HOSPITALITY and travel were among the hardest hit industries during the pandemic. Despite cause for optimism about the resurgence of tourism in the Asia-Pacific region, industry experts remain cautious about how soon the sector would recover to pre-pandemic levels. For the Philippines, the full reopening of its borders this month to all fully vaccinated global leisure travelers would accelerate earlier projections of fast recovery of a stumbling sector of the national economy.
To reap the benefits, Philippine tourism players must focus on harnessing technology to regain consumer trust and loyalty amid greater demands for frictionless customer journeys. Ravi Saraogi, co-founder and president of Uniphore APAC discussed with The Manila Times how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation could lend a helping hand in reviving tourism.
The Manila Times (TMT): Digital transformation accelerated across nearly every industry during the pandemic. Given that, how would the travel and hospitality sector take full advantage of what you call seamless and personalized experiences for travelers?
Ravi Saraogi (RS): Digital transformation has led to digital touchpoints and services becoming a top priority versus a nice-to-have offering. Essentially, consumers who have moved from in-person to online aren’t likely to return to old habits. Meaning, that expectations are higher than ever for a great user experience while shopping for, booking and changing travel plans online.
However, when travelers are confronted with issues such as unexpected delays or cancellations, they often want assistance from fellow humans. They want and expect a personalized, empathetic experience with customer service, including interacting with agents who understand the issue and could quickly help resolve it. So, to us, what would rebuild guest and traveler loyalty is alleviating the hassles and headaches of travel so the tourists could get to their relaxing vacation experiences faster. We believe that a conversational automation platform powered by conversational AI, machine learning and automation technology could be a game changer, regardless of the channel.
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TMT: How does automating conversations make a difference in an industry that’s based on the warmth of personal contact between people? Isn’t there a disconnect somewhere there?
RS: Not really. Conversational AI is a set of advanced technologies that recognizes and comprehends human language and uses this understanding to optimize, automate and analyze conversations in and across multiple channels. With a conversational automation platform powered by AI, travel and hospitality contact centers could use machines to automate conversations and augment agents — stress on augment — to achieve the type of transformational results that drive excellent customer experiences, high Net Promoter Scores (NPSs), superb traveler/guest satisfaction ratings, and greater revenue.
Given today’s post-pandemic climate as travel demand continues to rebound, using conversational AI to optimize, analyze and automate every conversation is the foundation for travel and hospitality brands to transform the traveler and agent experience, drive customer satisfaction, and generate greater loyalty and revenue. The right conversational automation platform that addresses the entire customer conversation from self-service to post-interaction analytics could help a company deliver a positive, personalized and frictionless experience for its customers.
TMT: Can you make a strong case for what appears to be tech-driven self service, which further appears to be where conversational AI is headed?
RS: Conversational AI for traveler self-service helps brands strengthen engagement with customers and improve satisfaction for routine interactions before, during and after the trip — while reducing volume in the contact center by 15 percent or more.
The first engagement happens right before the trip when an IVA (intelligent virtual agent) interacts with travelers to help them book their travel. For example, a customer could call to make a reservation and interact with a voicebot IVA. Using natural language understanding (NLU) technologies eliminates friction in the reservation process to enable travelers to easily complete the booking.
During the trip, the IVA supports guests with services such as booking a reservation at a restaurant. Using geo-based alerts, the IVA proactively greets the customer upon arrival and presents an offer connected with past interactions at the destination. The guest is supported throughout the trip with proactive alerts based on location and he could also make requests such as scheduling a late checkout. Routine requests are quickly handled so staff could focus on more high-touch interactions. After the trip, the IVA proactively engages customers, for example to book their next trip or complete a survey.
You could truly say that’s a frictionless customer journey aided by conversational AI working in the background.