Conversational commerce and the aviation industry: it’s time to say hello

by | Jul 15, 2019 | News, Retailing

Immediate. Personal. Conversational. Mobile messaging has long been the preferred way for people to connect with friends and family. Now it’s transforming communications between travel businesses and their consumers too.

Say hello to the age of conversation

Messaging is growing, and it’s helping travel businesses to grow too – especially the aviation sector. As of October 2018, there were 10bn messages exchanged between people and businesses globally on Messenger by Facebook every month. [Source: Facebook data, 2018] There are 40m global businesses active on Messenger and Click-to-Messenger ads are one of the fastest growing ad formats in the Facebook family. [Source: Facebook data, 2019]

Changing consumer expectations

Today’s travelers expect a reliable and convenient way to connect with businesses. They want to be able to communicate in a way that feels spontaneous and informal, natural and personal. And they need information in real-time to help facilitate their journeys.

What’s more, consumers often complain about information overload and are reluctant to download new apps for fear of being bombarded with even more notifications. This tells us that brands may not need to create new platforms, but rather be where their audiences already are – on messaging apps. They have become central to the way people communicate, whatever their age or socio-economic background.

By using messaging to enter into a conversation with consumers, airlines will be able to strike up more meaningful and flexible one-to-one relationships.

After all, according to the 2018 Nielsen’s Facebook Messaging Survey, some 64% of people would prefer to message, rather than call, a business and six in ten are favorable to receiving personal messages from companies.

In-the-moment communication

One of the biggest advantages messaging presents for consumers and brands alike is immediacy. This is especially relevant in the aviation sector. In the event of flight cancellations, KLM uses Messenger to automatically notify customers and issue new boarding passes – helping to minimise disruption, reduce pressure on front-line operations, and make the experience better for affected customers. If there is a long wait until the next flight, the airline also uses messaging to send coffee vouchers to help passengers pass the time.

KLM started using Messenger in 2015. Since 2017, the airline sends 65% of flight updates, 40% of boarding passes and 20% of booking confirmations via messaging apps. As soon as these communications go out, they generate responses, putting KLM in direct conversation with its customers.

And customers can control the communications they receive from KLM via Messenger. For example, if they’re thinking about going to New York and have a budget of €500, they can adjust price alert settings, so they only receive details of flights to this destination and within their budget. The result is that customers get relevant alerts and the airline improves its conversion rate on promotions. [Source: “Get customer communications airborne with messaging” by Reuters, commissioned and paid for by Messenger Business, June 2019]

Read more about KLM and Messenger

Conversational commerce

Advances in natural language programming and AI have made conversational messaging and chatbots more user-friendly. This level of sophistication and functionality is only set to improve. As brands explore the possibilities offered by chatbots, it’s important that they stay grounded and define their business and marketing objectives clearly. Brands can then develop their messaging strategy to achieve these objectives and measure performance against these goals.

Qantas Airways started using Messenger for customer service in 2016, adding a travel inspiration bot and booking confirmations in 2017 to increase engagement. The airline wanted to test Messenger for re-engaging people intending to travel. By adding sponsored messages to their media mix for their September promotional campaign, they found that Messenger was the most efficient digital channel for driving link clicks during their spring flight sale. They saw 400,000 open conversations with customers, which was 116 times higher than the standard CTR. [Source: Facebook Case Study, September 2017]

Personalized connections

Until now, the only option for companies wanting to personalise customer interactions was to examine purchase paths in an attempt to predict future needs. However, this is an inexact science and can be frustrating for potential buyers when suggestions are wide of the mark.

Messaging enables brands to connect more meaningfully with their audience and find out precisely what they want. This level of personalisation is something the vast majority of people want: 91 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that recognise and remember them, as well as provide relevant offers and recommendations, according to Accenture’s 2018 Personalization Pulse Check report.

The close connection with customers made possible by messaging not only builds trust, it also creates a tight feedback loop that quickly generates insights such as whether a product is resonating with its target market.

French railway company SNCF has launched booking and buying features into Messenger, tapping into people’s desires for convenient mobile purchasing. The transport company is allowing users to switch from traditional purchasing methods to the convenience of buying through Messenger. Using the app, travelers can buy tickets for inter-city, Eurostar, high-speed TGV and international Thalys routes. The bot uses a conversational tone, providing the cheapest fares first. This is driving commercial success with 330k people using the bot, generating 2,000 weekly train ticket sales [Source: Facebook Case Study, January 2018].

What messaging means for brands

Messaging platforms offer much to benefit businesses, as well as consumers. Messenger provides a single platform for every stage of customer journey – from product selection to purchase to customer service.

During peak travel season, brands are dealing with rising workloads due to customer queries, trip booking and amendments, and information requests. Messaging offers a way for brands to manage this while keeping up with rising expectations.

However, the speed of change in communication methods means that some brands are playing catch-up. Among those brands who have adopted Messenger, some businesses are still struggling to meet consumer expectations. In their 2018 survey of 250 leading brands, chatbot specialists Spectrm found that 45% didn’t respond within five days when messaged via their Facebook pages.

What success looks like

Brands that want to create a successful messaging experience should:

  • Firstly, identify their purpose and the customer need. Where is the friction that messaging could reduce? What problems can automation solve?
  • Secondly, ensure that the concept aligns with the brand’s overall purpose. How can it be expressed in a compelling narrative? Is the messaging clear, conversational, relevant and natural?

Once those crucial questions are answered, businesses will benefit from linking up with a platform development partner to support their work. This will involve creating an appropriate name for the bot or live agent and establishing a personality that reflects the brand’s tone and narrative. Find a platform development partner here

For many businesses, a combination of bot and live agent will be most effective. Air France uses a smart AI to route customer queries to appropriate skills, enabling them to provide a customer care experience that’s both fast and effective. The Messenger bot resolves 24% of customer requests fully automatically, allowing their human advisors to focus on more complex and high-value cases. As a result of their continued investment, Air France has seen a 40% growth of incoming messages since 2018, and a 15 points NPS increase in customer satisfaction. [Source: Facebook Case Study, November 2017]

Measuring success is, of course, a crucial element to any brand messaging project. Metrics may vary between different companies and industries, but the common denominators for measurement are channel effectiveness, quality of conversations and customer satisfaction.

Looking to the future

The future of the customer experience is instant, seamless interaction with employees or automated experiences that goes beyond functionality, such as answering questions or performing transactions. And there is a real opportunity to take advantage of this in the aviation industry, where there is a need for conversation if there are changes, delays or queries throughout the journey. This opens up the opportunity for brands to elevate their service by increasing impact and effectiveness, and enabling them to provide more timely and dedicated support for complex customer issues.

The ideal experience should be personalised, relevant and convenient, leaving the customer feeling positively engaged with the business. Messaging apps are central to enabling these kinds of interactions to take place. So, for businesses that want to be on the front foot when it comes to customer experience, it’s time to engage in conversational commerce.

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