As we come to the end of 2021, yet another wave of COVID-19 is sweeping the globe. While the Omicron variant is adding further strain to global travel, we’ve already seen this movie before with the Delta variant. And we’re likely to see further confusion again with the next variant. In this volatile and uncertain operating environment, it’s critically important that B2B or B2C technology companies offer consumers what they want and have come to demand: high-tech automation with high-touch personalization and customization.
We must use next-generation technology, whether in-house or outsourced, to get smarter about how our customers are thinking and navigating through today’s travel complexities. For example, when group travel was decimated in early 2020, we focused on finding the individual customers who were still travelling, such as mobile nurses, first responders, and other essential workers. It took some tweaking, but we quickly figured out how to use AI to micro-target a new niche of customers.
We also explored how to harness voice recognition technology to connect customers to one of our new gig-economy travel agents to complete the booking. At the height of the pandemic, we were receiving a massive influx of calls from customers who wanted localized service, and we simply didn’t have enough traditional call centre personnel to handle all the incoming. We then launched what we believe is the next generation of call centre customer service: a global 24/7 gig-economy based call centre connected to customers through AI-enabled VOIP.
For example, our customers can start their hotel search online, and then once they’ve found a few good options, well-timed and well-placed pop-up ads encourage them to call one of our 1-800 numbers to speak to a gig-based travel agent – who knows their destination city well or speaks the local language and can offer localized and personalized travel concierge service to complete the booking. No other call centre that I know of is doing that today.
And we’re proud to say that our customers can also now use Alexa to immediately connect to one of our gig travel agents, without having to go online at all, and without having to repeat the details of their trip. We must find ways to make the travel experience as stress-free and seamless as possible for customers. As we build out our gig reservations platform, we can use AI to make the VOIP connections smarter over time.
Data is king, but only if you know how to interpret the data in real-time for ‘actionable intelligence’ as they say in the military. Using data analytics and advanced machine learning to create a more personalized and customized travel experience is where our industry is going, and likely where all service industries are going in the coming years.
How do we create better technology products using the immense pools of data we gather in our roles as CIO? Analysing big data is no easy task, but hopefully, you shouldn’t have to start from scratch. Start with the customer data you have already gathered over the years, and then determine what next-generation infrastructure is needed to turn that raw data into revenue.
There are many ways technology can bring us closer to our customers, which will impact their purchasing decisions. At the same time, AI and voice technology especially will be game-changers for customer support. To make these innovations succeed, we need to keep data at the forefront of our thinking to give us a competitive edge.
For the travel industry, data is both a journey and a destination – the best kind of trip, in other words. Whether you work for a big tech company or a boutique website, I would encourage any CIO or software engineer to connect with your customers in ways that your competitors are not. As the Internet of Things becomes ubiquitous, using AI-enabled technology to engage and engender customer trust and loyalty is what will separate the signal from the noise. And it’s what will separate the companies that survive in this hyper-competitive world from the ones who are forced to close shop.