layover but also stating she’d let the team know of the issue.  Jen’s approach to this feedback has meant that this post has garnered nearly 20k likes and 3k shares – virality at its best when it can’t be planned for.  #TeamJen

I’m sure before we know it we’ll each have a personal assistant/concierge which is automated via these bots.  Factors such as mobile taking more shares from desktop visits, the advancement of mobile technology, and multiple chat platforms with over 100 million users each mean that there are so many options for the evolution.  Using bots will allow travel organisations to seamlessly serve content relevant to each user – such as the best transfers or what the weather will be like on their trip – so they don’t have to move away from the conversation. Bots will also facilitate cross-sell (e.g. selling hotels for the flight destinations users are considering, or recognising whether the customer is considering a multi-stop trip and may require car hire). All this, and with a simple CTA to ensure ease of booking each part of a journey for the traveler.  

In my opinion whilst bot capabilities can deal quickly with customer questions and potentially pre filter before human interaction, I really believe they are here to supplement the customer experience rather than replace it.

Enough talk of travel plans, I’m off to have a chat with a bot to come up with my next trip.

Jane Wilson

Principal Consultant

Jane is Principal Consultant for the Digital and Customer Experience function within the Strategy and Insights practice at Comet.  She has extensive experience on both agency and client sides, across media and marketing. She specialises in the creation of successful commercial and customer strategies with the end to end delivery.

Janes sector experience covers financial services, retail, charities and education and has a proven track record in terms of product, traffic acquisition, growth tactics and revenue generation. Jane also has had hands on experience of a number of core marketing and media functions such as development and implementation of partnership marketing, content marketing, social media campaigns, influencer outreach, SEO, media planning & buying across both offline and online channels.