Meet Sam, Louis, and Carla, our customer service robots

June 8, 2018 -
Le coffre aux trésors d'Hôtel Château Laurier Québec

Our cars help us drive. Our phones answer questions. Our watches encourage us to walk more and monitor our sleep cycle. Every day, we’re assisted by technological tools. But what about meetings and conventions? How is artificial intelligence being used in the tourism industry and what kind of impact will it have in the years to come?

So far, new technologies that incorporate artificial intelligence have been one of the biggest convention trends of 2018.

It’s time to take a serious look at a form of artificial intelligence that’s being made available to our customers with increasing regularity: virtual assistants, or VAs. Virtual assistants are changing the way we travel and are poised to change the way we plan events, as we strive to better meet participants’ rising expectations—particularly where smartphones are concerned.

Robots help streamline the customer  path

Like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, Sam, Louis, and Carla are virtual assistants—a form of robot software. They allow users to communicate naturally and on an ongoing basis with the assistant on the other end using a messaging service (like WhatsApp or Messenger) or automated conversation technology (like Google Assistant).

These chatbots are developed specifically for companies in the travel industry: Sam is a smart travel assistant for mobile developed by FCM Travel Solutions, Louis helps Air France customers, and Carla is one of several virtual assistants offered by Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT).

The main goal of these VAs is to make life easier for travelers.  In their current state of development, they can only answer frequently asked questions. But they’re expected to grow more intelligent in the near future, able to assist travelers at each step in the consumer path, which includes:

  • Inspiring potential travelers and helping them make decisions about their trip at the outset
  • Helping them plan their trip
  • Providing assistance for booking transportation, accommodation, and related services
  • Improving their travel experience throughout the trip

 

What will the weather be like when they get there? Has the flight time changed? What kind of shuttle service is offered at the airport? Where is the hotel? What are some nearby restaurants? The bots will have the data integration capabilities needed to answer all these questions and more, 24/7. In fact, they will be able to do a lot more, since their ability to learn will make them proactive, allowing them to anticipate questions and suggest solutions to problems.

Virtual assistants are not the only application for artificial intelligence in tourism. There are several others we use daily without even realizing it: for instance, the programs used by online agencies and fare finder websites to continuously find and renegotiate airfares and get the best prices. But whereas those sites can only respond to direct customer queries, virtual assistants remain in contact with our customers all through the day. With their permission, they can access a wealth of data and integrate it in a split second, allowing them to be present, useful, and relevant throughout the entire trip.

Differentiation through hyper-personalization

Pulling up a specific weather report, suggesting you take a taxi to avoid being late to a meeting in your calendar, recommending an Italian restaurant less than a kilometer away from your hotel―the assistance will not be random. All interactions between VA and user will be based on habit, schedule, and personal preference.

In addition to continuously learning from thousands of answers given to other users, virtual assistants will have access to a considerable amount of data from many sources: your file with the travel agency, flight booking, hotel loyalty card, personal and professional digital calendars, and possibly even the activities you select for a convention, published in real time by the convention organizer. Virtual assistants could even use the personal preferences you express online to improve the quality and relevance of their recommendations, including the one for that Italian restaurant.

For conference organizers, the ultimate goal of such hyper‑personalized service is to stand out from competition, build trust-based relationship with travelers, foster loyalty, and turn conference‑goers into brand ambassadors in their personal and professional networks. That explains the current race between several airline companies, hotel groups, travel agencies, and fare aggregators to develop these virtual assistants.

How will artificial intelligence affect our work?

We are still in the early stages of this technological revolution and its impact on customer service. Should we be wary of Sam, Louis, and Clara? What do they mean for us and our work?

Technologies and applications based on artificial intelligence are and will continue to become increasingly present in all areas of our lives. That is why, in the next few years, we expect a rise in the demand for virtual assistants who help users book business trips, make the most of conventions, and discover everything a destination has to offer.

You have to think of virtual assistants as resources you can delegate customer-related tasks to. Their ability to handle basic logistics is often cited as an opportunity to give staff more challenging work, since repetitive and thankless tasks will be delegated to the VA. These technological solutions are a way to free up time and resources for more complex, creative, and profitable assignments, such as developing new products or services adapted to specific clienteles looking for new and exclusive offers.

It seems likely that the high cost of attending international conventions will increasingly need to be justified by the potential for accessing exceptional content or the opportunity to connect with other participants who share common interests in a direct and organized manner. The formula for these events will likely need to change, as attendees seek to shorten their stays. We’ll need to find ways to offer an onsite experience for people who want to attend remotely—one that delivers many of the same benefits as physical attendance, including the possibility of interacting with people at the event.

Virtual assistants depend on the existence and accessibility of big data to function. That’s why we can expect them to evolve over time, potentially providing us with a deeper understanding of our customers’ expectations. Of course, those evolving capabilities will likely raise questions about confidentiality and data security.

Artificial intelligence or emotional intelligence?

The World Economic Forum recently identified artificial intelligence as a key factor for success. The ability to deal with one’s emotions and react to the emotions of others is a fundamentally human trait. In fact, one of the main concerns with virtual assistants is precisely the risk of losing human contact in customer relations.

While communicating information about a room change for a meeting or late start to a session may not necessarily require human intervention, settling a dispute with a supplier or correcting a major mistake that requires an apology and satisfactory resolution will always be better handled by an actual person.

In an industry like tourism, face‑to‑face meetings and interactions will always be a key part of any company’s success. While the use of technology can improve customer service in certain ways, nothing can replace the human contact that alone can create an emotional bond―a connection with the destination, locals, and tourism professionals that everyone tends to seek while traveling.

To that point, Québec City’s human scale and friendly vibe are essential to its success as a tourist destination. The same goes for the welcoming, family feeling you get as soon as you enter the lobby at Hôtel Château Laurier Québec.

MY FAVORITE!

I’m moving! As you read this, I will probably be busy packing boxes to move to a new home. I’m leaving Québec City’s Montcalm neighborhood to settle in St-Roch. I’m very excited about moving to a new neighborhood. There’s always something new happening in St‑Roch, so even though I know the neighborhood well, I’m sure it still has many wonderful surprises in store for me.

St-Roch is overflowing with restaurants, cafés, and independent shops. Care for a few examples?

You can sample different kind of sparkling wines, including several varieties of champagne, at champagne bar La Champagnerie Québec. If you’re looking to saber your first bottle of bubbly, this place is for you. The food is also fantastic and features fresh, local fare.

Cocktails more your thing? Why not take an evening class at Ateliers et saveurs?  The classes can accommodate up to 18 people. You’ll learn to make three cocktails and then enjoy them with three surprise tapas!

Want to bring your children a souvenir from your stay in Québec City? Go to Benjo. Once inside, your only problem will be choosing from all the books, toys, board games, figurines, crafts, dolls, and baby blankets. It’s worth a visit just for the experience.

I look forward to welcoming you to Québec City and running into you in St-Roch in the near future!