Chat bots – are They Really Necessary in Tourism?
Customizable chat bots appeared quite recently. Many organizations in the touristic sector instantly began to install them on their web sites and pages on social networks.
It would seem like a sign of progress and digitalization, and we, as a center of smart tourism, should welcome this technology. But we do not approve it for the following reasons.
There were high hopes for the appearance of chat bots, mainly because a lot of people deal with processing orders and talking with customers in tourism. In fact, companies saw an opportunity to save on call centers and operators. Moreover, the growth in the number of buyers was supposedly led by chat bots. Perhaps it is true, but if a customer communicated with a person instead of chat bots, this figure could be even higher. And in fact, in addition to the expected job cuts, everything turned out to be worse.
A lot of people no longer want to call the company, because the extensive use of answering machines is already annoying. You are asked to press 1, then 2, etc. Don’t forget that modern chat bots are the same answering machines, just a little advanced. But they also start to be annoying.
Why do people actually call or write to any company? In most cases it happens, because they cannot find the information on the website. First of all, the company should check whether all the information is available on its web site and whether it is easy to find it. Another reason for such a call is when a person experiences some kind of problem that cannot be solved in a standard way. In this case it is even more crucial that the company’s employee should solve this non-standard problem, not the answering machine, scripts of which most likely do not have this problem. After all, chat bots work according to a strictly defined algorithm and give templated answers.
Modern tourism is becoming more and more personalized. Those businesses which provide an individual approach and interest in solving the problems of each client will win the competition. This can only be achieved by live communication with the client, which robots won’t be able to do very soon (may be never).
If chat bots are introduced due to overload of telephone lines, there are many solutions for distributing phone calls and messages. It is not difficult, because each employee has a mobile phone. Setting up call forwarding is not difficult.
It’s completely unacceptable when chat bots start sending out automatic messages with offers – to buy a tour or attend an event. This annoys people worse than spam by e–mail and leads to a decrease in loyalty of even the most loyal customers.
Someone may object that people use robots more readily, for example, voice assistants. Here we need to understand that the voice assistant is a personal robot that fulfills personal requests and answers, and you can turn it off at any moment. In fact, it is a smart toy. And it is a completely different matter when people call or write messages to the company in hope of solving their question or problem, and they are answered by a soulless machine which cannot understand them. Feel the difference, as it is said.
One more remark: tourism is an area where people pay for impressions and experience. The tourist as a client is much more demanding on the quality of communication even at the stage of preparing for the travel. For example, if you call the mobile or delivery service, and the robot answers you, it is definitely okay. It can perfectly perform some standard tasks. But when you call a travel agency and ask for a cozy room with a sea view, without flowers under the windows and away from noisy discos and parties – the robot is unlikely to understand you at all.
The topic is not new and has been discussed for a long time. For example, Christopher Elliott raised it back in 2018 in Forbes magazine:
His opinion was based on the results of the following study: