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How Travel Brands are Winning with AI & Automation

How Travel Brands are Winning with AI & Automation

5 min read

In our recent webinar, “Intelligent Customer Service for Travel & Hospitality”, Omer Minkara, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Aberdeen Strategy & Research joined Uniphore’s Chief Marketing Office Annie Weckesser to discuss the top CX trends, challenges and opportunities shaping the travel and hospitality industry. Couldn’t attend the live event? We have you covered. Read on for part two of our webinar recap: How Travel Brands are Winning with Conversational AI and Automation.

Who in Travel & Hospitality is Using Conversational AI & Automation?

Several leading travel and hospitality brands – from airlines to hotel chains to online travel agencies – are currently using or plan to deploy conversational AI and automation within their contact centers. And it’s easy to see why. “Travel suppliers need to coordinate with multiple parties to determine whether they can cancel, issue refunds and numerous scenarios due to unforeseen circumstances,” explains Weckesser, who has helped bring the technology to two of the leading online travel agencies. In both cases, the agencies were looking to connect previously siloed departments and optimize the entire resolution process—delivering positive, personalized customer service while simplifying and streamlining the agent experience.

With Uniphore’s U-Assist agent assist platform, both clients were able to unify disparate departments and processes and automate much of the time-consuming manual work that bogs down customer-agent interactions. The results were impressive. “The travel supplier reduced operational costs by automating and gained 4.5 million agents sessions per year,” Weckesser reveals. “Over 500 hours were saved per month by improved accuracy [and] reducing after-call work, while shortening the handling time by over 60 seconds.”

What’s more, Weckesser’s examples aren’t the exception. According to research by Aberdeen, travel and hospitality companies that leverage conversational AI and automation routinely outperform those that don’t in several key areas.

Customer Satisfaction & Operational Efficiency

On the customer side, few metrics matter more than customer satisfaction and loyalty. Often calculated by customer survey, a brand’s customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter scores (NPS) are solid benchmarks for a brand’s perception, customer service health and even profitability (more on that later). Brands that reduce customer effort and resolve customer issues quickly often score highly on CSAT and NPS. Here, companies using conversational AI and automation have a clear advantage.

“[AI users] are reducing the customer’s effort eight times more effectively than other organizations,” says Minkara, speaking specifically of travel and hospitality companies.  “They’re also boosting customer satisfaction rates by four times, compared to their peers who are not using AI and automation.”

Customer retention is another major metric for brand health. According to Aberdeen’s research, AI and automation users saw 10.5% year-over-year growth in customer retention, compared to non-users whose growth lagged at a paltry rate of 3.2%. AI- and automation-driven traveled companies are the clear winners on the CX side; but what about on the business end?

“[AI and automation users] are really meeting and exceeding the needs of their customers,” states Minkara. “And ultimately, those benefits are supported by operational efficiency.” That boost in operational efficiency directly impacts profitability in two ways: by reducing unnecessary costs and better revealing upselling opportunities.

Cost Reduction & Revenue Growth

The benefits to the customer are just one side of the AI and automation coin. By automating time-consuming backend tasks and assisting agents during live calls with conversational intelligence, contact centers can significantly improve agent performance and productivity.

“When you’re boosting productivity, when you’re creating happier customers, guess what happens:  You’re minimizing costs,” Minkara explains. “Companies with AI report 4.6% annual improvements versus only 0.4% annual improvements [for non-users].”

In addition to saving agents time and effort on each call—which translates to shorter holds and faster resolutions for customers—conversational AI and automation can actually help generate revenue. By “training” AI to listen for customer sentiment and intent cues, the technology can help identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities that an agent might otherwise not hear. And by automating customer outreach and follow-up actions—like sending notifications for optional upgrades or travel insurance—travel and hospitality companies can drive higher conversion rates without bogging down agents or calling up additional staff.

Companies using AI and automation in travel and hospitality are boosting their revenue, whereas companies that are not using AI and automation are actually seeing an erosion in this area,” Minkara reveals. “So, if you’re looking to grow revenue and shrink costs—in other words, drive profitability—as a travel and hospitality organization, that’s what seems to be working for your peers.”

5 Focus Areas

For travel and hospitality companies considering applying conversational AI and automation to their contact center operations, Minkara identifies five focus areas that deliver the biggest impact:

Increase resiliency in contact center operations

“As there are upswings and downswings in customer traffic, based on many different factors, you can use AI and automation to forecast, to schedule, to predict and to get better at it,” Minkara says. These AI-generated insights can help travel and hospitality companies prepare and respond to business fluctuations more nimbly.

Improve engagement management

AI and automation can also help drive customer engagement—with little to no added effort on behalf of human contact center staff. Using data generated from customer interactions and conversations, AI can create a hyper-personalized experience that automatically engages customers across numerous channels—increasing satisfaction, loyalty and even conversion rates with proven results.

Transition to modern self-service

Many companies today use self-service portals or kiosks to minimize the traffic flowing into contact centers. However, deflection-first approach misses the greater opportunity to connect with customers via self-service channels, according to Minkara. By using AI to create a dynamic, rather than gated, self-service experience, “you’re not just deflecting [calls], you’re actually adding value when your customers are looking to self-serve,” he explains.

Empower agents to deliver topnotch service

Conversational AI and automation do much more than just simplify processes and eliminate mundane tasks. These twin technologies empower agents with real, actionable insights that have been proven to improve call performance, accelerate training and onboarding and increase agent engagement—a key factor in retaining a skilled workforce.

Build and maintain a connected view of customer insights

According to research by Aberdeen, 78% of contact centers struggle to use their customer data effectively. “Automation helps businesses create a connected view of customer insights,” Minkara says. By connecting and categorizing relevant data, travel and hospitality businesses can generate more accurate customer profiles and personas—making each engagement easier and more effective.

Couldn’t attend the webinar?

“Intelligent Customer Service for Travel & Hospitality”

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