Home Travel agency How to deal with an airline or hotel chatbot – and how to get a human

How to deal with an airline or hotel chatbot – and how to get a human


If you feel like you’re talking to a robot when contacting your airline, car rental company, or hotel, it’s probably because you are.

During the pandemic, the travel industry has rushed to implement contactless customer service systems to handle inquiries. It may have gone too far.

Chatbots and AI-powered form responses are more common than ever, experts and travelers tell me over email. They save companies money by hiring fewer call center employees and speeding up the resolution process. And while there are benefits for businesses, customers don’t always connect with the new technology.

Hotels have switched to robots

A customer survey conducted by Zendesk, which provides customer service communications, found that conversations increased across multiple channels that relied on automation last year. The strongest growth is on social media (up 32%) and WhatsApp (up 370%).

“Self-service”, says Mike Gozzo, Zendesk senior vice president of product, “is the future of customer service.”

It bothers travelers like Kent Sharrar, an airline employee based in Phoenix. He recently had interactions with chatbots at a car rental company and a hotel that left him feeling empty. Both quickly responded to his question with automated apologies and an offer of compensation.

“But my goal is not to get compensation,” he says, after a rental car in poor condition and a charge for a canceled hotel room. “It’s to smooth out bumps in the road for future experiences.”

“The bots…don’t quit”

So what caused the rise of travel automation? First, the pandemic has forced many travel agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review of their customer service systems. They wanted to cut costs as travel slowed down dramatically and ensure minimal contact between customers and employees. Then there was the Great Resignation, which led to large-scale customer service issues last summer. For many companies, implementing AI was the answer.

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“Bots don’t say they’re sick and they don’t quit,” says Matt Edic, chief experience officer at IntelePeer, an automation systems supplier.

How do you know if you are dealing with an automated system? “Usually the service itself can clearly indicate that it is a bot,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of Visitors.com Coverage, a travel insurance market. But if it’s not, you can usually figure it out quickly because of the speed of the response (it’s faster than a human) and the type of response (it’s scripted and doesn’t make any keyboard typos).

Chatbots can test your patience. Matthew Carter, a Las Vegas-based attorney, recently contacted his online travel agent to inquire about a reservation and said it quickly became apparent he was talking to a computer program.

“At one point I mentioned the airline I was using – Peach Airlines in Japan,” he says. “And she was like, ‘Is Peach your travel agent? I was sincerely blown away. Supposedly, she had the flights parked in front of her. So either she wasn’t paying attention or she had no idea.

But automation also has advantages. A carefully programmed chatbot can effectively deliver information and answer basic questions, says Steve Schwab, CEO of casago, a vacation rental company. And best of all, it’s always on.

“It guarantees a response,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what time.”

Automated systems can also solve some problems much faster than a person, says Gadi Shamia, CEO of Replicant, a contact center automation company. “For example, automation can handle the rescheduling of a passenger who missed their flight,” he says. “It gives an agent more time to help a family book a hotel room when their red eye cancellation.”

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Still, I worry about over-automation and the loss of the personal touch. I’ve seen too many AI-generated gibberish responses.

“People like to talk to people, not robots,” says François Gouelo, CEO of Enso Login, a provider of artificial intelligence services for the hospitality industry. “That’s why it’s important not only to implement automation solutions in hospitality businesses, but also to create a comprehensive guest experience strategy, planning how technology complements human capital.”

In other words, don’t forget the people.

If you’re stuck in a conversation with a bot that doesn’t know the difference between “Peach” the airline and “Peach” your travel agent – and believe me, you’ll know when you are – there are ways to get rid of it. to get a person.

Words like “representative” or “agent” or even “helper” can send your case to a real human. If you’re dealing with a scripted email response and need to get a response, you may need to start a new chat with a manager via email to override the system.

Automation seems to be an unstoppable trend. Tausif Khiani, vice-president in charge of hospitality at consulting firm Capgemini Americas, says his research confirms that hotel brands have increased guest engagement levels through AI and chatbots. But that’s enough.

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“The next generation of travelers want the opportunity and choice to interact with both people and technology,” he says. “The key is to switch between the two seamlessly.”

What is the solution ? Sharrar, the airline worker from Phoenix, thinks more human staff — not less — is the answer.

Maybe, he says, you can overdo the automation. Maybe we’ll find out during the next holiday travel season.