Interview: Paul Shepherd, We Build Bots

Paul Shepherd is the founder of We Build Bots. We quizzed him about what exactly this tech can offer the travel industry

How are ‘bots’ currently used in the travel industry?
It’s early days. Air France became the first non-Chinese airline to start serving customers via WeChat and other travel companies that have taken the lead with bots include KLM, Hyatt Hotels, Expedia and Booking.com, all of whom offer customer service via Facebook Messenger. Expedia was the first to launch a bot on Skype.

In a typical week, KLM responds to 15,000 social conversations in a dozen different languages. Consequently, they started exploring new ways to provide great, personalised and fast customer care and that’s why they opted to implement a chatbot. In the first month, their volume of Facebook messages jumped 40 per cent. KLM said 1.7 million messages have been sent on Messenger by over 500,000 people.

Expedia’s Facebook Messenger allows users to search for hotels. Users simply tell the bot a little bit about their travel plan and it returns the five most popular hotel options in their chosen location.

What are the benefits?
When built and used correctly, chatbots can transform customer service, increase efficiencies and even help companies to save and make money.

Who isn’t using bots, but should be?
Multinational airlines like Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and Emirates would benefit from following KLM’s lead and online travel sites such as Trivago, Lastminute.com, Laterooms.com and Airbnb would offer a competitive advantage if they were to offer a fully integrated chatbot using AI and machine learning combined with customer service agent support in order to deliver a 24/7/365 intuitive service.

How will they evolve and what can we expect from them in 12 months and three years from now?
Natural Language Processing (NLP) continues to improve, which means that chatbots will become easier and more intuitive to interact with. As well as this, the rise in voice continues to have a huge impact.

The sales of voice assistants continues to grow year on year with all the major players including Google, Amazon and Facebook releasing new versions. Voice is the most natural interface and allows generations previously alienated by touch screens and smartphones to reconnect. Some companies are already seeing the potential in voice. Expedia announced the launch of an Alexa ‘skill’ in 2017 which allows people who have booked trips through the company to explore their itineraries and get further details on elements of their trip.

The possibilities of using voice are endless. Imagine asking your smart home device to check you into your next flight and receiving your boarding pass directly into your inbox. Or alternatively, ask it to search for a holiday that meets your needs, whether that be in school holidays, a particular temperature or less than a four-hour flight away. Chatbots’ use of voice is improving and evolving consistently and going forward, we’re sure to see huge developments in this space.

Shepherd will take part in a Masterclass session for hosted buyers titled “Introduce bots into your travel programme to slash admin and boost communications” with Michael McSperrin, head of global facilities and support services, Alexander Mann Solutions, at the Business Travel Show on 20 February from 1000-1100.

Applications are still open for the Business Travel Show’s hosted buyer programme at businesstravelshow.com/hosted-buyers

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