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Cutting the Cord: How Messenger Will Change the Travel Industry

Joshua March
By Joshua March on Feb 1, 2016 1:14:00 PM

All travel is a service experience. In-the-moment customer care is rarely more urgent than when you’re stuck at the airport, driving a rental car, or staying in a hotel. And while review sites have a huge impact on the travel industry, reviews are generally given *after* an experience has finished. If you can’t help your customer as they live-Tweet “the worst train ride ever”, it’s too late.

By their nature, traditional service channels have never really satisfied the needs of traveling customers. Travelers don’t have time to wait two days for an email response. They can’t web-chat on a desktop computer when they’re on the road. And they certainly don’t have the patience to sit on hold as a robotic voice tells them how important their call is.

The smartphone changes this. Social media has made it easy for travelers to reach out and get help from a company while on the move, with quick communication plugged into phone notifications that don’t require you to be staring at your phone the whole time. As a result, social media for customer care is huge in the travel industry—we’ve already seen it have tremendous impact for our clients (who include hotels like Hyatt Hotels, car rental companies like Hertz, and innovative airlines like Alaska Air and Air New Zealand).

Twitter has even enabled train companies to revolutionize their service—like Greater Anglia in the UK, whose social customer care team sit in their central command center, and utilize real-time data from customers to pinpoint issues before they are reported through conventional channels (see a video case study from them here).

How does Messenger change things?

As I’ve written about before, mobile messaging applications have huge potential to change customer service. They combine full live-chat functionality with persistent identity and notifications. These features basically combine all of the best elements of the traditional digital care channels, purpose-built for the mobile era. Facebook’s Messenger for Business comes with these out of the box. The benefits are big enough for messaging to be able to significantly eat into phone volume—a channel which is expensive for businesses and often a terrible experience for customers.

Where Messenger has the potential to go even further, however, is in its ability to host transaction receipts and interactive cards. So when you book a flight, the receipt, check-in widget, even your boarding pass, could all be delivered through a Messenger thread. Not only does this make any service interaction totally seamless—you just respond in the thread, and the agent knows exactly who you are and what you’re asking about without you having to type anything else in—but it’s also far more convenient for customers than downloading a native application. And with the ability to make actual transactions through Messenger, it would also be seamless to make or change bookings on the fly.

The trend on mobile has been clear for a while—most people use a very small number of apps very frequently. Forcing infrequent customers (the majority for most travel brands) to download a dedicated application, where they have to remember their log-in details, is a painful customer experience. Delivering the same benefits inside a Messenger thread is not only far more convenient, but it’s also meeting customers where they already are. And given app usage trends, you’re more likely be able to engage with that customer again through Messenger any time in the future (while your app may have been deleted long ago).

Combined, these elements enable travel companies to deliver a frictionless, in-the-moment resolution for mobile customers. Persistent identity and in-thread transaction receipts finally make a 360 view of the customer easily achievable. And with full live-chat functionality, agents are able to resolve customer issues faster and more efficiently.

The future of service: messaging replacing the phone call

We’re already seeing many brands make the shift to a digital-only model for service. Done correctly it can generate huge savings while delivering a great service experience. But for many travel companies, traditional digital channels just haven’t been responsive or mobile enough. Messenger has all the capabilities that would make a digital-only model great for both the customer on the move and the companies servicing them, as well as reducing the need for investment into native applications. Messenger won’t be the only platform that does this—WhatsApp just announced that they’ll be opening up for business use later this year, and the interactive card model has already seen success in Asian messaging apps like WeChat. Twitter are also investing heavily into their customer care use case and use of DMs for service resolution. With all customers now mobile and social, messaging will drive major change in the service industry.

On the flip side of all the benefits, there’s also a huge risk for companies whodon’t invest in messaging. It has become the primary communication channel for millennials (even bigger than social networks)—who will outspend baby boomers by 2018. Companies that aren’t messaging their customers back will soon find themselves at the end of an empty phone call.

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