Virtual Travel Agents Pave the Way to Your Next Destination
by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager
When booking a vacation, there are multiple factors and details that need to be taken into account, such as destination, timeframe, hotel accommodations and price. Meeting all of your criteria can be a challenge, but now more and more travel websites are implementing automated virtual travel agents on their websites to help you find what you are looking for at no cost.
Using a virtual agent can speed up the process of booking a trip, which can become time-consuming and stressful due to the number of factors that must be coordinated and specific criteria that must be met. Many times people are looking for simple details such as what airlines are available or what time their reservation is at, which can be easily answered by a virtual agent. Having a virtual agent as a central point of reference on the website makes a huge difference, and it also encourages more people to book online.
Since the launch of On the Beach’s Ask Alison, developed by Creative Virtual, incoming calls to the call center have been reduced by 20-30% per week, allowing live service agents to better assist clients who need to speak to a human with more complex reservation issues. On the Beach is a UK-based company that offers cheap flight and hotel deals to top destinations around the world. Among Alison’s skills are assistance with destination decisions, hotel and airline options, online check-in and even the ability to provide users with current weather conditions for the specific destination the customer is traveling to. Ask Alison also serves as an excellent marketing tool for hotels and airlines that are booked through the On the Beach website. The template for Ask Alison features a context sensitive customer service/promotional area on the bottom right so that a variety of clickable images are displayed depending on the user input.
National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa, also developed by Creative Virtual and their partner The Virtual Zone, went live in 2007 on the NRE website. National Rail Enquiries is the source of information for all passenger rail services on the National Rail network in England, Wales and Scotland. With over one hundred million website visits per year and 12,900 pages on the website, the company was very much in need of virtual agent to assist customers in finding the specific answers they need to plan their journey. Lisa is able to give specific information about each station, including car park prices and ticket office opening times, as well as updates on service interruptions. Through integration with the website’s Journey Planner, she is able to enter travel details given to her by the user to walk them through the planning process.Ask Lisa answers an average of 9,000 questions every day.
The September 2011 article “Eight Cardinal Sins of Online Customer Service In Travel” highlights some of the issues many travel websites are experiencing in customer service, such as failure to give real-time updates, delayed responses and lack of clarity. Virtual travel agents can remove these issues for online customer service on travel websites. On the Beach customers making last-minute travel plans do not have to worry about delayed email responses or call center hours with Ask Alison available 24/7 and positioned prominently on the website. Also, with Alison there to manage the wealth of options available on the website and present the right ones to the customer depending on their criteria, making the right decision becomes easier and less confusing for the customer. National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa is updated with real time travel information every 2 minutes and station information every night.
As the weather starts to cool, travel websites’ customer service technology begins to heat up. These innovations are bound to greatly reduce the unnecessary stress that can sometimes take place leading up to an otherwise much-anticipated holiday.
Click here for more information on Ask Alison, On the Beach’s virtual agent.
Click here for more information on Ask Lisa, National Rail Enquiries’ virtual agent.