Chat and messaging tools have been growing in popularity for several years now — not just between friends and family, but also between customers and the businesses and brands they interact with. According to a 2019 forecast from eMarketer, the number of mobile messaging app users worldwide will reach 2.7 billion this year. Much of that messaging activity is happening across Facebook platforms, with 2.99 billion people using Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger each month, according to Q1 2020 data from the company.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has upended business operations and travel plans over the past few months, messaging has become even more important as a communications tool. This is especially true for companies throughout the travel sector, from airlines, to hotels, to tour and activity providers, and beyond, which are fielding never-before-seen levels of customer service inquiries across all communication channels. As companies and their customer support teams grapple with this spike in engagement, chat and messaging tools are playing a vital role in how brands can automate operations, preserve resources, and better satisfy customers.
Lars Smidt, director, performance marketing, at travel aggregator app Omio, has seen this play out firsthand: “We recently created a messaging experience to help with customer support. We received an overwhelming amount of customer messages due to the Covid-19 situation and the impact on travel plans, so we put the tool in place at the perfect time. Having messaging available enabled us to respond to customers at a faster pace and reduced pressure on our customer support teams.”
Adélaïde Lainé, social media director at Air France, echoes a similar experience. “Air France faced a volume of incoming messages in March — six times higher than average — as travelers needed information about their flights, schedules, changes, and cancellations. The strong social messaging process we already had in place, which was a combination of automation, artificial intelligence, and agents solutions, has been quickly adapted to automatically answer the simplest questions coming from our customers. Our agents can then spend their time working to solve the more complex and urgent cases.”
Why Travel Brands Should Look to Chat and Messaging Right Now
The growing role that chat and messaging tools are playing right now makes sense, considering the higher amount of time people are spending on their smartphones during this time. A survey by InMobi conducted between March 19 and March 22, 2020, found that 70 percent of U.S. consumers in areas under lockdown are spending more time on their phones while at home during Covid-19 pandemic. The convenience and flexibility offered by chat and messaging tools allow travelers to receive time-sensitive information when it works best for them — something that’s particularly helpful when things are so unpredictable.
Chat and messaging tools benefit the travel companies themselves, too. Innovations in natural language programming and artificial intelligence let brands engage with customers at scale by automating simple requests and enabling customer support members to spend their time on more complex matters. As Caroline Chupin, product manager, messaging, at OUI.sncf, experienced, “Using messaging across channels has allowed us to provide answers to customers very quickly. For example, many customers have asked how to receive refunds for trips they could not take. We have set up dedicated answers to these common questions that our customers can receive immediately from chatbots to avoid any waiting time. This has enabled our customer support team to focus their efforts on the more complex cases, when a chatbot is unable to provide customers with an answer.”
Data shows that this element of chat and messaging has likely been very valuable to travel brands throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, when an unprecedented level of customer requests and inquiries have been rolling in to inquire about cancellations, rebookings, refunds, and health and safety procedures. According to Facebook, in many of the countries hit hardest by the virus, such as Italy, total messaging increased by more than 50 percent in March 2020. Additionally, as noted in Skift’s report, U.S. Travel Tracker March 2020: Travel Sentiment Amid Lockdown, 51 percent of Americans cancelled or rescheduled at least one pre-booked trip that they were supposed to take in March. Another 29 percent said they cancelled at least one pre-booked upcoming trip in the next few months due to concerns about the outbreak. Those figures equate to a massive number of customer service interactions needed to make those changes.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Implementing a Chat and Messaging Strategy
Here, we explore five steps travel brands can take to build a strong chat and messaging infrastructure and connect with customers as travel starts to rebound.
1. Create a Messaging Game Plan
Different businesses have different needs when it comes to messaging, depending on the size and complexity of their operations, the resources they have available, and the specific wants and needs of the customer.
Before anything else, brands should define how chat and messaging will be integrated and how the tools can help the business: For example, can your business benefit from scaling customer care, automating commerce, or generating more high quality leads? If so, will a live chat with a customer support member be necessary, or can answers be automated due to the simple nature of most inquiries? Does a hybrid model that incorporates live chat and automation make more sense? It’s also important to specify what topics will be most commonly asked by customers, as well as to forecast the volume of inquiries expected.
Additionally, companies should have a plan in place to promote the messaging tool to customers, decide what company resources will be allocated toward implementing it, dictate where in the customer service journey messaging fits best, and determine what success looks like for their messaging strategy. Defining how messaging will contribute to larger business objectives up front is key to getting started on the right foot.
2. Plan and Create Your Content
Once the general blueprint for how a brand will integrate chat and messaging is set, the next step is to develop a content strategy. This might include defining and categorizing the different types of inquiry topics, building a hierarchy of the different types of inquiries, gathering the key information needed to answer the most commonly asked questions, setting the tone and voice of the answers, and standardizing customer greetings, salutations, and links to other helpful resources.
If the company is using automation for responses, the content can then be input into the messaging platform’s backend system, whether manually or through an API.
3. Incorporate and Market Your Messaging Platform
Customers can only use chat and messaging as a way of getting in touch with a brand if they know that it’s an option. Therefore, it’s important to let people know they can chat with a business via organic entry points and through marketing. Plug-ins, links, and ads that directly link to messaging tools can be used to lead customers to converse with brands via messaging and chat, and the option should be highly visible on a brand’s customer support or help page of their website. If the goal is to prioritize messaging over other customer support channels such as email and phone, the chat function should be readily available and most accessible on the site over those other channels.
4. Make Testing and Measurement a Priority
After the content is created and the backend technology and customer entry points are implemented, it’s crucial to test and measure all aspects of the chat and messaging tools to know what’s working and what can be improved upon. Experimenting with and measuring things like customer greetings, how customers enter the conversations, where conversations commonly drop off, and how satisfied they are with their answers through sentiment analysis are just a few ways brands can quantify success.
Once your experience is up and running for a specific amount of time, the company should also consider how messaging is impacting overall business objectives: Is it decreasing the number of emails sent and phone calls made to customer support centers? Is it making it easier for customer support staff to handle inbound inquiries? Is it leading to more positive customer sentiment about the brand on social media channels? These are just some aspects brands should take into account to ensure the program is running smoothly.
5. Adjust and Adapt as Needed
There’s likely always an aspect of a chat and messaging program that can be improved upon. As a brand learns what parts of the program are succeeding or not succeeding, it’s important to make the necessary modifications to refine the things that aren’t working or can be done better. Whether it’s figuring out if there are new audiences to reach, new goals to meet, or new models to implement, learning how to best apply chat and messaging is an ongoing process.
There’s so much in flux right now when it comes to how travel brands are operating and how customers are interacting with companies, as well as what they’re expecting of them. When done the right way, chat and messaging can be powerful tools to interact with customers quickly and efficiently and show that your brand is taking their concerns — no matter how large or small — seriously.
To learn more about how Facebook can help your travel brand build a powerful messaging strategy, click here.