Robots have always been a symbol of the future. For decades, people have imagined a time when robots would be providing every type of service, from cleaning our homes to checking our luggage.
Well, robots are no longer a thing of the future. They’re actually available to use right now, just not in the form we were expecting.
We now live in an era where your personal devices are being transformed into robots through your messaging applications. You can communicate with “chatbots” at any time to get exactly the information you need when you need it.
In fact, experts say that chatbots could soon become our primary digital gateway and many people believe that chatbots are the new apps. This is expected to have a huge impact on the travel industry and the way travelers receive data.
The most positive attitudes towards chatbots come from the belief that they will be more efficient and have greater data retention and recall. According to a global survey by Travelzoo, more than three-quarters of respondents think that chatbots would be better than humans at handling data.
So what is a chatbot?
Chatbots deliver a service using machine learning that mimics human conversation and reacts to spoken or written requests. Developers create chatbots by connecting a user interface to data sources via APIs that can deliver information on demand. For example, travelers could interact with a travel chatbot through a messaging interface to quickly access information such as flight delays or arrival times.
Facebook is driving growth
Chatbots have actually been around for a long time; however, the advancement and increased accessibility of artificial intelligence technology has contributed to their recent growth. They’re essentially becoming smarter and easier to develop in a shorter amount of time. As more travel organizations learn how travelers use chatbots, production of travel chatbots is expected to increase.
Another important reason why chatbots are becoming more popular is that developers can create them in Facebook Messenger. For example, AppintheAir, a personal flight assistant app powered by FlightStats APIs, released a Facebook Messenger chatbot in June (http://messenger.com/t/appintheair). Users can now chat with their Messenger chatbot to check on the status of a flight rather than downloading the AppintheAir app on their mobile device. They can also ask other questions about the flight such as “what am I allowed to bring on board?”
But why would a company that already has a successful app create a Facebook Messenger chatbot? One major reason is that it’s easier to convince a user to engage with Facebook Messenger than to get them to download an additional app on their phone. Developers can leverage a pre-existing connection to more than 1 billion Facebook Messenger users. According to Facebook’s product manager, Seth Rosenberg, Facebook Messenger chatbots have made accessing services and communicating with businesses more convenient and organized.
“We’ve seen a ton of developer interest, and a lot of great use cases have taken off,” Rosenberg said. “Messaging is already the number one thing that people do with friends on their phone. Imagine a world where it’s the central hub for all of the businesses you care about.”
Recently, Facebook unveiled a number of new features for chatbot developers on the Messenger Platform to help make chatbot interactions more intuitive and seamless. Since its launch in April, more than 11,000 chatbots have been launched on Messenger.
Customer service possibilities
Major online travel agencies (OTAs), such as Expedia and Kayak, already have Messenger chatbots. They’ve seen the value in using chatbots to offer an all-in-one platform that provides valuable services. Travelers can interact with chatbots to book travel, retrieve itinerary information and get answers to basic customer service questions.
In fact, customer service is likely to become an even bigger factor in chatbot creation, particularly for airlines. Rather than requiring a traveler to contact a call center or look at a website to get the answer to a routine question, a chatbot can provide immediate answers. They help provide highly contextualized interactions, creating a more seamless travel experience for travelers and reducing customer service costs.
The consistent support and long-term value of the chatbot is undeniable. Instead of spending months training a human who then leaves for another job, agencies can rely on bots to always be available to travelers and answer questions 24/7, which is something that customers increasingly demand.
Travel chatbots need reliable APIs
Chatbots use a combination of what they already know with what they’ve learned about a traveler to offer services and contextual information when the traveler needs it. At a very basic level, a chatbot should store and retrieve information in a timely, frictionless way by communicating with a reliable network of APIs. For example, a developer could program a chatbot to retrieve information from our Flight Status API when a traveler wants to know if their flight is on time.
Although chatbots are capable of learning and getting better over time, they need to be highly intelligent and impressive from the start. Otherwise, the traveler is likely to get bored or turned off by the service. This is why building a successful travel chatbot requires a huge ecosystem of APIs to talk to. And it’s not only about the amount of data it can access. According to Gadi Bashvitz, founder and CEO of OLSET, creating a chatbot that can understand written or spoken natural language is necessary; however, the key to success is the chatbot’s ability to elicit trust from users. One way to do this is by giving them the right information at the right time.
If you’re developing a chatbot with flight or trip tracking capabilities, it’s important to understand that a chatbot is only as intelligent and reliable as its resources, or the APIs it is plugged into. The quality of the data matters and your chatbot can’t know what it doesn’t know, which is why the quality of APIs and data sources are so important.
At FlightStats, we do everything possible to ensure the quality and accuracy of our data because we understand the impact it will have on the products our customers develop. Any chatbot that is connected to one of our APIs will have the most reliable information at its disposal.
“Global coverage combined with a really solid, dependable platform and very responsive APIs makes FlightStats an ideal partner for companies who want to produce travel chatbots,” said David White, Chief Customer Officer at FlightStats. “Our services are already very well configured to support bots at both the flight and the trip level. It’s something we’re already doing and look forward to doing more of in the future.”
The future of travel chatbots
Travel chatbots are a wonderful development in travel technology because they have the potential to relieve stress or save time; however, there is still a lot of untapped potential in chatbots.
Right now, a traveler has to engage with a chatbot to get the answers they want. Although it might be more convenient for a traveler to message a chatbot on Facebook when they’re already on Facebook, it would be even better if chatbots could provide services that are fully contextual and automatic without any prompting.
There are incredible opportunities for organizations within the travel industry to use location and contextual data to offer proactive communication and services to travelers. For example, pulling up flight options for a business traveler that are within company policy when they need to be re-accommodated.
Being able to answer more sophisticated questions, such as “how long will it take me to get to the airport?” or “which flight will get me to my meeting on time?,” will provide travelers with unprecedented value and make chatbots the ultimate travel companion. As of right now, chatbots have a long way to go in their evolution, but they’re very close to changing the way the travel industry is able to support and inform a traveler throughout their journey. It is very unlikely that they’ll be going away in the future.