Ai Editorial: How is chatbots’ “re-botulution” coming along?

First Published on 16th January, 2019

Ai Editorial: The role of chatbots, be it for facilitating transactions or servicing during any phase of a traveller’s journey, is being strengthened. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta evaluates the lessons learned.  


Is a chatbot astute enough to serve a traveller?

The overall experience based on interactions with chatbots till last year was mixed. The travel booking funnel is a prolonged one, and one of the areas where chatbots have struggled pertains to understanding the context of the query. A case in point is when an established OTA chose to revive an abandoned shopping cart via a chatbot interface (by sending a link for the same through email). What if a user has already finished a hotel booking, reaches the chatbot interface, asks a question about a local activity in the destination chosen and the chatbot is seemingly unaware of the booking funnel! The OTA failed to deliver the desired experience.

Specialists acknowledge such issues and assert that ongoing improvements are refining the messaging app user experience.  

Today a top-notch airline-run transactional chatbot can understand over 60%-70% of inquiries on Facebook, and analysis is being done to understand the intent.  

Continuous improvement

“The re-botulution is here now,” highlighted Jonathan Newman, Commercial Director at Barcelona-based caravelo, during one of Ai’s conferences in Bangkok, in August last year. The company has worked with approximately 10 airlines for their bots. Airlines are either moving their existing web-chats to bot interfaces or directly launching on messenger. The type of chabots, as specialists point out, are FAQ chatbots, transactional ones, initiating a conversation via a chatbot and keeping a user engaged till a human customer care executive takes over etc.

Chabots turn messaging platforms into a new channel for servicing and retail. “Since (now nearly two years) we first connected airline inventory to messenger platforms and in the last 12 months of our launching, training and iterating airline chatbots, we’ve gotten a much clearer picture of the purpose of bot technology,” mentioned Newman. 

Newman referred to seven key lessons when it came to improving bots:  

·          Be reasonable

·          Make it easy

·          Be helpful

·          Be connected

·          Open your mind

·          Be a team player

·          Expect unexpected

Among the other companies, Ingenico Group this week launched its enhanced messaging bot offering, featuring artificial intelligence (AI) services from IBM.

According to Ingenico, Watson capabilities allow the group’s chatbot to better comprehend users’ requests once shared, “whatever they may be”.

It is being promised that the bot can better interpret nuances in language and phrasing, handling natural variations in the manner in which individuals communicate. As a result, the bot can respond quickly and effectively enabling it to meet each user’s specific needs, in a wide range of different languages. The group asserts that the new AI component will play a part in stepping up the conversion rate. A major aspect is Ingenico’s payment API.  On Ingenico’s chatbot’s payment capability, Gabriel de Montessus, SVP Global Online (Retail BU) for Ingenico Group, said: “This new AI-powered capability enhances user experience and improves conversion significantly. Thanks to IBM Watson AI services, users simply tell the bot their desired purchase and submit payment and delivery information – achieving a truly seamless payment experience for consumers.”

Airlines are digging deep, and keen on expanding capabilities. At the time of the launch of Asian airline Scoot’s transactional chatbot in July last year, the airline indicated that other than supporting a full transaction flow, the plan was also to accept promo codes, assist customers to manage and make changes to their bookings, purchase ancillary products such as preferred seats and travel insurance, make interline bookings involving flights by partner airlines, and accept more payment modes

Companies like caravelo point out that retailing for airlines aren’t only about inventory + seat+ bag anymore. With a broadened catalog, airlines need to rethink the touch-points and engagement methodologies in making that catalog meaningful. The focus needs to be on micro moments of retailing engagement, in the channels where customers are. And considering the penetration of messaging apps, the role of chabots can’t be undermined. But the level of sophistication needs to step up to match the expectations of travellers.

Interesting questions that are being probed from e-commerce perspective include:

·          The role of chatbots in stepping up the mobile conversion rate

·          Role in targeting the second wallet

·          Security of chatbots – what if they get hacked or the sort of attacks that can be carried out with them


Hear from experts about the role of chatbots, their performance and how they are being improved upon at this year’s Airline & Travel Payments Summit (ATPS), scheduled to take place in London (Brighton), UK (7-9 May, 2019).

For more info about ATPS, click here

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